Switzerland’s role in negotiations for a new development agenda: building bridges, influencing outcomes, offering concrete proposals

Media release, 25.09.2014

The UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) will expire in 2015. Switzerland is working with the international community towards developing new global development goals. Ambassador Michael Gerber, special representative for global sustainable development, is representing Switzerland at the international negotiations for the post-2015 development agenda. In this interview he looks back on the MDGs, highlights what is different about the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and talks about Switzerland’s position.

Gerber, why is a post-2015 development agenda needed?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) demonstrated that a global agenda can be effective and has helped to achieve concrete results. For instance, the number of people living in extreme poverty – that is on less than USD 1.25 a day – has been cut by half in comparison to 1990. Improved access to drinking water has benefited 2.3 billion people. Other areas of success include improvements in the lives of over 200 million slum dwellers and gender parity in primary education in developing countries. Today, 90 percent of all children in developing countries are enrolled in school.

Yet, the MDGs are not sufficient to address the scale of global challenges today in a comprehensive and integrated way. The MDGs are primarily directed at the developing countries of the South, but the problems we face today, such as poverty or environmental risks, are universal and do not affect developing countries alone. The follow-up agenda must address all dimensions – not just the social, but also the economic and environmental – to achieve sustainable development

What is Switzerland’s role in this process?

From the very beginning, Switzerland has played an active role in developing a new global agenda, including making specific proposals for new goals. We established an interdepartmental task force in 2012, as well as my position as special representative. Towards the end of 2012 we began the process of formulating the Swiss position for the post-2015 development agenda. This was approved by the Federal Council in June 2014.

Switzerland also plays an important role at the international level. The UN organised global consultations in 11 thematic areas. Together with other countries, Switzerland coordinated two of these consultations on water and population dynamics. It also shared a seat in the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals with France and Germany. The group comprised 70 countries. In July this year the group published its report outlining 17 goals for the new global agenda post-2015. Switzerland was able to integrate its key concerns and thematic priorities in the report. We will continue to be actively engaged in this process, especially with a view to the intergovernmental negotiations that will take place within the UN framework next year.

What are Switzerland’s priorites for the post-2015 agenda?

Switzerland is focusing on four thematic areas that it would like to see formulated as stand-alone goals, namely water, health, gender equality as well as peace and inclusive societies. It is also focusing on three cross-cutting themes to be integrated in all relevant goal areas: sustainable production and consumption, disaster risk reduction, and migration and development.

Let us take the example of water. The MDGs had only one target on drinking water and sanitation. Switzerland is advocating for a comprehensive water goal in the follow-up agenda. This goal should address all important aspects, such as water management, wastewater disposal and water quality, prevention of water-related disasters and transboundary water cooperation. Switzerland was the first country to make a specific proposal for a goal on water, which is now supported by several other countries.

How does Switzerland define its role in international negotiations for the post-2015 development agenda? What strengths does it bring to the table?

Switzerland is a bridge-builder. It played this role in the negotiations on defining goals for peace and inclusive societies, to name just one example, where some countries had raised strong objections. Switzerland worked towards formulating more realistic goals in this area.

Switzerland is well equipped to address its own priority concerns as well as several other areas. We have developed Switzerland’s position in 16 thematic areas and this position is being actively represented at the negotiations. So Switzerland is not just guiding processes, it is also making significant substantive contributions to the international negotiations.

How did Switzerland develop its position?

In the autumn of 2012, Switzerland initiated a broad-based and open consultation process in which the FDFA invited representatives from civil society, the private sector and research institutions to participate. The formulation of the Swiss position for the post-2015 development agenda was, however, not restricted to experts alone; it was also open to politicians and citizens. Events were organised at which private individuals, such as students, expressed their views. Suggestions from the public were also accepted through the web platform «Agenda post-2015» (see below).

The interdepartmental task force formulated the first draft of the Swiss position for submission to the Federal Council in June 2013. The paper was approved and one year later, after conclusion of the national consultations and further modifications to the paper, it was once again submitted to the Federal Council, which adopted it on 25 June 2014.

Are there any significant differences in the Swiss position for the sustainable development agenda and its position on the MDGs?

Yes, there are significant differences. The agenda is universal, more broad-based and participatory, and it addresses more thematic areas than the MDGs. It also takes into account the lessons learned from the MDGs.

In retrospect how would you assess the MDGs, specifically also from a Swiss perspective?

One advantage of the MDGs was that they comprised only eight goals. They were straightforward, clear and easy to communicate to an international audience. The MDGs were able to mobilise people across the globe. Even people in rural regions in developing countries are aware to some extent of what the MDGs are.

The new development agenda is set to address more thematic areas and goals, even some that were absent in the MDGs. And its implementation will be more complex. The private sector and academia will be involved in implementation, not just development actors. Apart from the new development agenda, international cooperation and partnerships will also become more comprehensive.

What are the next steps?

The post-2015 development agenda will be one of the central themes at the opening of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly from 22 to 26 September 2014 and at the general debate. In November 2014, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will present a report synthesising the proposals for goals made by the Open Working Group and the results of the global consultations.

This will be followed by intergovernmental negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda, which will continue until the summer of 2015. Issues, such as implementation, review and funding, will be taken up. In July 2015 a conference on financing the post-2015 development agenda will take place in Addis Ababa, in which Switzerland is also taking part.

Post-2015 agenda at the 69th session of the UN General Assembly

Ambassador Michael Gerber is a member of the delegation accompanying President Didier Burkhalter at the high-level week during the opening of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly in New York from 22 to 26 September 2014. The new post-2015 development agenda will be a key topic at several events and debates. On 25 September, Switzerland together with Peru, Tajikistan and Thailand, will organise a special event on reducing risks from water-related disasters. President Didier Burkhalter will also co-chair an event on ending HIV/AIDS by 2030 along with the president of Ghana in the context of the post-2015 development agenda.

Dossier on the UN General Assembly 2014
Swiss position on the post-2015 development agenda