We are honored to post this interview with Olav Kjorven Assistant Secretary – General of the United Nations, by Henrique Andrade Camargo, of our Affiliate MERCADO ETICO in Sao Paulo, Brazil. We agree that RIO + 20 was an advance in reintegrating human knowledge and action and that Brazil will continue to play a global leadership role. – – Hazel Henderson, Editor
“Brazil can lead Sustainable Development Goals”
Henrique Andrade Camargo of Mercado Ético
With a little more than two years to go until the end of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the United Nations is already working hard so that new world goals will be established as of 2015. This time, the emphasis will be on the creation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a movement that began during Rio+20 and that is now taking shape.
In May, the United Nations (UN) launched an outline of what these goals would be. Although in fairly general terms, the points listed did not show objectivity and neither did they stipulate periods for their fulfillment (Click here to access the document in English).
But perhaps it would be too much to ask for anything more than what was presented at this stage of the process. The task is complicated and requires that countries agree with what is being proposed. However, more than just deciding what has to be done on its own, the UN is doing an unprecedented job by establishing a worldwide dialog about what the SDGs should encompass. And, in this case, when one talks to everyone, it really means everyone, including you and me. By means of the My World 2015 online platform, the UN is opening the way for people to give their opinions about the future they would like to build.
With this in mind, Olav Kjorven, the Assistant Secretary-General of the UN, believes that Brazil could play a leading role because, in his opinion, Brazil is one of the few countries with a high standing when it comes to progress aimed at sustainable development.
Kjorven was in Brazil this week and granted an exclusive interview to Mercado Ético in which he talked not only about MDG and SDG, but also about Rio+20 and the expectations from Centro Rio+, which opened at the beginning of this week in Rio de Janeiro.
Mercado Ético: Rio+20 was heavily criticized for having been an utter failure. What do you think about that?
Olav Kjorven: I don’t agree with that at all. I understand the critics, but I think they have the wrong idea about the event. I also think that there was a lack of understanding as to where we are now with regards to the global community. Of course there is a need to face the big challenges in the right way. But while on the one hand Rio+20 did not get commitments from the governments, on the other it established a new way of thinking about the development we want for the future. Today we understand that development does not exist without sustainability and that sustainability exists without development. This means that the task of governments and society is to systematically integrate the three dimensions of sustainability: the social, the economic and the environmental.
Before Rio+20, sustainability was out of fashion. Nobody talked about it anymore. The conference brought the matter back to the fold, with an understanding that we cannot have sustainability without the three elements together.
Secondly, we got commitments in the sense of creating the sustainable development goals (SDG). This is most important thing. By 2015, we will have a new range of goals to help us achieve sustainable development. This won’t be only for poor people in poor countries. It will be for the whole world.
And lastly, Rio+20 was about much more than just formal negotiations. There was a lot of input from society and business.
ME: With regard to the millennium development goals (MDG), many of the goals have not yet been attained. What do you expect from this final stretch?
OK: My point of view is that the MDG is already a success. For the first time in history we have common goals to improve the living conditions of people. We are talking about infant mortality, basic sanitation, getting children into school, solving health problems such as HIV and malaria. The MDGs are important for solving the problems of the people. The world put the obsession with economic growth a little to the side to look at these humanitarian causes. And this initiative was a success because the goals were simple and measurable.
This is valid for those who said that countries that improve their indices only do so by means of economic growth, like China, India and Brazil. This is not true. Many governments prioritize some questions on account of the MDGs. That is why they are so important. They really work.
ME: Raising money for the MDGs was also a problem. The goal was to have 0.7% of the GDP from each of the donor countries, but only a few achieved that.
OK: That’s true. Only six or seven countries achieved or exceeded the target of 0.7%. But there again, you have to choose whether you are looking at a glass half full or a glass half empty. In the 1990s donations dwindled. Countries were losing their commitment to the UN. Following the MDGs this was trend was reversed. So, even though many countries did not reach the target, the majority increased aid levels during this period. Another thing we learned from the MDGs is that developing countries don’t depend only on money from the UN to act. The most important resources come from themselves. We see many places in Africa improving their tax collection systems to obtain more domestic funds for this purpose.
