October 2015: Interview with Amina Mohammed, Special Adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Post-2015 development planning
Ms. Mohammed, at the end of the year, the Millennium Development Goals will expire. In reviewing the last 15 years, what are the achievements and failures?
Amina Mohammed: The UN’s eight MDGs, established in 2000, represented the first attempt to translate human development into a concise, focused, simple and measurable set of goals and targets.
With a clear focus on the poor, the MDGs improved millions of lives and made remarkable progress over the last fifteen years.
The MDGs taught us that setting goals and targets works and how much can be done when the international community and governments work together on a common agenda.
For instance, extreme poverty has been reduced by half; the fight against malaria and tuberculosis has shown results; access to improved water source became a reality for more than 2 billion people; disparities in primary school enrolment between boys and girls are being eliminated in all developing regions; the political participation of women has continued to increase; and development assistance rebounded, the trading system stayed favourable for developing countries and their debt burden remained low.
Despite all the progress made, not everyone has benefited yet, nor was progress even within and across countries. Further, areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet were not fully integrated or included – sustained and inclusive economic growth, creating decent jobs, improving living standards, and addressing youth unemployment were under-emphasized in the original MDGs.
In September, world leaders adopted the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and its 17 goals. With this agenda, we are equipped with more integrated, universal, and transformative goals to build a more secure, prosperous, dignified and sustainable future for all.
As an African woman, in which areas do you think the continent has made the most progress and where does it need to do more?
Amina Mohammed: Much progress has been made through the MDGs, particularly in Africa. This is no longer a continent of famine and conflict but the second fast growing economy in the world with much potential to still be realized.
We have seen significant results in the fight against HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, in the combat against poverty and the promotion of access to water, education among others.
In spite of recent successes, Africa still faces many challenges, including finishing the job on the MDGs. For instance, Africa’s potential and encouraging economic growth has not been shared nor invested into the wellbeing of all people, particularly women and girls.
The continent must invest in its greatest asset – its people; in particular it’s its women and girls as well as the growing number of young people, ensuring that tomorrow, they can be productive, innovative and engaged citizens.
However, the tide is changing with the growing number of African women in leadership positions.
My own story from growing up as a young girl in Northern Nigeria to advising three Presidents and now working with the SG is a testament. Add in the examples of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, AU Chairperson and the rising number of women politicians in Rwanda and across the continent, we see an improving picture. But we still have a long way to go.
A smooth and effective transition from the MDG agenda to the 2030 Agenda for sustainable development will be key for the future of the continent. The African Union provided the Common Africa Position that articulates Africa’s position during the negotiations building on Africa’s own vision: the Agenda 2063 that align with the sustainable development goals.
Lastly, the responsible management of natural resources in Africa is one of the critical parts for achieving sustainable development on the continent. This is not just an issue for climate change talks. It is an important part of the economic transformation that the continent, and indeed the world, will have to undertake to successfully address the challenges of sustainable development.
Why do we need new sustainable development goals?
Amina Mohammed: The world has changed radically in the last 15 years since the MDGs were adopted. Old challenges have intensified and new complexities have emerged, including unemployment conflict, migration, climate change, inequality and disease.
Significant changes have taken place in the way economies work, societies are organized, and how these impact the planet. This is a universal challenge that requires changes in all countries and by all actors – governments, civil society, businesses and other stakeholders.
The 2030 Agenda for sustainable development and its goals will address the new challenges of today through an integrated approach that bring forward social, economic and environmental progress for all.
What is your vision of a sustainable world?
Amina Mohammed: Sustainable development is the idea of transforming the lives of present and future generations without doing harm to the planet or degrading natural resources. It means investing in the global economy, including in people’s lives, and ensuring that economic and individual growth are done in a sustainable way.
As agreed by Member States at the Rio + 20 Conference in June 2012, the framework for sustainable development describes societies’ commitment to three interconnected objectives: economic development (including the end of extreme poverty), social inclusion and environmental sustainability.
A new era of sustainable development will enable us to end poverty irreversibly in the next 15 years; promote prosperity; improve people’s social well-being; and put our world on a trajectory that would limit climate change. By 2030 we can end poverty and transform lives while protecting the planet.
The 2030 Agenda and its 17 sustainable development goals will help deliver for People, to end poverty and hunger in all their forms and dimensions; the Planet, our common home, from degradation, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change; Prosperity of all people, to ensure that all can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives in harmony with nature; Peace, to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence; and genuine Partnerships that require us to work together, to mobilize the means required to implement this vision into reality.
