“Switzerland is one of the most progressive countries”

Article, 16.11.2017

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted by the international community in 2015 and has been in effect since 2016. What progress has been made so far? What are the next steps? Interview with Ambassador Michael Gerber, Special Envoy for Sustainable Global Development.

Portrait of Michael Gerber
Ambassador Michael Gerber ©FDFA

Mr Gerber, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has been in effect since 2016. In order to meet the goals, all countries are supposed to play their part. What is the current status? 

There is a lot of movement at the international level. More than 65 countries, including Switzerland, have already submitted their reports to the UN detailing the measures they are undertaking to achieve the goals on the agenda. Practical solutions are being developed in a variety of sectors, and new partnerships are being created. And the political momentum seems to be as strong as ever. There is also a positive response to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the private sector, civil society and the scientific community, and non-state actors in general are becoming increasingly mobilised. 

Is it already possible to say how Switzerland compares internationally? 

As before, Switzerland is one of the most progressive countries in terms of sustainable development. Switzerland has maintained the active role it played during the negotiations for the 2030 Agenda (2013–15) and has established itself globally as one of the forerunners in its implementation. Since adopting the 2030 Agenda, the Swiss government has taken time for the review and careful planning of implementation. In this regard, the Federal Council will be called upon to make some important decisions in spring 2018. 

Is it then more about Switzerland’s contribution at the moment, rather than development cooperation itself? 

You can’t talk about one without the other. The crux of the matter is to coordinate all of Switzerland's contributions towards achieving the SDGs – both nationally and internationally – in a coherent manner. In fact, the 2030 Agenda is not principally intended for the field of development cooperation. It is universally applicable, which means all countries are obliged to implement the agenda, and in close cooperation with non-state actors. In terms of international cooperation, a ‘mainstreaming concept’ will be put together at the beginning of 2018 in order to help Switzerland’s partner countries meet the SDGs in a more targeted manner in future. But it is correct that Switzerland's contribution will be measured against indicators that are mainly guided by national measures. 

The Swiss government carried out an online consultation on the SDGs in Switzerland. Seeing as the 2030 Agenda is already in effect, what was the point of this? 

The aim of the online consultation was to compare the results of the government’s review I mentioned earlier with public opinion. People taking part in the consultation had the opportunity to comment on each of the individual 169 targets under the SDGs and to present their own input and ideas. This gave us a comprehensive picture of where Switzerland stands in relation to the 2030 Agenda. As far as I am aware, no other country has established such an in-depth and participatory foundation on which it can strategically build its implementation strategy. 

So what are the results of the consultation, can you make out any trends? 

The detailed evaluation is currently under way, but there are trends that already show where the biggest challenges and opportunities for Switzerland are. For example, the assessment by non-governmental stakeholders confirms that the goal on sustainability in production and consumption (SDG 12) offers significant potential for Switzerland to increase its engagement. At the same time, however, a first superficial analysis confirms that most of the goals are highly relevant for both Swiss domestic and foreign policy. Based on this consultation and in close cooperation with an advisory group of non-governmental stakeholders, the Swiss government identified nine topics of particular relevance to Switzerland and discussed possible partnership contributions with the 250 participants at the last 2030 Dialogue for Sustainable Development event.

Advisory group of non-governmental stakeholders
2030 Dialogue for Sustainable Development

So where does it go from here? Switzerland is going to submit a report in summer 2018 on how it is implementing the goals.

That’s right, in summer 2018 Switzerland will present its first comprehensive implementation report at the UN in New York. We will illustrate the results of Switzerland's review process and our priorities for implementing the 2030 Agenda. The presentation is also intended to demonstrate examples of partnerships and activities from all sectors of Swiss society. This country report is being put together at the federal level with the involvement of many federal offices and the non-governmental advisory group. The Federal Council will make a decision on the report in spring 2018. 

And how do things look for the world as a whole? 

As expected, the global situation has not yet improved much since the 2030 Agenda was adopted two years ago. Urgent action is still needed in many fields, such as reducing inequality, poverty and hunger, improving gender equality, and the use of natural resources. In addition, political conflicts in different parts of the world hinder sustainable development. Leading experts continue to warn us of how urgent it is to take measures against climate change. On the other hand, experience shows us that you always need a few years before you start to see the results from implementing global norms and goals. So, considering the increasing mobilisation around the SDGs, we can still remain cautiously optimistic. 

So is it realistic that we will achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda? 

Yes, I would say that it is realistic. But we need more than this being feasible in theory. If there is no political willpower for transformation, and no concrete measures at all levels and in all countries, it will not be possible to achieve the SDGs. But even if some of the goals are not achieved by 2030, they will still provide an important compass – to help us advance this multi-generational project aimed at ensuring a decent future in an intact environment for everyone in this world.