My speech presenting the report of the International Peer Review of Germany’s Sustainable Development Strategy in Berlin. 4 June 2018

Berlin 4 June 2018 Angela Merkel.jpg

PHOTO: Chancellor Angela Merkel speaking at the Annual Conference of the German Sustainable Development Conference on 4 June.

Since September last year, I was the chair of the Third International Peer Review of Germany’s Sustainable Development Strategy. Germany has been producing these strategies since 2002, long before the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals were launched at the United Nations in 2015. Germany’s contribution to sustainable development matters enormously: it is one of the world’s highest income countries and has one of the largest economies. It is also has a modern history of social dialogue and concern for the environment has deep roots in the society. Its strategy is a good one. The recommendations made by our Review Team were designed to be practical advice on how to speed up implementation. The link to the full report is here: My speech follows:

 Rt Hon Helen Clark,

Speech presenting the 2018 International Peer Review of the German Sustainability Strategy at the Annual Conference of the German Council for Sustainable Development.

9.40 am CET, Monday 4 June 2018.

 Chair of the German Sustainable Development Council,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen.

 It is my pleasure today to present to you formally the report of the International Peer Review Group on the German Sustainable Development Strategy.

 Let me say on behalf of all members of the team that we consider it a great privilege to have been invited to undertake this task. We did so in the belief that what Germany does on sustainability is of global importance, not least because of the size of its economy and population. When major countries move on sustainable development, that is felt around the world.

 We thank all those who interacted with us during the review: The Chancellery for its support for our work; and all those who met with us: government officials, Members of Parliament, members of the German Council for Sustainable Development (RNE), and representatives of the private sector and civil society. Meeting with such a wide range of actors greatly enriched our understanding of the sustainability challenges and opportunities for Germany. Our work was greatly facilitated by Gunther Bachmann and Veronica Tomei at RNE and their team.

 Now let me proceed to our findings and recommendations. They are premised on our group’s view that Germany is well positioned to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its own Sustainable Development Strategy (GSDS) which flows from them. We acknowledge that Germany has been producing official Sustainable Development Strategies since 2002, acting well in advance of most countries. It has developed an institutional architecture which can drive the current Strategy forward, and it has the wealth, the access to relevant technologies, and the stakeholder engagement to back that effort.

  1. That view underlies our first recommendation: that, rather than reinvent the whole wheel, Germany should “keep what works, elevate what is good, and change what has failed to deliver”.

In pursuit of that, the country will need to address its off-track indicators quickly, and both recognise new and emerging threats to sustainability and strengthen its capacity to respond to those. It also needs to expand communication and engagement efforts – we perceive that sustainable development here is often seen as being focused on environmental issues, and that civil society actors in the social and economic spheres do not always see the Sustainable Development Strategy as speaking to them.

  1. On the institutional architecture for sustainable development, the Peer Review Group believes that it is very positive that the top level of the Federal Government, the Chancellery, drives the Strategy. We were also encouraged that the new Coalition Government Agreement supports the continuation of sustainable development strategies. At this relatively early stage of the Government’s term in office, we believe it is important for its leading figures to send strong signals of commitment to advancing the Strategy, and to consider anchoring sustainable development principles in the German Constitution.
  1. Raising the level of ambition for what Germany can achieve: this is a key recommendation. While recognising that progress on the majority of the Strategy’s targets is currently off-track, the Peer Review Group feels that the Strategy needs to be more ambitious. In particular, we agreed that ambition and the speed of progress should be lifted on:
  • moving towards zero net land degradation;
  • reversing the trend on biodiversity losses;
  • phasing out fossil fuel and nuclear energy generation and putting even more emphasis on driving a global change to achieve sustainable energy for all;
  • achieving a circular economy; and
  • promoting informed public debate on why achieving sustainable development is critical for Germany and the wider world.
  1. Leaving No One Behind is a core principle of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. As such, it invokes the need for both local and global solidarity. The latter can be advanced through Germany’s Official Development Assistance budget. Among those to whom we spoke, however, there was some concern expressed that more people are being left behind in Germany itself. Sensitive policy responses which engage communities will be needed to ensure ongoing social cohesion and solidarity amidst the growing diversity of the population.

Overall, we are living in times of great turbulence including in the world of work and in what is happening to our climate and broader environment. Governments worldwide must endeavour to provide both direction and policy frameworks which help citizens, the private sector, and other actors adapt in this era where volatility is the new normal and where sustainable development is an imperative. The Peer Review Group reiterates the message of the 2013 Peer Review that there will not be future competitiveness without sustainability.