Clearly, this doesn’t mean that everything has been done. There’s still a lot to do. It’s also important to say that many large private organizations, such as the Gates Foundation, have become big donors.
ME: But do you believe that the fall in donations could be an obstacle for the SDGs?
OK: When we look at the long-term, we see some challenges. On the one hand we have the European crisis, which could be a threat. But, on the other hand, when we talk about sustainable development we are talking about better cities, energy and agriculture. This means we can’t only look at the donors’ money, but also at private capital. The big challenge is to get private capital for things not related just to profit, but also for human development.
ME: What are your expectations in this regard?
OK: It’s difficult, isn’t it? But look at what General Motors, Unilever and other big companies are saying. They are committing themselves to these things very seriously. Obviously, they need to go on making profits, but they have to do this in a socially and environmentally responsible way. Thus we see that even in the private sector, people are realizing that things have to be done in a different way. To opening opportunities for sustainable millennium goals is to create a global partnership. It’s necessary to create a coalition of the private sector and the financial sector. Without this we won’t make it.
ME: The formal opening of Centro Rio+ will only take place at the end of the month, but it is already operational in the UFRJ (State University of Rio de Janeiro).Why is it important to have a center like this in Rio de Janeiro?
OK: It’s very important. We have big expectations. There’s the symbolic factor that we have this center in Brazil, considering that Rio+20 took place in Rio de Janeiro. Furthermore, it represents the institutionalization of everything that happened there. Rio is also the right place insofar as it breaks away from the reasoning of 20 or 30 years ago when the ideas and recipes for development came from north to south. That world is over. Today, trade between the countries in the south has almost the same economic volume as that between the countries in the north. Ten years ago nobody believed that this would be possible 40 years on. Furthermore, Brazil has been evolving in many areas, such as public policies, reducing deforestation and poverty. All this makes it very interesting to have a center for these challenges in this country. It’s not that everything is perfect in Brazil, but here there is a political-social environment that helps to break the old pattern of the north-south relationship.
My dream is that this center will not only be just another think-tank with interesting research, congresses and things like that. This is good, but we want a 2.0 center which creates solutions arising from collective understanding, activities financed by crowdfunding …
ME: With regard to SDGs, the United Nations is listening to people from all over the world to find out what they want for the future. What are the main points that have been raised so far?
OK: Obviously, at the end of the day it will be the country representatives who will decide what the SDGs are. But we want to set up a global conversation that has never taken place before. We have 11 global survey questions that take place both online and in person. We discuss matters such as inequality, environmental sustainability, peace and security, health and education. We are also supporting surveys at a national level in 90 countries. We have reached communities that have never heard anybody talking about global policy processes before. We also have the My World survey, an open platform where anybody who is interested can get involved in the process.
ME: What have you already learned from all this so far?
OK: We have learned some things. To begin with, that people don’t want to mix them with the millennium goals. The millennium goals have already helped to improve many things, but there is still a lot to be done. And that people perceive that this is a tool to help improve development and human conditions. We also perceive that people are concerned about matters that go beyond the MDGs, such as environmental sustainability, war and security, access to public health and quality education and they also want honest politicians.
And what makes me happy is that this data we are gathering is already being taken into account when we hold high-level discussions.
I would like to throw down the gauntlet to Brazil. The country is playing an incredibly important role in the building of an international consensus.
What Brazil achieved with Rio+20 was very difficult to do, even if people have been critical. But I believe that this country could be important in terms of leading the construction of what the SDGs end up becoming. Obviously, everybody thinks in terms of national interests, but we are not naïve. We have to think of how to create the best possible consensus for future sustainable development. We can talk about who is to blame for this or that forever, but where will that get us? We have to look to the future and seek models to finance sustainable development. I believe Brazil could be the leading voice in this process, one of the few countries with high credibility when about it comes to progress towards sustainable development.