How can we achieve economic growth (development) that remains within planetary boundaries?
Amina Mohammed: The 2030 Agenda will address the new challenges of today through an integrated approach that bring forward social, economic and environmental progress for all.
To transform our economies, however, we must first transform our thinking, and our values. The agenda is a paradigm shift and calls for all stakeholders to move away from business-as-usual, including how we integrate environmental considerations and balance economic and social progress.
The sustainable development agenda has the potential to mobilize trillions of dollars’ worth of investment opportunities in areas of action such as healthcare and life sciences, education, financial services, sustainable agriculture, food security, water and sanitation, energy, rural infrastructures, cities or transport; areas that are all interrelated and interdependent.
The Sustainable Development Goals represent investment opportunities that have the dual purpose of building markets and accelerating economic growth while solving social and environmental challenges. This will create jobs, lift people out of poverty, foster shared prosperity and tackle climate change.
The sustainable development goals are expected to cost between $3.3 trillion and $4.5 trillion annually over the next 15 years. How should the SDGs be financed?
Amina Mohammed: The 2030 Agenda will require a new model of partnership to ensure implementation of these goals, including financing. This partnership will require the governments, businesses, international institutions, civil society and other stakeholders to work together.
Member States reached an agreement in July 2015 at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development with the adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda. The Action Agenda provides a financing framework which can support implementation of the proposed SDGs and national development goals.
ODA and international public funding will continue to play a central and catalytic role, particularly in the least developing countries. Member States should honour their commitments in full and in a timely manner. ODA must both respond to the unfinished business of the MDGs and address the transition to the new sustainable development agenda.
However, countries must also strengthen domestic resource mobilization as the responsibility for raising the domestic public revenues necessary for the core economic and social functions rests primarily with each national government. This requires effective institutions and responsible leaders committed to stopping tax evasion, illicit flows and corruption.
We are seeing new models of financing, including new institutions and emerging donor models such as the BRICs Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank that have extraordinary potential for sustainable development financing.
Further, there is urgent action needed to mobilize, redirect, and unlock the transformative power of trillions of dollars of private resources to deliver on sustainable development objectives.
For several decades, rich nations have promised to raise their official development assistance to 0.7 per cent of their gross national product, but so far they have not done so or only few meet that level in practice. How credible will another promise be?
Amina Mohammed: To achieve sustainable development will require huge investments per year. The resources are there but need to be unlocked – public and private, domestic and international – and directed towards long-term investments that deliver results for sustainable development.
These commitments include developed countries who have recommitted to Official Development Assistance within the post-2015 sustainable development agenda timeframe by 2030.
However, all countries – developed and developing – have their part to play in ensuring sustainable development is implemented.
Heads of State and Government have affirmed strong political commitment to address the challenge of financing through concrete actions to deliver on the promise of the new agenda that will be adopted in September, including at the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July 2015 that saw world leaders commit to the measures and means of implementation to achieve the 2030 Agenda.
We must now embrace a culture of shared responsibility, one based on agreed universal norms, global commitments, shared rules and evidence, collective action, and benchmarking for progress. The new paradigm of accountability that we seek is not one of conditionality or North to South, nor South to North, but rather one of all actors – governments, international institutions, private sector actors, and organizations of civil societies, and in all countries, to the people themselves.
What can the UN system do to “leave no one behind”, how important is inclusion at all levels in the post-2015 development agenda?
Amina Mohammed: The 2030 Agenda, including the SDGs, is universal in nature, in that these are universal goals and targets which involve the entire world, developed and developing countries alike. The 2030 Agenda will improve the lives of everyone, everywhere in order to bring about social, economic and environmental progress to all to leave no one behind.
This agenda is of unprecedented scope and significance. It is adopted by all countries and is applicable to all while taking into account different national realities, capacities, needs and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities.
From the very start of the process of intergovernmental negotiations, the the UN has supported this undertaking by ensuring an open, inclusive and transparent process through an unprecedented outreach to include the voices of all stakeholders in the discussion – from the private sector, academia, civil society and people from around the world.
Further, the UN has facilitated the direct delivery of more than 8 million voices on their priorities for the future to leaders through a global online survey – My World – with more than 70% of participants under the age of 30 years.
This is a universal agenda and will aim to realize a life of dignity for all and leave no one behind.
What can the civil society, what can religious communities do in promoting sustainability issues?
Amina Mohammed: Promoting sustainability issues and SDGs will need a new model of global partnership between governments, businesses, international institutions, civil society and other stakeholders including religious communities.
