Annick Girardin: ‘The SDGs can solve the causes of the migrant crisis’

Annick Girardin [fred de la mure / MAEDI]

International leaders will meet this week to adopt the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. Annick Girardin told EURACTIV France that she believes this framework will respond to the root causes of the refugee crisis. 

Annick Girardin is the French Secretary of State for Development and Francophonie.

Girardin spoke with Cécile Barbière.

Global leaders will meet in New York this week to adopt the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which expire this year. How would you sum up the success of the MDGs?

The MDGs were a success. Concretely, six of the eight Millennium Development Goals were achieved. The first example, and certainly the most important, was to reduce poverty by half.

In 2010, one billion people climbed out of extreme poverty. I think it is important to remember this statistic. On the objective of universal education, we achieved a primary education rate of 91% in developing countries. On the question of gender equality, we saw a twofold increase in the number of women in parliaments. We have also made progress on child mortality, which has fallen by half in the last 25 years.

For health, we also brought down the number of HIV infections by 40% and the death rate from malaria by 58%. All the results, all the indicators, show that the world is a better place today than it was before.

The picture may be good for health, but for the state of the planet…

Yes indeed, the environment has been a real failure. The year 2015, and the new SDGs, should correct that. We never reached the objective of reducing carbon emissions by 50%, which was already included in the MDGs. And the objective of assigning 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) from donor countries to development aid has also never been achieved. In fact, official development assistance is in decline.

Precisely. France is one of the donor countries that have never reached this objective of 0.7%. Will any extra efforts be made?

France will make a number of announcements at the New York summit, concerning both development aid and the climate. At the Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development, France re-committed to getting back on track towards the 0.7% objective.

This is why the president and the prime minister announced the merger of the French Development Agency (AFD) and the public financing body (Caisse des Dépôts), to give us the means to act and bring new momentum to the fights against climate change and poverty.

We are also working on the implementation of a European Financial Transaction Tax, which will be an important lever for financing action on health and the climate.

Like other European countries, France also repeated its commitment to dedicate 0.2% of its GNI to the most vulnerable countries. Despite the generally positive outcome of the MDGs, the very poorest are certainly the ones whose situation has developed the least. We have often seen very good results with emerging countries.

Once the new Sustainable Development Objectives are adopted in New York, they will come into force on 1 January 2016. Are they supported by the French people?

For me the real question is this: how will the people take on these development objectives? The challenge is to develop the educational tools to let young people know that they exist, that they are universal and that every country has to apply them.

The results of the AFD survey show that 67% of French people think we should show more solidarity on questions of poverty and 85% think we should be more responsible in our approach to climate change.

We are moving from a framework of 8 objectives to one that contains 17. How will these new objectives be measured?

It is true that certain countries think 17 objectives are too many. But we had to bring together all the elements of a fairer and more balanced world.

Now we have to be able to specify the indicators and measures by which to evaluate them. Here we still have work to do.

Many French NGOs hoped we would work with them on these questions, so that France could make a certain number of proposals, and that is what we have committed to doing.

These ambitions will now have to be financed for the years to come. It is estimated that the bill will reach $3,000 billion per year. How will the international community provide the colossal amounts of money needed?

The Addis Ababa Conference on Financing for Development this June was a success. Following this, countries will continue to provide development aid through official development assistance, but the responsibility for financing is shared. So national resources will not just be mobilised by the countries of the Global North, but also by those of the South.

We also have to fight tax evasion and help the countries of the global South to establish effective tax systems.

Then there is the need for responsibility and solidarity from businesses, the input of development banks and other partners like regional communities.

It will only be possible to change the scale of our action to reach close to $3,000 billion per year if everyone works together. Responsibility is shared between all actors across the North and the South.

Then with the addition of the decisions and financing of the Paris Climate Conference in December, the effort will be multiplied. Support for developing countries through the 0.7% share of GNI will be strengthened with climate finance and efforts to help developing countries adapt to climate change.

The refugee crisis has exposed the inefficiency of development aid policies towards the migrants’ countries of origin. How should we respond to this emergency?

Beyond the questions of security and hosting refugees in France, the important issue in the long term is to help the countries of origin. Migration is almost always forced. 80% of migrants come from the South and move towards the North, and we have to help all the countries that receive them.

Niger, for example, is a country facing many challenges. The Sahel (south of the Sahara) is an area greatly affected by desertification and flooding, as well as demographic problems and terrorism. We have to be up to the challenge and target our actions on these countries in years to come.

Jean-Claude Juncker announced a €1.8 billion European trust fund, whose priority will be to respond to the needs of these countries to allow them to develop. This fund will be aimed at around a dozen specific projects that will be chosen at the EU-Africa summit in Malta this November.

Why a trust fund? For a swift reaction, because Europe is often criticised for its lack of responsiveness. This trust fund shows we are aware of the urgency of the situation, but also the long term needs.

The Sustainable Development Objectives do not prioritise the issues related to the refugee crisis. How will this subject be dealt with in New York?

The issue will obviously be raised, and will figure in the discussions between the heads of government at the summit. But migrations are consequences. The causes of these migrations are the issues addressed by the 17 SDGs. The SDGs are the solution to the causes of the migrant crisis. The problem does not start with the migrants.

Migration is caused by the threats to life and livelihood that come from war and famine in developing countries. In itself, migration is not a harmful thing. 

Further Reading

The United Nations summit sustainable development will take place in New York from 25 to 27 September. Over 150 world leaders will attend the summit, where they will adopt the new set of Sustainable Development Goals.