This year, United Nations Day is accompanied by an extra level of anticipation. It’s only a matter of weeks since a unified world community adopted the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Now it’s time for all the positive forces to mobilize. And here, the Storting bears a particular responsibility.
On 25th September the world’s heads of government adopted the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Basically, this is a global agenda for how to eradicate poverty, fight inequality and stop climate change by the year 2030.
This year’s UN Day should be used to celebrate this historic milestone, 70 years after the founding of the organization itself. The Millennium Goals, passed 15 years ago, brought about positive results. These act as an inspiration, but we mustn’t forget that the new SDGs are ambitious. If we are serious in wanting to meet them, we will all have to play our part – political authorities, businesses, institutions, or you and I as individuals.
A global joint effort
Unlike the Millennium Goals, the new SDGs apply to all nations; a global programme to tackle global challenges. In concrete terms, the 17 main goals set out important objectives to be achieved by 2030. Among these are the eradication of hunger and poverty; the right for everyone to be able to lead healthy lives; and the universal right – irrespective of gender – to have access to education, clean water and sanitation. There are of course many other goals, among them sustainable development in towns, communities, infrastructure and innovation.
Years of experience in the sphere of international development have proved to us that the key to long-term success lies in democracy, good governance and the respect for human rights.
This is why, for me, goal number 16 – to promote peaceful and inclusive societies – is so central. We in the Nordic region were hoping to reach a more binding and unequivocal commitment on human rights, democracy and good governance. We didn’t achieve this, but at least this particular goal opens the way for increasing efforts in the field.
And it is exactly here that parliaments – with their key position in the political system – can play their part.
The SDGs were high on the agenda when I, along with 140 other speakers and presidents of parliament, gathered in the headquarters of the United Nations in New York this August for the Fourth World Conference of Speakers of Parliament. The conference concluded in a joint declaration in which, among other things, it was agreed that as speakers of parliament we “… are committed to doing our part by passing the enabling legislation, allocating the required budgetary resources and holding governments accountable for the attainment of the goals.”
This is how parliament works in a strong, healthy democracy. Yet regrettably democratic development in the world has come to a stop after years of long-standing progress. In some countries things have actually taken a turn for the worse. Political opponents are being silenced, the hands of civil society are being tied, human rights are being curtailed, and rising corruption is undermining both political dynamism and confidence in the system.
If we are truly committed to attaining the sustainable development goals we have set ourselves, we must reverse this trend. Efforts towards democratic development and good governance must continue with undiminished force.
In this respect, one of the most important responsibilities of the Storting is within the interparliamentary work we take part in, whether this be bilaterally or in such forums as the Council of Europe and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
In the work towards reaching the SDGs it’s natural for countries to seek regional collaboration. After all, close neighbours often have kindred challenges. In our part of the world, this obviously means building up European cooperation. But we must also make better use of the excellent platform we have for Nordic collaboration.
This is a subject I aim to raise during next week’s session of the Nordic Council in Reykjavík. Nordic collaboration is all about finding a common approach to questions, and coordinating efforts. A perfect example is the Nordic-Baltic initiative on democratic development in Ukraine.
A long-term policy
At the same time, work on the SDGs must of course be put into a Norwegian context and rooted in the Storting. Or to put it another way, in the parties.
Now that the goals have been adopted, an increasing number of research environments will invest hugely in developing a Norwegian reality for the SDGs. It’s essential that there is a qualified basis for a good political debate; one that I hope will result in broad political unity for the goals we agree on. As politicians it’s only natural and healthy that we disagree on ways and means. Just as long as the goals themselves remain unchanged. For debate infuses politics with dynamism and issues with momentum, while consensus stifles political development, no matter how vital the issue is.
Governments come and governments go, and every four years a new Storting is elected. Unless the Sustainable Development Goals are deeply rooted in the political agenda, it will be too easy for them to be marginalized by short-term political concerns with greater popular appeal. National politics isn’t always the best solution for global challenges.
If we are going to master the challenges that long-term considerations set us, it’s therefore absolutely imperative that the SDGs are so deeply embedded that they become a natural part of the parties’ efforts to develop lasting policies.
The world’s leaders have made a commitment to place the Sustainable Development Goals on the international political agenda in the years to come. For its part, the Storting must ensure that these goals are eminently visible on the political agenda, both nationally and at an interparliamentary Level.