Together we get further


“Alone we walk faster but together we get further”. This is how Pernille Fenger, Chief of UNFPA Nordic Office and Camilla Brückner, Director of UNDP Nordic Representation Office describe the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its action plan 2030 Agenda.

The UN General Assembly agreed upon new SDGs and the 2030 Agenda in 2015. The SDGs are a continuation of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs), set in 2000. However, unlike the previous set of goals, the new SDGs are universal, including and involving all nations instead of developing countries only. 2030 Agenda consists of 17 goals and 169 objectives, aiming to build a sustainable future regarding ecological, economical and human perspectives. The goals are interlinked, therefore, it is not possible to achieve one goal without achieving the others too.

The Nordic Council of Ministers is committed to advance 2030 Agenda in its political collaboration. The Nordic Council of Ministers’ action plan is called Generation 2030. As the name suggests, the focus is on children and youth as the builders of better tomorrow. The Nordic countries have advanced the 2030 Agenda’s values already for decades and it is no coincidence, that the new SDGs have a lot in common with the Nordic model. Thanks to Nordic involvement for example, gender equality is central to the 2030 Agenda.

“Fifty years ago the world declared family planning to be a basic human right. Nordic countries have supported the implementation of reproductive rights both politically and economically, turning the focus to maternal health, contraception and gender based violence. The Nordics have shown leadership in gender equality questions and today, over 50% of UNFPA’s funding comes from the Nordic countries”, says Pernille Fenger.

UNFPA is the United Nations reproductive health and rights agency. Their mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth is safe and every young person’s potential is fulfilled.. Improving the rights of women and girls is central to achieving many of the goals on the 2030 Agenda. Fenger presents chilling statistics which show the utmost importance of the joint development efforts:

“If we do not achieve the goals regarding reproductive rights and gender equality by 2030, it means that during the next fifteen years 150 million girls will end up in child marriage and 68 million girls will become victims of female genital mutilation.”

The Nordic countries are a trusted and neutral partner in the international collaboration and according to Brückner, the Nordics should use their position much more actively in development negotiations. Brückner expect active participation from the Nordic countries in the UN, as well as financial contributions to secure the UN’s core functions and funding. Brückner finds it problematic, that many UN institutions lack secure core funding because the amount of money ear-marked for funding domestic policy agendas has risen. However, in development efforts a holistic approach is necessary, which becomes manifest in times of sudden crises, such the Syrian or Ebola crises.

“UNDP’s delayed response to the Syrian crisis was due to our lack of core funding”, Brückner explains.

“Some areas of development work are ‘sexier’ ‘ than others. For example, funding is needed for data collection, but is not as easy to sell to donors as, for example, vaccinations, where it is easier to measure an immediate impact. ”, Fenger continues.

The Nordic Council of Ministers has published an evaluation on how the Nordic countries are succeeding in reaching the SDGs. Bumps on the Road to 2030 shows, that the Nordic countries have a lot of work to do yet when it comes to the climate goals. Actions are needed in, for example, making agricultural systems greener, lowering CO2 emissions, waste management, protection of marine sites, controlling deforestation and especially, accommodating responsible consumption and production practices. SDG number 12, Responsible Consumption and Production, is a special focus area for the Nordic Council of Ministers until 2020.

Environmental questions have a bigger role in SDGs that their predecessors, MDGs did. Camilla Brückner emphasizes, that it is not possible to do development work without taking the environment into consideration. We are currently going through a transit period, where many industries are moving towards sustainable production processes. Brückner stresses the governments’ role in pushing the sustainability agenda forward. She calls for clear and uniform legislation and suggests incentives to make the change more attractive to businesses and industries.

“The ongoing change provides endless business opportunities and room for innovation. There will inevitably be winners and losers in this process. Moving towards sustainable production will be rewarding for the pioneers despite of higher initial costs. Also, sustainable companies are attractive to future oriented investors. On the other hand, different industry lobby groups are very powerful, and for example various harmful chemicals are still on the market despite there already being safe alternatives.”

Consumers also hold a great share of the responsibility and Fenger reminds us, that every single action is significant.

“As consumers we have a great deal of power. The most simple way to affect environmental issues is to pay attention to one’s own purchase and consumption habits. If there are not sustainable alternatives on the market yet, it is the consumer’s responsibility to demand them. For example, plastic is one of the key environmental problems of our time, and it is possible for consumers to put pressure on politicians to make sustainable decisions and pull certain products completely out of the market.”

In fact, steps to reduce plastic waste are already being taken. The European Commission recently published a proposal of new EU-wide rules to target the 10 single-use plastic products most often found on Europe’s beaches and seas. The proposal also suggests, that having one set of rules for the whole EU market will create a springboard for European companies to be more competitive in the booming global marketplace for sustainable products.

There is still a long way to go, but it is important to remember to stop and enjoy the results we have already gained, Brückner and Fenger remind us. The outcomes of the MDGs were impressive and based on this evidence we have a good reason to believe that the international community is able to reach the goals by 2030 together. However, it is a question of will. Reaching these goals means redistribution of wealth, which requires leadership and a strong political vision. Here the Nordic countries have a central role to play.

Advisor Annukka Vähäsöyrinki from the Nordic Culture Point interviewed Pernille Fenger, Chief of United Nations Population Fund’s Nordic Office and Camilla Brückner, Director of United Nations Development Programme’s Nordic Representation Office about 2030 Agenda. Camilla Brückner and Pernille Fenger visited Helsinki in May, giving also a talk at the World Village festival together with president Tarja Halonen, WFP’s Government Partnership Officer Heidi Olli, Prime Minister’s Office’s Senior Specialist on sustainable development Sami Pirkkala and The Family Federation of Finland’s Director of Global Development Unit Elina Korhonen.

Read more about the SDG’s and Agenda 2030.

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