The SDGs – there are 17 of them – are even more ambitious than the MDGs and include the plan to eradicate poverty. The question remains of how to implement them, as Friederike Röder, Director of ONE France, explains.

©‎ Akab 2015
©‎ Akab 2015

What do the SDGs mean to you?

They mean scaling up, for example, for the fight against extreme poverty. With the MDGs, the world tried to do better. It is now a question of eradicating extreme poverty and pandemics like malaria by 2030. This is an extraordinary challenge, even if the goals are realistic, because a business-as-usual approach is no longer possible.

They were defined on the basis of the Rio+20 Conference in 2012, in a working group open to 70 countries, and were subject to an extensive survey in which 8 million people participated. As a result, they appear to be even more legitimate than the MDGs.

What do you recommend for their implementation?

There is a need for more extensive partnerships between countries, but also with the private sector and NGOs. The experience of the MDGs has shown us the extent to which global partnerships help to go that extra mile.

For example, great strides have been made with the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, . In 2003, 400,000 HIV-positive people had access to antiretroviral treatments in developing countries. In 2015, the situation has changed radically: 15 million people are on treatment, including 8.1 million thanks to the Global Fund, which has mobilized a total of USD 33bn between 2002 and 2015. The coverage rate for antiretroviral treatments in countries supported by the Global Fund rose from 4% to 40% between 2005 and 2014.

Similarly, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) has allowed significant progress to be achieved. It is estimated that over 7 million lives have been saved since 2000. This example supports our advocacy for partnerships in order to change power relations with the pharmaceutical sector and improve relations with the countries in question. These countries cofinance the programs, while civil society participates in their implementation.

What type of large-scale partnership do you recommend?

Ideally, it would be necessary to collect and use more statistical data to know exactly where we stand. Child mortality has been halved since the 1990s. The only problem is that about a third of births in Africa are not registered, hence the importance of statistics. It is a political, technical and financial challenge.

This is why it is crucial to have a multitude of actors involved: governments from the South and North, companies, foundations, NGOs… These actors must make commitments, for example, governments in the South must commit to building the capacities of their statistical institutes and extending data collection to the most remote regions. Northern governments can support these efforts, but must themselves improve data collection in order to be able to monitor all the SDGs. 

 All governments could agree to make the statistics available to their citizens in an open format. This should not be restricted to statistics on their populations, but should also include budgetary data so that citizens can be informed of the revenues collected by their governments, as well as the expenditure planned and actually made.

Companies, for their part, can be useful in improving the use of cellphones in data collection.

There is also the challenge to be addressed of making big data useful for developmentThe partnership must therefore really take a comprehensive approach that is not only restricted to data collection, but also takes the use of these data into account, especially by citizens.

What are your concrete proposals to meet this challenge?

It requires a global partnership like the one launched in New York at the end of September, to more effectively direct efforts, involve citizens and be accountable to them : the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data.

Do the private sector and NGOs have a key role to play?

Yes, in the implementation and – especially for NGOs –  the monitoring of the SDGs. But the leadership of governments continues to be an essential prerequisite.

Why is the role of the State so crucial?

Public authorities have been mobilized wherever progress has been made with the MDGs, like Uganda against AIDS and Burkina Faso against malnutrition. Another example is that the GFATM Global Fund would not have existed without the active support from France, which provides EUR 360m a year. Similarly, the UNITAID facility, which is important for the negotiation of prices with pharmaceutical industries, was set up with support from France.

Another part of the challenge facing governments lies in overseeing and regulating private sector activities in order to resolve the issues of tax evasion, corruption and respect for the environment. For example, private investments in infrastructure need to be regulated to avoid their negative impact on the environment.

International regulations are currently under discussion, particularly at the initiative of the OECD, to impose more transparency on multinationals. The automatic exchange of tax data, which is currently being set up by almost a hundred countries, is also an important step forward. The European Commission has also addressed these issues of the fight against tax evasion with several proposals, in particular by the Commissioner Pierre Moscovici.

In the case of all these initiatives, it remains crucial for them to be fully transparent, i.e. for them to apply the principle of public access to information and include developing countries. One of the next key regulations currently under negotiation at the French, European and international level concerns country-by-country reporting by multinationals, i.e. the publication of information on the real activity of companies in each country where they operate in order to determine if they pay the right level of tax in all these countries. While certain countries are in favor of such a regulation, the problem arises when there is talk of public access to this information. Yet without public access, we cannot speak of transparency and the countries that would need this information to request what is rightfully owed to them by companies, particularly developing countries, would have great difficulties in having access to it.

Governments cannot shirk their responsibility in achieving the SDGs. If we want to eradicate extreme poverty, our efforts really need to reach the poorest. This concerns governments, as it is not up to the private sector which seeks to make profits, to go towards the poorest.

The extreme poverty level has just been increased from USD 1.25 a day in purchasing power parity to USD 1.90, a measure taken by the World Bank to adjust it to inflation, and the share of the world’s population living in this situation has just dropped below 10%, against 29% in 1999. Be that as it may, in the poorest countries, like Madagascar, Liberia or the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), a majority of people live below the extreme poverty line. This proportion reaches 80% of the population in the case of DRC. Official Development Assistance (ODA) remains an essential tool to address huge challenges.


Is there a need for more ambitious financing for the SDGs ?

The SDGs have been defined, but the question indeed remains over their implementation. A conference on financing sustainable development was held in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) in July, but many of the commitments related to the SDGs are still unclear and do not have any specific deadlines. For example, developing countries have pledged to improve their tax resources without setting a deadline. Donor countries, for their part, have renewed their commitment to earmark 0.7% of their GNP for ODA, here again without a specific time frame. Yet we know that 15 years pass very quickly.

To finance the SDGs, a real international mobilization is required, both by developed countries and developing countries.

Developed countries must deliver on their commitments and, first and foremost, the one to allocate 0.7% of their gross national income to development assistance. In addition to commitments, ONE is asking for each country to set a specific time frame to achieve this objective by 2020.

This aid also needs to focus first and foremost on the least developed countries. In the coming years, it is in these countries that there will be the largest proportion of the population living under the extreme poverty line and, to date, they have not had sufficient resources to address this single-handedly. ONE is consequently asking for half of development assistance to be allocated to them.

However, this does not mean that developing countries do not have their share of responsibility in achieving the SDGs. They have also made several commitments to give priority to financing social sectors, which are important for the fight against extreme poverty, such as health, education and agriculture. They must also increase their domestic resources through a comprehensive effort to fight against illicit financial flows which make them lose over USD 1,000bn every year. Consequently, with the support of developed countries and international organizations, they must strengthen transparency and the fight against corruption in order for this financial resources to benefit the poorest populations.

In practical terms, what are you going to do to contribute to achieving these 17 SDGs?

ONE is going to monitor what goes on in the various countries. We have colleagues in Africa who are working to ensure that African countries respect their commitments in terms of health and education policies. We already know that France’s efforts are insufficient to finance the SDGs. Three days after the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the French Government published a Finance Law in which, for the fifth year in a row, there is a further decrease in ODA of some 6%. We have an advocacy role to play. Whatever the role played by the private sector in implementing the SDGs, we will not be able to do without ODA.

The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or those of AFD.

I subscribe to the ID4D newsletter

Once a week, I receive the latest blog posts!