Q. How well is the global community moving to meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the due date of 2030?
A. The first indicator of success is how far and how widely the SDGs are now part of a conversation about development in terms of the number of countries, communities and sectors. We have seen a significant acceleration in terms of uptake. What will remain a focus is how to accelerate the momentum in order to be able to meet targets against timelines. We are left with about 11 and a half years, and that focuses attention and also effort. We look to the G7 to be part of that community to accelerate action.
Q. How is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) coordinating those efforts?
A. We have had requests from more than 110 countries to assist them with taking the SDGs into a national development policy context, promoting localisation whereby sub-national entities such as provinces or municipalities can work with this. We also facilitate joint interagency missions for the whole UN family, where we try to align the offer of the UN family in terms of national SDG priorities. Our role is to bring innovation and creativity to problem-solving, which involves new partnerships, for instance with the private sector. UNDP frequently engages with the financial and insurance sectors in transforming markets through smart public policy and finding incentives to mobilise additional finance or insurance products to help meet the SDG targets. These are the frontiers of innovation that will increasingly define the work of the UNDP.
Q. What progress has been achieved so far?
A. One indicator of success is that the UN invites roughly 45 countries to present their voluntary national reports on SDG implementation at the High Level Political Forum every July in New York. Demand has been so high that we have to decline offers from as many as 20 countries each year! Countries are using the SDGs nationally to change the policy directions of development, and are ready to exchange experience and present innovations at the global level.
The SDGs are a catalyst for experimenting and reconfiguring capacities and actors across and beyond governments. We see it in the decision of Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe to locate the SDG coordination unit in the prime minister’s office and German chancellor Angela Merkel’s new national SDG-based strategy adopted as part of Germany’s sustainable development strategy. These are real indicators that the SDGs have not remained a declaratory set of targets at the General Assembly. They have literally begun to spread into virtually every country.
Q. Are you finding any goals that are the most difficult to advance and need special attention?
A. Some of our more intractable problems – inequality, conflict and peace – require many things to come together. The SDGs provide a framework to address a problem from multiple entry points. The best example is for an investment in one target or goal to produce multiple benefits across a spectrum of goals. That is good economics in terms of development investment.
The SDGs also challenge those who think that singular solutions will likely succeed in a complex development reality. Inequality, marginalisation and poverty are as much about enabling people to have incomes as they are linked to developing industries as they are also premised on introducing better health insurance schemes. Every year, we get millions of people out of poverty, and yet 40% of those who escape poverty fall back into poverty, often because there is an illness in the family, all the savings are used up, and before they know it they are back where they started. Our strategies for poverty eradication have to be multidimensional and more sophisticated to achieve the sustainable outcomes that the targets envisage.
Success with the SDGs is inextricably linked to the availability of finance and the ability to invest. No country has a sufficient budget to guarantee the achievement of the SDGs. Mobilising finance beyond the public purse is fundamental to the success of Agenda 2030. Moreover, if the three hundred trillion dollars that represent our financial resources in today’s world economy are focused on yesterday’s economy or the status quo, there is no way we can succeed, because the entire force of gravity of the financial system is on a different pathway. Dialogue with the financial sector is, therefore, critical.
The G7 has already played a significant role. The engagement with banks, fund managers and sovereign wealth funds has significantly enlarged the availability of green finance, now around $150 billion a year. Sovereign wealth funds are looking at portfolios in terms of climate change and carbon footprints. We also need to look at the agriculture, food and food retail sectors: along the production and marketing and consumption chain, over one third of everything we produce to be eaten is never actually consumed – it is lost between field and market, or on the plates and in the fridges of well-off societies that can afford to throw away food. This economic reality signals the need for investment in different markets and production systems. Here, public policy and the capacity of the financial markets and institutions to come together are enormously important. The SDGs resonate remarkably well with financial sector leaders, because they capture both the complexity of future markets and identify new avenues for investment, connecting an impact-investment-oriented clientele with entrepreneurs and businesses trying to develop different products.
Mobilising private-sector finance and financial resources beyond government is equally critical, if not more fundamental, to scaling up the implementation solutions that the SDGs envisage. International financial institutions such as the World Bank and organisations such as UNDP are increasingly helping countries mature their domestic financial markets and provide incentives for pension funds, banks and other financial institutions to invest in outcomes with a public good component, as well as a private-sector return.
Q. Can the five priorities that Canada as host has set for the Charlevoix Summit advance the SDGs?
A. Each G7 summit cannot be an answer to all the world’s problems, but Canada has put together a menu of areas in which the G7 has both the capacity and opportunity to lead. The G7 is a group of countries that can significantly influence the global agenda by leading by example. All five themes are areas where Canada has signalled its own intention to do just that.
They also reflect key areas in the global sustainable development agenda that require our attention. Economic growth that delivers for everyone speaks both to the harsh lessons of the past decade since the 2008 global financial crisis and everything we have seen since then, where inequality produces marginalisation, extremism and political uncertainty. The jobs market of the future is going to be significantly changed from the market of the present and certainly of the past. In fact, it seems without precedent in terms of the significance of changes coupled with a short window of time.
The world is now ready more than ever for leadership on gender equality and women’s empowerment from the G7 governments and leaders as it is ready to address what over the past year have been very serious moments of introspection.
On climate change, we are entering a critical phase where the Paris Agreement has to demonstrate that the nationally determined contributions are working and that the built-in ambition will allow the international community to move forward despite the challenge of the US position. Part of that is to address the challenge of decoupling energy from emissions. And finally, oceans are a natural issue on which Canada can play a leadership role. It builds on the UN’s Oceans Conference in June 2017 and echoes the negotiations on the Convention on Biological Diversity – for which Montreal and Canada host the secretariat.
The last theme speaks to a long tradition that Canada has honoured in being proactive in multilateralism as a basis for a more peaceful and secure world. I am not surprised that Prime Minister Trudeau would put this forward. This theme echoes in many ways the benefit of realising Agenda 2030. Indeed, the work that we do at UNDP today resonates as much about the first four priorities as it does on this one. Development interventions are increasingly often a response to crisis and, in some ways, an antidote to not falling into crisis. In Iraq, our stabilisation work now involves 1,800 projects to reconnect electricity and water pipes so six million displaced people can return to where they once had their livelihood. In the Sahel region now, we are focused on investing in prevention rather than witnessing the growing number of people feeling that they have no reason to believe in the concept of a nation-state, which delivers nothing to them. It explains how people become vulnerable and open to being recruited by radicalised elements and drifting into extremism. The cost of intervening from a security perspective eventually becomes unaffordable. Development must be integral to the way we look at the global peace and security agenda.
Q. How can the G7 leaders best help?
A. The power of the G7 lies in the totality of what it brings to the ‘global table’ in terms of economic, technological and geopolitical might and influence. It is both inward-looking, bringing these seven countries to act together, and also outward-looking because as a group it carries significance over many of today’s global discussions and policy challenges. The greatest impact of the G7 is to set the example with their own economies and policies and also collectively propel the global agenda along the lines of those five themes.
G7 summits are a moment for people to judge whether aspirational intent is met by concrete commitments. The G7 Research Group provides a report card on the implementation of G7 and G20 commitments. It is a good moment for the public to interact with leaders and say, you took a leadership position on these issues – a year later, or three years later, what have you accomplished?
Finally, out of every summit there usually comes one or two initiatives that without the summit would not have been born. They themselves have at times proved extremely valuable and important. My hope is that one or two things will come out of Charlevoix that would otherwise have taken years to initiate or never have seen the light of day.