  1. Strengthening the Federal Government’s central co-ordination capacities: As observed earlier, the institutional architecture to guide the Sustainable Development Strategy is sound with the Chancellery providing leadership and a State Secretaries’ Committee convened to drive implementation. Yet, with 29 of the 63 Sustainable Development Strategy indicators off-track, the practical results are not as good as they could be. That calls for a redoubling of efforts. The Peer Review Group recommends that:
  • the State Secretaries’ Committee should meet regularly around a strong action programme;
  • off-track indicators need to be addressed through departmental action plans for which departments are accountable;
  • the departmental co-ordinators of the Sustainable Development Strategy need their work better resourced; and
  • efforts towards sustainable procurement and operations across the government system should be intensified, and more ways should be found to support the exchange of best practice on sustainability at all levels of government and throughout the economy and society.
  1. The role of Parliament: While the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development has been established for twelve years, it does not have the power and status of a parliamentary standing committee. The Peer Review Group recommends that it should be transformed into a more powerful committee which scrutinises progress on the Sustainable Development Strategy closely and focuses in particular on the off-track indicators. We also suggest that a way be found to reflect the Strategy in the Government’s budget.
  1. The German Council for Sustainable Development was established in 2001. It has the capacity to convene stakeholders and advise government on cross-cutting issues of sustainability. It has the right to pursue an independent agenda, which is best practice for such organisations worldwide. The Peer Review Group believes its role could be strengthened. Specifically, we suggest that:
  • more use is made of the Council’s capacity to convene across the wide range of actors in German society;
  • the Council should intensify its advocacy to business and institutions in urging that they make their footprint sustainable and report back to the public using the Sustainability Code; and
  • there should be an evaluation of the current status of the Council with consideration being given to giving it a legal entity status which better fits its independent profile.
  1. Revamping communication of the Strategy: The Peer Review Group acknowledges that while achieving sustainability is complex, it should be possible to communicate both Germany’s own Strategy and the Global Goals (SDGs) effectively. Across society and the economy, individual citizens, companies, and civil society need good information about what they can do to support Germany to make progress. We observe that the concept of sustainability has deep roots in German society, and that the concept of the social market economy and its tradition of dialogue here are also positive for tackling major challenges. We therefore have recommended that the Government:

–   establish a budget line for communications about sustainable development and a strategy to inform and engage the broader public and the civil servants and other public employees responsible for driving progress on the Strategy;

encourage and support citizens, companies, and other organisations to publicise the sustainability steps they are taking, so that knowledge and experience can be broadly shared at home and abroad; and

  engage strategically in the German Sustainability Awards which highlight best practice.

  1. Enhancing capacity for systems thinking and education for sustainability: Strategising on sustainability requires a capacity to see the big picture of how economic and social systems and natural ecosystems interact.
  • To build a broader understanding of the challenge, education about sustainable development needs to be incorporated at all levels of the education system and through life long learning. It is particularly important that politicians and officials grasp the opportunities, the risks, and the changes needed in order to be able to participate in informed debate and decision-making.
  • A science platform has been made part of the German Sustainable Development Strategy, and the scope of research expenditure has been broadened, including by internationalising it to enable access by partners with the aim of supporting implementation of the 2030 Agenda more broadly. This is very positive.
  • We recommend that research should also explicitly focus on Germany’s off-track indicators to support finding solutions, and on emerging challenges.
  1. Tracking progress on the Strategy’s indicators: The Peer Review Group places great emphasis on the importance of indicators and measurement of progress on them. We suggest that:
  • the Strategy’s indicators are kept under close review to ensure that they remain relevant and steer progress;
  • off-track indicators are addressed rapidly with actions which can get them back on track;
  • the national statistical office and data-tracking processes should have their funding expanded to ensure data adequacy;

-ensuring comparability with European Union indicators would be useful; and that

  • the decision of the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions (INTOSAI) Congress in Abu Dhabi in 2016 on the monitoring of progress on the SDGs by national audit institutions should be taken into account. Specifically, INTOSAI proposes that the national institutions should explore the preparedness of national governments to implement the SDGs, undertake performance audits on the SDGs, and contribute to implementation of SDG16 which envisages effective, accountable, and transparent institutions. It emphasizes the importance of including external stakeholders in the audit process.
  1. Dealing with emerging issues and applying the GSDS’s principles to Germany’s global interactions. 

