Switzerland and the Sustainable Development Goals

Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share in Email Print article
Written by C. Naseer Ahmad

Switzerland’s Ambassador to the U.S. Martin Dahinden with author Nasser Ahmad.

In a recent report asking: Which countries are achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals fastest?” the World Economic Forum ranked Switzerland among the top five countries. The report notes that the aim of these goals, which originate from the Millennium Development Goals, is to reduce poverty, protect the planet and to ensure prosperity for everyone. Each goal has targets that need to be met by 2030.

With the caption “Sweet Sustainability, ” SwissInfo (the international service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation) reports that Switzerland’s chocolate producers formed an organization—the Swiss Platform for Sustainable Cocoa—a joint project to bring about a more sustainable industry and better conditions for cocoa producers. Swiss chocolate producers who have been considered as pioneers with innovative approaches have now embarked on the next stage to lead in “improving environmental and production conditions.” The newly launched platform aims to achieve this by promoting a dialogue between the various entities and the governmental organizations in the cocoa producing countries.

Switzerland looms large both in the context of Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) achievements but also in terms of the gross domestic product (GDP). In its 2015 Annual Report, the World Bank ranked Switzerland 19th in the world for the size of the economy and “2nd for the per capita GDP per person at more than $80,000, behind only Luxembourg.

A recent conversation with Switzerland’s Ambassador to the United States, H.E. Ambassador Martin Dahinden gave the Diplomatic Courier a comprehensive overview his country’s journey on the path to achieving SDGS by 2030. Before his appointment as Switzerland’s top diplomat in Washington, Ambassador Dahinden served as the Director of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation. He has also served in several capacities providing him a unique perspective and insight which he shared with the Diplomatic Courier readers.

At the outset of our conversation, Ambassador Dahinden discussed the enormous challenges—such as migration, climate change, environmental issues, poverty and hunger—that mankind faces. Many of these challenges are intractable problems that can’t be solved by individual countries. Most of these problems require both commitment and collaboration of the international community.

Setting the framework of this discussion, Ambassador Dahinden presented the historical evolution of the 2030 Agenda for the SDGs. From the eight (8) initial Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) the international community has agreed to seventeen (17) SDGs in the 2030 Agenda—now adopted by 193 countries.

Switzerland was strongly committed to the development of the 2030 Agenda and helped to determine its content. It was actively involved in drafting the SDGs and developing the mechanisms to follow-up and review progress,” states a handout provided by the Swiss Embassy in Washington during the discussion on SDGs with Ambassador Dahinden.

The handout articulates the 17 SDGs in easily understood and relatable terms. The document explains what the SDGs are about, the Swiss Implementation, the Reporting Obligations, the First Steps taken by Switzerland and Cooperation. The information provided for each of these topics communicates the importance Switzerland attaches to the SDGs and the vigor with which they are pursued.

The Federal Council is working on both domestically and internationally to achieve the goals of the 2030 Agenda. It seeks to do so in partnership with the cantons, communes, business, civil society and academia…” is a firm commitment to implementing SDGs. This means taking steps to reduce Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions and promoting gender equality, for example. This also encompasses the reporting obligation which keeps both the citizens, the parliament and UN updated about the progress.

One way to assess the progress is by paying attention to the voices from the private sector and NGOs. “With the SDGs, the international community has recognized the role of the private sector in creating shared value—entrepreneurial solutions to tackle societal challenges, “said Christian Frutiger, Global Head of Public Affairs, Nestlé SA. In fact, the company website Nestlé makes a clear statement: “Our focus areas are firmly embedded in our purpose. Individuals and families, our communities and the planet as a whole are interconnected, and our efforts in each of these areas are supported through our 42 public commitments. These commitments will in term enable us to meet our three ambitions for 2030 in line with the timescale of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

One of the outstanding global NGOs is the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) headquartered in Gland, Switzerland.  Thomas Vellacott, CEO WWF Switzerland asked the fundamental question: “are our business models fit for the challenges of the future?” His belief is that the SDGs are the benchmarks by which governments, business and civil society organizations must measure themselves. In essence, he calls for cooperation between different actors.

Historically, Switzerland has had a long tradition of cooperation between state and non-state actors. This is evident to the location of many multilateral bodies and NGOs like WWF in Switzerland.  Continuing this tradition, the federal government in Switzerland has resolved to consolidate the partnership for the implementation of the 2030 Agenda with clear objectives:

  • To strengthen institutional cooperation on sustainable development by means of specialized sustainability office and delegates at cantonal level.
  • Setting up a support group consisting of academia, business and civil society representatives—for clarifying the procedures and for coordination—for effective cooperation with non-state actors.
  • A consultative review—ensuring the consideration of the interests of non-governmental stakeholders—of the products, related to the 2030 Agenda, created by the federal government.

Alliance Sud is a powerful voice—an alliance of development organizations: Swissaid, Catholic Lenten Fund, Bread for all, Helvetas, Caritas and Interchurch Aid—that brings both energy and focus towards accomplishing SDGs of the 2030 Agenda. Under the theme “Policy for global justice” Alliance Sud strives to influence Switzerland’s policies to the benefit of the poor countries and their peoples. “The SDGs combine social, environmental and economic development into a single whole—in the global South as well as here at home,” says Mark Herkenrath, Director of Alliance Sud.

The spirit of cooperation is widely expressed throughout the corporate world. For instance, Syngenta—a global Swiss agribusiness that produces agrochemicals and seeds—has put the emphasis on SDGs in its business operations. “All actors have the opportunity to align their activities with the SDGs; highlight the social importance of what they do and work together,” says Regina Ammann, Head Public Policy, Syngenta.

From the cantonal perspective, one can feel the commitment to SDGs by visiting the Geneva Green Guide website. It communicates as very simple but effective message: “think, eat, save—reduce your food print.” This is the same message echoed by H.E. Ambassador Dahinden during the recent discussion with the Diplomatic Courier. “Geneva is resolutely committed to the path of sustainable development. The canton is developing its strategy in line with the SDGs and federal government objectives,” said Rémy Zinder, Head of the Cantonal Sustainable Development, Geneva.

Switzerland’s Federal Council has decided to supervise the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. This involves two governmental agencies—the Federal Office for Spatial Development (ARE) and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). An interdepartmental group is coordinating the initial steps by (a) performing an in-depth review to assess the current status both nationally as well as internationally and (b) by putting in place the institutional arrangements to manage the work and (c) by expanding the sustainable development monitoring system (MONET) to enable continuous monitoring of the progress towards the goals.

Researching through the SDC website, one can learn about case studies in specific countries and in areas of focus such as strengthening the health systems and addressing sexual and reproductive health or sustainable markets and agricultural products.

An example of the comprehensive approach taken by SDC is the focus on the Mekong Region—Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam—with the aim to “reduce poverty, support equitable and sustainable development, and foster democratic governance in. Switzerland is active in three sectors: social development, local governance and citizen participation, agriculture and food security, as well as vocational education and training.

The collective work of the different organizational entities communicates a high level of commitment at all levels in Switzerland. The passion to serve and to march forward towards achieving the SDGs can also be felt by the transparency, the willingness to listen and to share by the leadership at the federal level and SDC. Another remarkable aspect of Switzerland’s commitment to these goals is the sustained quality of leaders—who have the necessary talents and the empathy—assigned to accomplish the goals. Therefore it is not surprising Switzerland would come out among the top ranked countries for achieving the SDGs and on target to achieve the 2030 Agenda.