Think tank cautions against high hopes for Agenda 2030

Among the 17 SDG goals is to achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all by 2030 Keystone

Non-governmental organisations say Switzerland will have a tough time implementing the new goals for sustainable development. Politicians and the business community will have to deliver and civil society must do its part to ensure words are followed by action.

Alliance Sud, a Swiss think tank of six leading development organisations and charities, welcomes the United Nations Agenda 2030 as a compromise of sorts. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are expected to be approved by world leaders in New York later this week.

“It is a document riddled with contradictions,” says Eva Schmassmann, the Alliance’s expert on development policy. “But it is the result of three years of negotiations and consultations among states and civil society. Therefore, it is already a success to have agreed to this document.”

A crucial point for the group is how the goals will be implemented and to what extent governments and the private industry can be held accountable.

Schmassmann concedes that details of the monitoring process remain to be defined. “Although there is a moral obligation, accountability is ultimately difficult because the goals are not legally binding. It will be up to civil society to keep an eye out and tread on feet.”

She says the Agenda will bring about a paradigm change, as the fight against poverty worldwide becomes part of sustainable development, including environmental and economic issues, notably for countries in the northern hemisphere.

Switzerland will have its work cut out for it to tackle waste production or in reducing the gap between the rich and the poor in the country, Schmassmann says.


She calls for a more coherent policy approach to include sustainability in other areas of legislation, including climate change and public procurement as well the financing of development aid.

Alliance Sud director Mark Herkenrath points out that the Swiss government is failing to keep up with the times. Its plans for spending cuts over the next few years risk running counter to the new global goals.                                                                 

 Role of Swiss government

Switzerland played an active role in the preparation of the UN summit, notably in the working group drafting the 17 SDG goals and as a coordinator of worldwide consultation process.

 Its main priorities were health, gender equality, water as well as peace and justice, according to Michael Gerber, Switzerland’s lead negotiator for the development agenda.

Switzerland also engaged in talks on sustainable consumption, fighting poverty and migration, Gerber explained at a news conference on Tuesday in Bern.

President Simonetta Sommaruga will give a speech in New York about the role of direct democracy.

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He criticises positions by Swiss officials, including Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, when commending Switzerland’s active role in negotiating the new agenda while failing to mention the planned spending cuts.

Herkenrath is concerned that Switzerland’s budget for regional cooperation on development aid will be reduced in order to contribute financially towards international climate policy, humanitarian aid and increasing cost for asylum.

“There is less money in the coffers but more players want to help themselves from the pot,” he says.

It is estimated that the agenda will need $3.5 to $5 billion (CHF3.4 to CHF4.9 billion) annually worldwide. 

Spending cuts

Switzerland, as one of the richest countries in the world, has a special responsibility to help fund the agenda for sustainable development, Alliance Sud argues.

It is concerned that Switzerland will not be able to reach the aim of spending 0.7% of Gross National Income although it has committed to this goal under Agenda 2030.

Alliance Sud is also critical of the role the private sector can play in achieving the SDGs, particularly programmes for so-called private public partnerships.

“Education and health should be off limits for private investors. Public money has to stay the main pillar for funding.”

Another key issue is the flow of money from developing countries to the industrialised world, whether the funneling of profits of multinational companies through tax havens or systems of debt repayment.

UN Sustainable Development Summit

More than 150 world leaders are to meet in at UN in New York from September 25-27 to adopt the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Switzerland will be represented by its president, Simonetta Sommaruga, both at the summit and at the general debate of the 70th session of the UN General Assembly.

The ambitious 2030 Agenda is the follow-up process to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and is intended as starting point for a policy by the international community and national governments to promote prosperity for all.

The new set of goals and targets is more encompassing than the MDGs: The aim is to balance the three dimensions—economic, social and environmental—of sustainable development.

At the Millennium Summit in the year 2000 world leaders agreed to reduce extreme poverty by 2015.

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