The Peer Review Group believes that Germany needs to address the issues of sustainable production and consumption more directly. It notes that Germany’s trade patterns have an impact for better or worse on value chains in many developing and emerging economies. It recommends that

  • Germany should internationalise its domestic approaches to sustainable supply chains. In this respect it recommends that Germany should review its overall footprint, large parts of which are beyond its borders; 
  • the principles of the GSDS should be integrated more formally into bilateral political consultations, development partnerships, and multilateral engagement; and that
  • Germany should continue to work to ensure that new and emerging challenges to sustainable development are addressed at the United Nations and in other international contexts. The Group noted that Germany has encouraged collective action for sustainable development among G20 countries, and believes that policy coherence for sustainability across the G20 membership should continue to be strengthened.

In conclusion:

 The discussions which the Peer Review Group had internally and with German stakeholders were very rich and were conducted over a number of months.

 We determined that our report should be a practical one, focusing on what needs to be done to accelerate progress on the Strategy. We were concerned about progress on the majority of indicators being off track, but believed that, even so, ambition for the Strategy could be greater.

We consider that we were privileged to be part of the peer review process, and we gained many insights from it which we will each be able to share more widely in our various capacities.

It is a bold move to open up a core Government strategy to independent international review as Germany has now done on three occasions. We recommend this practice to all countries as a way of helping to strengthen implementation of the 2030 Agenda, the Sustainable Development Goals, and national sustainability strategies.

 Our Group believes that Germany’s Sustainable Development Strategy provides a sound basis for a transformational sustainability agenda. The challenge now is to demonstrate that that matters for jobs, prosperity, and shared values. Germany has the capacity to define its identity as a nation dedicated to sustainable development, including by drawing on its strengths in social dialogue to engage all citizens in the quest to achieve that and take great pride in it.

Thank you for your attention.

My keynote speech at the Global Dialogue on “HIV, Rights and Law in the Era of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Amsterdam, 22 July 2018.

HIV AIDS conference suiycase


                                    Rt Hon Helen Clark

        Keynote Speech at opening of Global Dialogue on “HIV, Rights, and Law in the Era of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. Amsterdam, 22 July 2018.


It is a great pleasure to be speaking today at this Global Dialogue on HIV, Rights and the Law in the Era of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In my comments today, I will reflect on:

  • The importance of the landmark report of the Global Commission on HIV and the Law, and the action it spurred; and
  • The need to stay the course on advocacy for the abolition of the bad laws which are such a significant barrier to effective responses to the HIV epidemic.

Let me note at the outset, however, that the era of the 2030 Agenda is not the only era in which we are living. That Agenda and the SDGs agreed in 2015 offer hope for a better world for all. For key populations vulnerable to HIV and for all people living with HIV, there is the prospect of inclusion, voice, agency, and good access to prevention and treatment services. The future painted by Agenda 2030 is a transformational one – and one that is badly needed.


But, jostling alongside it, there are other visions of the future – those of the authoritarians and populists who have very different ideas. Their grasp on power is based on appealing to the worst in human nature – not to the best as Agenda 2030 does. Where they hold sway, the chances of getting the political leadership required to tackle the entrenched inequalities, discrimination, and stigmatization which contribute to the HIV epidemic are slim. This is a barrier to achieving not only the SDG target of ending AIDS, but also to achieving many other SDGs too.


The Global Commission on HIV and the Law was formed by UNDP in 2010 to improve understanding of how good law could improve HIV responses and to make recommendations accordingly. Naturally in HIV responses there is and always will be a strong focus on access to prevention and treatment services. But these are never provided in a vacuum. The law of the land may be a significant barrier to key populations receiving the services they need. In such an environment, the services can’t do their job.


My support as UNDP Administrator for the Commission’s work was based on witnessing the importance of changes to the legal environment in the early days of the HIV epidemic in New Zealand – including as a young Health Minister. In my country, the need to respond effectively was a catalyst for the repeal of legislation which criminalised men having sex with men, and for interaction between authorities and marginalised populations which in the past were vulnerable to arrest and detention rather than to engagement on policy and services.


LGBTI, sex workers and people using drugs were all the beneficiaries of these changes which contributed hugely to driving down the rate of HIV infection. In time, sex work too was decriminalised, and the leader of the sex workers was recently awarded a high national honour which recognised her contribution to health and wellbeing in the sector.


The Global Commission Report in 2012 advocated the removal of laws which were discriminatory against any group, including on the basis of actual or perceived HIV status. It advocated the repeal of laws which criminalized HIV transmission, exposure, and non-disclosure. It called for major law and policy changes to uphold the human rights of and reduce stigma against key populations – LGBTI, sex workers, people who use drugs, prisoners, and migrants. It called for better law on sexual and gender-based violence and action to enforce it, and for the removal of all barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health services. It made recommendations to improve legal and other protections for children impacted by the epidemic, and called for a review and overhaul of the intellectual property regime to ensure access to treatment.

