Interview with Ambassador Michael Gerber, the Federal Council's special envoy for sustainable development

Article, 11.11.2015

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was adopted unanimously in New York in September 2015 at the largest-ever meeting of heads of state and government.  This milestone sets out the path for the future and provides the model for sustainable development for the next 15 years.

Ambassador Michael Gerber,l the Federal Council's special envoy for sustainable development
“The international community showed that it is still capable of working together to forge an ambitious multilateral agreement.” ©

The Federal Council's special envoy for sustainable development, Ambassador Michael Gerber, speaks about the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Mr Gerber, if you now look back with a certain distance on the negotiations on the 2030 Agenda, what made the greatest impression on you?

Without doubt the conclusion of the negotiations on 2 August 2015 in New York. Following an intensive three-year process that involved repeated rounds of tough negotiations, the head negotiators finally reached agreement and the 2030 Agenda was born. From as far back as 2012, I had tried many times to envisage this moment, but until last summer it was still not certain that it would ever happen. Finally it did, and the international community showed that it is still capable of working together to forge an ambitious multilateral agreement.

Switzerland was a driving force in the drafting of the new agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. What is it doing now to implement the goals?

Switzerland is working to ensure that the current positive atmosphere at the international level in connection with the SDGs takes hold at the national level. The summit had hardly ended before we started work on implementing the 2030 Agenda. In the coming months we will decide on the direction Switzerland will take with the Federal Council Dispatch on international cooperation in the period 2017-2020 and the strategy on sustainable development for 2016-2019. In the next two years, Switzerland will decide which specific measures it will take to contribute to meeting the 17 goals and 169 targets. In the follow-up it will report regularly to the UN on the progress it makes.

Will Switzerland now have to do everything differently from the way it did before?

No, in some areas it will certainly be enough to carry on our previous, already progressive policy. In other areas Switzerland will endeavour to focus in more concrete and consistent ways on adopting sustainable approaches, for example, in production methods and consumer behaviour. The universal goals and the corresponding indicators must first, however, be adapted to national conditions. For example, poverty reduction in Switzerland, measured against the national poverty line, obviously does not have the same meaning as in a developing country.

How will it be possible to ensure that the agenda is regarded by all as binding? Critics say that although the 2030 Agenda is well intentioned, it carries little weight because it does not provide for the possibility of sanctioning states that do not reach the targets.

The 2030 Agenda provides for progress to be measured in all countries and regions. States are required to provide a regular account of the contributions they make to meeting the individual goals. This creates a certain peer pressure because country contributions are made transparent and it will be possible to see if a country is not doing enough or anything at all to achieve one or more of the SDGs. The fact that civil society will be included in the implementation and monitoring work for the first time will enable it to assume its important role as advocate, and demand a corresponding commitment on the part of states. In addition, sustainability reporting is to be established in the private sector: the number of companies that are willing to be measured against sustainability criteria and to report along the lines of the SDG procedure is constantly increasing. It is often the case that voluntary systems such as this produce better results than legally binding agreements and UN resolutions.