Following interview was published in the newsletter by National Statistics Office of Mongolia.
NSO: In recent years countries are paying attention to sustainable development at an increased rate. Mongolia is the same. However, at an individual level, most people are not aware of the main idea and further implications of sustainable development. What is 2030 agenda for sustainable development and what is it aiming for?
Beate Trankmann: Sustainable development involves meeting the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
There are growing fears that current levels of economic development are not sustainable. 700 million fewer people live in extreme poverty conditions in 2010 than in 1990. Yet as poverty falls, consumption goes up and production methods become more intensive. If these trends continue, with our ever-increasing population, the planet’s resources will not be sustained, unless we change our actions. The issue of sustainability belongs to everybody, because our environment and the depletion of its resources is one that will affect generations to come.
Putting sustainability at its core, the new global development agenda – a set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – integrates the three dimensions of development – economic, social and environment. This presents a roadmap for a world by 2030 – a world without poverty, with reduced inequality and where we have ensured our planet’s ability to support future generations.
NSO: What is the basis for sustainable development? What is the main idea behind the globally accepted SDGs? How can we achieve the SDGs?
Beate Trankmann: The key to sustainable development is finding and adopting smart pathways that do not advance development at the expense of future generations. As a global community, we can no longer afford to develop first and clean up later. The SDGs are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. Having all countries agree on a single common development agenda is a great achievement. At the same time, this agenda is the most ambitious the world has ever seen.
To achieve these goals, we must change the way we live, behave, invest, do business, produce and consume. This calls for an all-of-society effort. Therefore, we will need to work across sectors and groups, involving the government, civil society, academia, youth and private sector to play their distinct roles.
For example, the government will lead the agenda by including sustainability in its plans; parliaments with legislation and budgeting; the private sector will contribute with innovation, financing and philanthropy; civil society will contribute by raising awareness and doing community work, while people will contribute through everyday choices and actions.
The world’s biggest problems can only be solved if all of us join in, change our behaviours and take responsibility. From reducing our energy use, re-using and recycling; to taking the bus or walking instead of a car; to supporting local businesses; to picking up trash in a river or pasture when we see it. Our actions today can make a difference for generations to come.
NSO: MDGs have been implemented before. How are the SDGs going to differ from MDGs in terms of impact on people’s and country’s future? Specifically, what kind of progress will we witness in terms of socio-economical aspect?
Beate Trankmann: The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were designed to eradicate extreme poverty and improve the health and welfare of the world’s poorest people. They were the most successful anti-poverty push in history, lifting more than a billion people out of poverty. They also ensured 91 percent of all children worldwide are now in primary school, and reduced the number of new HIV infections by 40 percent.
The SDGs, with their broader scope, ambition and universality, follow and expand on the MDGs to carry on the momentum that was generated. The SDGs are a universal agenda, realising that our shared prosperity and our planet can only be protected if all countries take action. In that respect, they apply to developing and developed countries alike.
Moreover, the SDGs focus on eliminating poverty once and for all, rather than just reducing it. They also aim to ensure that all people benefit from development, without leaving anyone behind, as well as protecting the planet. They emphasise the importance of the rule of law and the creation of strong accountable institutions that are equipped to govern peaceful, stable and inclusive societies.
Mongolia adopted the SDGs in its own Sustainable Development Vision 2030. Realizing the Vision by 2030 will mean that Mongolia will be one of the leading Middle Income Countries – to eradicate poverty in all its forms, preserve its ecological balance and build strong and stable governance systems.
NSO: Ministries, agencies, authorities, universities, CSO’s and international organizations are partnering to achieve the SDGs. What is UN’s role in this partnership?
Beate Trankmann: Our main role in this partnership is to be a platform for cooperation across all these different groups, connecting them with each other as well as offering them our globally-informed expertise and guidance so each of their contributions are fully realised together. The United Nations will work with all stakeholders, including the government, private sector, civil society and communities towards these goals. To guide our support for Mongolia’s development over the next five years, we launched a new Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) for 2017-2021, developed with the government. This focuses on promoting inclusive growth, sustainable use of natural resources, improving access to social services, as well as strengthening governance. To achieve this, the UN will contribute an estimated $79 million in joint activities with multiple stakeholders, in addition to programmes supported by individual UN agencies.
In our work with the government, we will provide high-level policy and technical advice to enable the SDGs and SDV to be carried out. This includes mainstreaming the SDGs into national and local government plans, as well as developing screening tools to review and align sectoral strategies and policies. It also includes guiding strategies for better targeting of scarce public resources towards social and environmental outcomes and towards key SDGs that can accelerate progress across the entire agenda. We will also help to put data and monitoring systems in place to track progress over time and inform policy making including through innovative approaches to data generation and real-time monitoring by using big data.
In addition, we will look at SDG financing strategies involving both the public and private sector, forging alliances to achieve the SDV and SDGs. We estimate that 70 percent of the funding needed to achieve SDGs globally must come from the private sector. While the UN is no longer a primary donor, but rather a service provider, we look to partner with companies and create blended models of financing that combine private finance with development grants to de-risk investments. We can also work to create more favourable environments for sustainable investments, by cooperating with the government, communities and civil society. Furthermore, we can offer our global expertise and experience in developing public-private partnerships that put sustainability at the core of private sector business models and deliver solid development returns. This also supports the growing corporate social responsibility requirements companies are increasingly expected to report on in many countries worldwide.