Follow up to the Report

It’s not unknown for reports of commissions to be launched with a fanfare and never be heard of again. But UNDP was determined that that would not happen with this vital report. It demanded follow up, and it got it. UNDP took the Report on the road and has worked in 88 countries to support its recommendations:

  • 22 countries have done detailed legal environment assessments, and these typically lead to recommendations followed by action for reform. Another twenty are planned.
  • Others have done more focused legal reviews- in the Asia-Pacific region there have been 28 such reviews of their HIV responses.
  • Another 21 countries across the world’s regions have had some form of national dialogue and action planning on HIV and the Law.
  • A number of judicial dialogues have been held to inform judicial decision-making on HIV, and among other things spurred the development of the African Regional Judges’ Forum on HIV, Human Rights, and the Law. There have now been a number of landmark human rights-based decisions related to HIV in African courts.
  • There have been parliamentary dialogues, and also partnerships with the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Parliamentarians Global Action to produce information and guidelines for legislators on effective and rights-based laws.
  • There has also been work to strengthen the capacity of civil society actors to provide and access legal services and advocate for better law, and there has been some dialogue facilitated between civil society and law enforcement authorities.

As well, former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon agreed that there should be a High-Level Panel on Access to Medicines which could recommend improvements to the intellectual property regime. That panel reported in 2016 and reinvigorated the global debate on access to medicines. UNDP played an important role in supporting the panel.

All this activity has produced results:

  • Some countries have removed their HIV criminalisation
  • Some have decriminalised adult consensual same-sex relations.
  • There is quite a lot of reform going on in the drug law space as more countries come to the realisation that the “war on drugs” approach mandated by the UN conventions has failed. Law reforms to legalise or decriminalize drug use and to regulate are happening. There appears to be a new momentum for innovation in harm reduction measures with more jurisdictions introducing safe consumption spaces and drug testing. These build on the success of the needle exchange schemes introduced in my country and others up to thirty years ago which played such an important role in combating HIV.


So, where now for HIV responses based on human rights and better law?

Later today, a supplement to the Global Commission’s report will be published. It reinforces the 2012 recommendations and makes a number of extra and very specific ones – all of which if implemented would improve the HIV response. I hope that UNDP will now be supported by its funding partners to take this next generation of recommendations around the world as it did with the original report in order to drive further legal and policy reform.


Among the reforms advocated is for law which enables civil society organisations to operate effectively. The Supplement notes that “between 2012 and 2015, sixty countries passed 120 laws restricting the activities of NGOs with more than one-third of such laws related to foreign funding of NGOs”. In situations where key populations face criminalisation and/or harassment, restrictions on those who advocate for their rights add to the significant restraints on effective HIV responses.


We are at a moment of truth in the global HIV response:

  • The evidence points to deaths being down, but also to there being little progress in reducing new infections in the past decade.
  • The provision of Official Development Assistance for fighting HIV has stalled – it actually declined by twenty per cent between 2013 and 2016.
  • The challenges to effective responses have increased with the shrinking democratic space in many countries.
  • The world’s growing migrant population, now estimated at over a quarter of a billion people, often lacks effective access to services.
  • The world’s largest ever adolescent and youth demographic needs access to knowledge about HIV and access to prevention services.


These challenges – and how to confront them – are well scoped in the forthcoming International AIDS Society-Lancet Commission Report.


In reinvigorating the HIV response, the 2030 Agenda must be front and centre. It is a complex agenda, however, and for HIV it lacks the visibility and clarity which being one of only three specified conditions in the focused MDG6 gave. The SDGs are a much more crowded space.


Nonetheless, the Agenda encourages joined up ways of thinking and acting – which has to be positive for the HIV response. The vertical approach has worked to an extent, but if we are now in effect treading water and running the risk of regression, then the time has come to support HIV being part of more integrated approaches within and beyond the health sector.


As well, investment in primary prevention needs to be stepped up – otherwise we will not be able to make the decisive breakthrough in halting new infections which ending AIDS requires.


I do believe that the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be beaten:

  • if bad and discriminatory laws are repealed,
  • if human-rights based approaches are followed,
  • if HIV responses are better integrated with other health responses,
  • if international donors continue to invest in the response – the cost of treatment in low-income countries in particular will require international solidarity for decades to come,
  • if there is continuing investment in research and development, including in the search for vaccines and cures, and if – a very big if –
  • political and other leaders step up to support all the changes and investments required.


The challenge before all gathered in Amsterdam this week is to demand the stepped-up commitment and action which will enable the end of the epidemic as the SDG target exhorts. Better law and human rights upheld is an indispensable part of what is needed to get the results we want.