Maria Luisa Silva presents the UN Sustainable Goals during an event in Geneva
Maria Luisa Silva presents the UN Sustainable Goals during an event in Geneva

Launched in September 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030 is a broad and demanding agenda which affects all countries. The new goals require more collaboration, commitment and the participation of all actors: academia, society, governments and private sectors should join forces to shape better times to come. Horyou blog interviewed Maria Luisa Silva, the Head of United Nations Development Program in Geneva, about the challenges presented by the new agenda.

1. How does the new UN Sustainable Development Goals differ from the UN Millennium Goals?

They differ in three fundamental ways. The first difference is that Millennium Development Goals were a relatively narrow social agenda, extremely important but focused on some social issues. The Sustainable development agenda is a broader and more complex agenda that addresses all the dimensions of development: economic, social but also sustainability. The pillar of environment gives a greater expansion in the sustainable development goals – 6 out of the 17 new goals are focusing on environmental issues. The reason they are making their way in the agenda is because these are the areas where the least progress happened during the life of the UN Millennium Development Goals.

The second main difference is that the Sustainable Development Goals are going to require a major mobilization of all sorts of actors. The Millennium Goals were mostly emanating from governments towards developing countries, and agreed in multilateral forums. In this case, it requires society as a whole: private sector, youth, academia, everybody to think and to make a necessary social transformation.

The third difference is that they are universal goals. This is not just an agenda for developing countries, this is an agenda that will also apply and demand action on rich societies, to address the social challenges they have, and many of them would be surprised about their serious issues of inequality and poverty pockets. More importantly, there are involved in the environmental transformations required to reach the sustainability dimension of the agenda.

2. How can companies help to engage on climate change and environmental challenges?

The private sector can engage in two different manners. One is with a necessary innovation to make the planet a better place to live. And innovation and the transformation of the production processes need to come up from the private sector. This is a survival agenda. I remember talking to Paul Polman, head of Unilever, and he and many other companies have already realized that this is not just for profit. It’s the interest of new consumers, young people are not interested to consume products from companies that are destroying the environment or gaining money profiting from the poor and vulnerable. So, it becomes really part of the bottom line for enterprises.

The other dimension is also contributions, more and more we are getting private sector organizations leading and contributing to debates which were more traditionally government-led debates. And we have from the philanthropic side foundations from extremely wealthy private entrepreneurs contributing to the public good. So the public good is not just responsibility from governments only, it is also from the private sector.

3. How will developing countries get assistance to reach the new UN Sustainable Development Goals?

Traditionally, development assistance was considered the way to contribute, to leverage development processes in developing countries. And this is what’s called Official Development Assistance (ODA). The goal of ODA was only 0,7% of GDP in rich economies, but very few countries have reached that level. Some have, and it hasn’t really hurt them. It’s not complicated, it’s just a matter of political will. We need to keep pushing them to reach that level, because this ODA is absolutely instrumental, particularly for the least developed countries and the low income countries which are out of their own means to reach the Sustainable Development goals. The case of upper middle income countries like Brazil is not ODA. They will have to develop other means and ways, private investments, mobilization of local resources. It’s important to see how they will deal with obstacles that are limiting sustainable-friendly investments and sustainable development.

4. How do you see the news of China and US signing the Paris agreement?

Paris Agreement was one of the incredible successes of the year 2015, where political leaders around the globe agreed on political agendas that will be extremely important for the coming years. So US and China agreed in Paris and now they are making the next step which is signing the agreement. This is absolutely fantastic and very important, but there is much more to do. We need to transform intended national contributions into real national contributions. So those plans that each country committed itself to do, now they need to become reality. And we also need to go further. Even if we achieve everything that all countries committed to achieve, we will still be in the 3 degrees level. And many states said that they want to go to 1,5. In the revision on those intended national contributions within 5 years, we need to keep pushing for further ambitions.

Written by Vivian Soares

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