Civil society and religious communities have been part of championing the agenda to continue to be people-centred and planet-sensitive to achieve sustainable development.
Pope Francis has been one of the world’s most impassioned moral voices on the sustainable development and climate change. The Pope’s Encyclical provided the moral narrative for sustainable development and a shared vision for people and the planet. It acknowledged that climate change, environmental degradation, poverty and inequalities are integrated and universal crises that call for deep transformations in societies, economies and individuals.
The world population is projected to increase by more than one billion people within the next 15 years, reaching 8.5 billion in 2030. How can sustainable food supply be achieved? What are the challenges of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture?
Amina Mohammed: The 2030 Agenda has taken into account the increasingly complex challenges and emerging concerns that the world faces.
The agenda commits to end poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including by eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. The SDGs also aim at ending hunger and achieving food security as a matter of priority and ending all forms of malnutrition.
To address prominent challenges of ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, the 2030 Agenda has been adopted by Member States as a means to address these issues in an integrated way by tackling the social, environmental and economic dimensions together because these challenges do not exist in siloes.
The Agenda recognizes the important role and inclusive nature of the Committee on World Food Security and welcomes the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and Framework for Action. It also promises to devote resources to developing rural areas and sustainable agriculture and fisheries, supporting smallholder farmers, especially women farmers, herders and fishers in developing countries, particularly least developed countries.
“We are the first generation to end poverty, but the last to truly affect climate change”, you said in a speech this year. Is the summit in Paris the last and best chance to reach an agreement on cutting carbon emissions? Has Paris the potential to shape a new politics of climate change? How difficult will it be to find a consensus?
Amina Mohammed: Sustainable development and climate change are inextricable linked, and sustainable development cannot be achieved without climate action.
Many of the actions required to mitigation and adaptation are indeed the very same actions that are needed to make the transformative shift to sustainable development. These include the promotion of sustainable energy and job-rich low-carbon growth.
Climate change is linked to public health, food and water security, migration, peace and security. Similarly investments in sustainable development will promote climate action.
Therefore, world leaders have already substantially committed to a course of action that will help bend the curve on climate change in the 2030 Agenda and the agreement in COP21 in Paris will be a platform to provide further measures to realizing our common goals.
An ambitious and meaningful climate agreement is anticipated at COP21 and the collective decisions taken in 2015 will set the world on a course of action to end poverty, transform lives and protect the planet.
We are the first generation that can end poverty and the last to bend the curve on climate change – if we take action now.
Why must the development agenda address the causes of the migrant crisis?
Amina Mohammed: Integrating migrants and refugees within the development agenda is important for addressing modern day population flows.
Migrants and refugees can bring needed skills into the economy, and contribute also as consumers. Further, their remittances often compare with ODA, and should be facilitated.
This is why the 2030 Agenda includes various migration-related targets, including on promoting safe, well-managed migration and mobility; on fighting human trafficking; on respecting labour standards of migrant workers; and on facilitating the transfer of remittances.
The 2030 Agenda also addresses the root causes of involuntary, irregular and forced migration, for instance with the goals on poverty alleviation, decent work and social protection, and the need for peaceful and inclusive societies.
The Addis Ababa Action Agenda also contains a number of practical measures (“means of implementation”) to make migration work for development.
Following the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, States must begin to integrate migration in their national and sectoral plans.
Do we need to develop a global migration governance? Is a UN migration agency necessary?
Amina Mohammed: Migration and refugee flows are complex and multifaceted. As such, there is no single UN agency responsible for all aspects migration, but a number of UN entities address aspects of the issue, working closely together with the International Organization for Migration.
UNHCR addresses refugee flows, OHCHR migrant rights, UNODC smuggling and trafficking, DESA migration and development and SRSG Sutherland advocacy.
Whilst IOM is not a UN entity, it cooperated closely with the UN both at the policy level, and at the operational level by joining in UN country teams when needed.
Clearly, however, current approaches to addressing population movements are failing.
At a dedicated high-level meeting called by the Secretary-General on 30 September, Member States emphasized the need for short-term, humanitarian responses as well as long-term, political solutions for managing modern day population flows.
They also highlighted the central role that the UN should play in finding solutions to the current crisis, and in setting a global governance structure.
A number of States also called for the UN to convene a Bretton Woods style conference on migration and refugee flows.
The Secretary-General is now exploring a number of different options on how to move forward with improved governance of migration and refugee flows.