Article, 29.07.2015

The Third International Conference on Financing for Development took place in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa from 13 to 16 July 2015. The international community agreed on a framework to implement and finance sustainable development. Ambassador Michael Gerber was chief negotiator in the Swiss delegation. In an interview he describes the negotiations and their results.

Ambassador Michael Gerber (left) next to Luxembourg’s Minister for Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Romain Schneider, at the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa.
Ambassador Michael Gerber (left) at the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa. © UNECA

In short, what was the outcome of the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa?
The final document of the Conference on Financing for Development is a leap forward from the outcomes of the first and second financing for development conferences in Monterrey in 2002 and in Doha of 2008. The text is well-balanced and comprised of concessions from the countries of the North and the South.

Addis Ababa established an implementation and financing framework for the new sustainable development goals that will replace the Millennium Development Goals and for international cooperation.

What exactly is new?
It brought the debate on financing for development up to date and extended it to new topics. The environmental dimension was also given prominent consideration for the first time. Up to now the debate on financing for development revolved around official development assistance.

Addis Ababa discussed new financing instruments, e.g. private sector instruments and public-private partnerships. It also broached the issues of illicit financial flows from developing countries to the countries in the North and the restitution of stolen assets. Switzerland’s input regarding stolen assets significantly helped shape the outcome document, and we held a side event on the subject.

Moreover, better use of and more favourable transaction costs for migrants’ remittances to their home countries was a topic Switzerland prominently advocated. These financial flows are approximately three times higher than those of official development assistance.

Did you expect the negotiations to go so well?
The negotiations were constructive, but difficult from the outset since there were many controversial issues. Regarding international cooperation in tax matters, for example, it was only on the last evening of the conference that a breakthrough was achieved. 

What led to these dynamics?
The positive dynamics of the negotiations were helped by the fact that the international community has been talking about the agenda to replace Millennium Development Goals for two and a half years. The sustainable development goals will be universal. To a large extent the normative framework for the discussions in Addis Ababa already existed and greatly influenced the financing debate. None of the countries had an interest in letting the negotiations fail. This would have impaired both the post-2015 agenda on sustainable development with its sustainable development goals and the climate summit in Paris in December 2015.   

What was Switzerland’s role?
Ahead of the conference Switzerland was already a mediator in many ways, particularly in the follow-up and review to check whether the goals had been achieved and the commitments respected. Those managing the negotiations asked Switzerland to take on a coordination and mediation role in this.

On the issues of gender equality, stolen assets, mobilising domestic financial resources, and the roles of migration and the private sector, Switzerland also mediated between the countries of the North and the South and clearly made its imprint on the final document.

Switzerland also hosted some of the more than 200 side events itself, e.g. on the restitution of stolen assets and on private sector engagement in favour of sustainable development. And it took part in others on issues such as human rights, migration and disaster risk reduction. An all-day business forum with representatives from the private sector from around the world was a big success. That forum was also supported by Switzerland. 

Is financing for development cooperation now assured or are there outstanding issues?
The conference in Addis Ababa was intended to discuss and determine what kind of financial flows will finance sustainable development – a concept that goes much further than classic development cooperation. Of course development assistance funding is still important, but in quantitative terms it only makes up a small proportion of all the international financial flows to countries of the South. It is not possible to say that the funding of development cooperation is assured. We will need to keep mobilising these funds over the next 15 years.

Addis Ababa endorsed the existing target for donor countries to invest 0.7% of their gross national income (GNI) in official development assistance. Switzerland, whose official development assistance is currently 0.49% of GNI, recognises this long-term objective – albeit without setting a binding date. 

How does the plan to implement and finance the sustainable development goals differ from that of the Millennium Development Goals? Have mechanisms been adjusted?
For a long time the debate on financing for development was primarily concerned with official development assistance. The main topic was what donor countries could do for receiving countries. Since the post-2015 agenda will be much more far-reaching than the Millennium Development Goals in terms of content, and will be universal and not only apply to developing countries in the South, it also needs a more extensive financing framework. That is why as well as official development assistance, we need to consider all of the other financial flows that can contribute to sustainable development. The existing funding mechanisms need to be adapted to the new circumstances and future requirements.

What are the next steps towards the agenda that will follow on from the Millennium Development Goals?
The sustainable development goals will be adopted at the summit in New York at the end of September. The relevant negotiations should be completed by then. The climate summit will take place in Paris in December and is also thematically and politically linked to the sustainable development goals.

Since Addis Ababa are you confident with regard to the Swiss position on the post-2015 agenda?
Yes, very confident. Switzerland has been able to contribute a lot in terms of content to the negotiations so far. Many of the major elements of Switzerland’s position feature both in the sustainable development goals and the Addis Ababa outcome document. These will certainly be retained through the remainder of the process. The outlook for the summit in New York is good. 

Objectives for sustainable development

The eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that the UN adopted in 2000 will expire in 2015. The focus was to halve world poverty by the end of 2015, which the international community managed to achieve ahead of the deadline. The sustainable development goals will follow on from the MDGs and will combine these with the Rio agenda on environment and sustainable development. Switzerland is strongly committed to the post-2015 sustainable development agenda.

Agenda Post 2015


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