Mr. Peter Niggli, Swiss Author, Journalist and Development Policy Expert, made the keynote presentation, where he referred to the Swiss democratic system to probe how people’s participation in the democratic processes can influence and contribute to achieving the SDGs.
Placing stronger emphasis on the need to have closer cooperation between the government and citizens, Mr. Niggli highlighted the importance of public opinion and the role of civil society in shaping and forming a comprehensive strategy for achieving the SDGs. "An inclusive and participatory political system, where voices are heard, is important to devise a meaningful strategy to achieve the SDGs."
He identified four central challenges facing the western democracies today, namely environmental/ ecological degradation, economic difficulties emanating from unstainable mode of production and consumption, rising inequality within and among societies, and a slow progress in social and economic transformation which is imperative to address the above challenges. "He alluded to the importance of greater international cooperation among and between states to face those intricate challenges."
In the context of Switzerland, Mr. Niggli argued that legislative changes and constitutional amendments are needed to achieve some of the SDGs. Hence, he underpinned the role of the Swiss citizens and encouraged them to use the Swiss direct democracy tools (i.e. referendum and popular votes) to initiate legislative changes/ amendments to further the achievement of SDGs, which is often challenging. "People in every democratic context should play stronger roles as catalysts in shaping and forming policies for achieving the SDGs. "
Mr. Niggli also identified a few immediate actions required to achieve some of the SDGs, mainly in the context of Switzerland/ developed nations:
SDG 7: Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy total
Ø Requires in Switzerland the total decarbonization of energy production, industrial processes and transportation
SDG 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Ø Requires in Switzerland among other measures to put the productivity gains in reduced working hours, more public services and bigger budgets for international aid (development and climate finance)
SDG 8: Promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, employment and decent work for all
Ø Realize SDG 12 and find ways to de-growth the rich countries without provoking the collapse of the world economy
SDG 10: Reduce inequality [within and] among countries
Ø Reform the WTO (more “policy space” for poor countries) and Re-regulate cross-border capital transactions
SDG 17: Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
Ø Deliver finally the promised climate and development finance
The Ambassador of Switzerland to Bangladesh, Dr. René Holenstein, who attended the event as the Special Guest, placed strong emphasis on some of the "universal tenets of democratic practices and intrinsic values such as power-sharing, consensus-building, citizens’ participation, inclusion, gender equality." Ambassador Holenstein said “there is no one-size-fits-all approach to democracy” but these universal and basic values are imperative to uphold democracy and consequently to contribute to achieving the SDGs.
Ambassador Holenstein reiterated that democratic principles are thoroughly embedded in SDGs, thereby remain key for the implementation of SDGs. He identified three such democratic practices as key enablers for democracy:
1. Accountability (SDG 16): Accountability is a central piece of good governance. Well-functioning accountability in State institutions contribute to building trust in (State) institutions and processes of managing public affairs.
2. Local governance and citizens’ participation (SDG 16): Strengthening of local governance, which often represents a laboratory of participative and inclusive actions, has been a key focus of GoB and different development partners, including Switzerland.
3. Women’s empowerment (SDG 5): Gender Responsive Budgeting as an example helps increasing transparency by disaggregating how much of the budget is allocated for women. Bangladesh is playing a leading role worldwide in promoting GRB.
Participants of the dialogue noted that regardless of the different type of democratic practices in different contexts, sustainable development is only possible if fundamental principles of rights, non-discrimination, people’s participation, and the rule of law are respected in the societies.