In addition, the UN will continue to support Mongolia in achieving its development targets through specific, on-the-ground interventions and projects that can accelerate the country’s SDGs progress. For example, helping herder households to diversify their income sources, contributing to better health nationwide through mobile health clinics, or supporting the reduction of heat losses in public buildings, to name a few.
NSO: Information and data sources are essential in the implementation of the SDGs. Particularly, statistical data. Hence, it is inevitable that we discuss the importance of statistical data. Can you explain how statistical data plays a role in the implementation of the SDGs?
The importance of reliable data for policy making and implementation of development agendas cannot be overemphasized. The main idea of the SDGs is ‘leaving no one behind.’ Therefore, we must ensure that everyone is counted, especially the most poor and vulnerable.
Decision makers need data that is accurate, timely, relevant, accessible and easy to use, in order to make informed decisions about policies, their sequencing and budgets, as well as monitor progress on the SDGs.
The world has seen an unprecedented ‘data revolution’ that has expanded these possibilities, with innovations in data collection, analysis and sharing techniques and technologies improving the availability and quality of data over the years. Taping into new and different sources of data to monitor our behavioural changes across all sectors of society is vital, as the SDGs require everyone to do things differently and we need to find ways of tracking this.
However, statistical capacity still needs strengthening and data literacy must be enhanced at all levels of decision-making. This task is complex and requires acquiring more resources, developing new methods, integrating new data sources and increasing cooperation.
For this to be achieved, all partners and stakeholders must work together to ensure that the necessary investments are made, technical capacities built, new data sources explored and innovative processes applied to build the information systems for sustainable development.
NSO: You are attending the upcoming national forum on “Sustainable development- Statistics”. What will you speak about? Could you share with us?
Beate Trankmann: I will primarily focus on the role of data in integrating and implementing the SDGs in Mongolia. I will touch upon the importance of policy coherence, monitoirng, evaluation and financing for SDGs. I will also discuss how United Nations is supporting the SDGs in Mongolia.
NSO: How do you perceive Mongolia’s path to sustainable development?
Beate Trankmann: Since its transition to democracy, Mongolia has achieved important development gains. Its progress in strengthening democratic governance and human rights over the last twenty five years make Mongolia a model of democracy in this region. In 2015, it entered the ‘high’ human development category for the first time. It currently ranks as 92nd out of 187 countries on the 2016 Human Development Index. Since 1990, life expectancy at birth jumped by 9.5 years; expected years of schooling grew by 4.6 years; and GNI per capita rose by about 124 percent.
Until 2014, economic progress had lifted half a million people out of poverty. However, Mongolia’s development gains remain fragile. As a result of the recent slowdown and falling commodities prices in 2015-2016, Mongolia has seen poverty levels rising again, currently affecting nearly one in three people (29.6 percent) compared to 21.6 percent in 2014. It is vital that the causes of economic instability – including over dependence on commodities and policy uncertainty – be addressed, to prevent more people from falling back into poverty in future.
Economic progress has also come to some extent at the expense of environmental degradation. Mongolia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change on earth. Over the past 70 years, its average temperatures have increased by more than 2°C, already exceeding the limit the world is trying to avoid, and rising by almost three times than the global average. Climate-related disasters, such as droughts and dzuds, are putting greater strains on herding communities and threatening rural livelihoods.
This has led to more migration to Ulaanbaatar and as a result, greater air, water and soil pollution. Without adequate housing, families in ger districts must resort to burning coal during winter that can lead to air pollution in some ger districts more than 30 times the WHO safe limit, raising serious concerns for human health. Major efforts are needed in climate change adaptation and mitigation, which the UN is already working on here. This includes protecting and managing water resources, as well ensuring environmentally friendly energy, housing and insulation.
Mongolia’s government has shown strong commitment to addressing these challenges, through its SDV. A new government institution – the National Development Agency (NDA) – was also set up in 2016, to oversee long-term planning and facilitate policy coherence in carrying out the SDV and SDGs. It is also in charge of regional development policies and public investment.
The next step now is for Mongolia to continue translating the aspirations of the SDGs and the SDV into detailed plans, sector policies and government budgets across all levels. To protect the important development gains made since the democratic transition and halt the recent reversals, it will also be crucial that these plans identify possibilities to continue prioritizing government investments into social services and environmental protection measures, despite the tightening fiscal space.
NSO: UN is the one of the international organizations that the GOM is partnering with to achieve sustainable development. We cooperate not only on sustainable development issues but on many others. Can you elaborate more on what other work is being done with the GOM?
Beate Trankmann: Under the UNDAF (2017-21), we will work together to support Mongolia’s national priorities articulated in Mongolia’s Sustainable Development Vision 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals. The main aim, for the next five years, is to support Mongolia in transforming its enormous potential grounded in rich natural resources into development that benefits all people and is sustainable. In pursuit of this ambition, our key focus areas are building resilient communities with better jobs, improving access to social services, strengthening accountable and transparent government institutions, ensuring participation of women and young people in policy and decision making and promoting human rights.