Interview with Ambassador Stefano Stefanile12 July 2019
Ambassador Stefano Stefanile is currently Deputy Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations in New York. Among his previous positions, he had already served at the Italian Mission to the UN from 2009 to 2013.
EBLIDA: You have a long experience in UN affairs and, particularly, in the area of sustainable development. Can we ask you some questions on the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals?
Ambassador Stefanile: I will be delighted to answer.
EBLIDA: Where does the UN SDG programme find its roots and why is it so important for world growth and development?
Ambassador Stefanile: The SDGs represent the evolution of the previous Millenium Development Goals (MDGs) into a more comprehensive and integrated global agenda. The MDGs had been successful in guiding the international community towards a substantial reduction of poverty. However, they used to hinge on a traditional philosophy of international development, which focused mostly on economic growth and where States with a high national income were supposed to support, mainly through Official Development Assistance, the development of more disadvantaged countries.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its related SDGs, has drastically broadened the notion of international development by encompassing, in an integrated fashion, its social, economic and environmental dimensions. Moreover, it has superseded the donor-recipient pattern in favour of a universal and holistic partnership. In this context, all countries have an equal level and dignity and they all share the responsibility to contribute, within the limits of their capacities, to the attainment of the SDGs. And this partnership does not include only States, but also non-governmental actors, such as civil society and the private sector.
EBLIDA: Seventeen objectives, 169 targets and 232 indicators: we are talking of a rather complex architecture. Too complex, perhaps?
Ambassador Stefanile: It is indeed a complex and ambitious architecture, with an admirable texture. The seventeen objectives should be considered macro-objectives, but the SDGs real lifeblood lies in the 169 targets or sub-objectives if you like. Altogether, the 2030 Agenda is the most overarching and complete global plan for the sustainable development of our society: an ambitious attempt to map out what is universal and indivisible in development, to chart the requirements for the planet to be sustainable, to address a wide spectrum of targets leading to the well-being and the prosperity of our World. It is even more remarkable since this formidable objective/sub-objective machinery comes together with a system of 232 indicators for the monitoring of the SDGs implementation.
The UN Statistics Division has made a huge effort to encompass all targets into a grid enabling monitoring and re-adjustments, when needed. The state of implementation of the single SDGs has been reviewed annually in the context of the High Level Political Forum, under the aegis of ECOSOC, and we are now looking forward to the SDG Summit, under the auspices of the UN General Assembly, which will take place on 24-25 September 2019 in New York. Four years after its inception, the 2030 Agenda will be thoroughly reviewed and an assessment will be made on how far we have gone in achieving the SDGs.
EBLIDA: What has been the role of the European Union in developing UN SDGs?
Ambassador Stefanile: The European Union has an a special observer status at the United Nations, through which it plays a remarkable role in coordinating the EU Member States and representing their common position. In this context, the EU has significantly contributed also to the shaping of the 2030 Agenda by showing constant commitment to sustainability, both collectively and through the individual action of its Member States. In the long and intense work which lead to the formulation of the SDGs, several “Group of Friends” were created at the UN to promote the inclusion of particularly important issues in the new global Agenda.
These Groups were “lobbying” - in the most noble sense of the word - to raise the attention and the commitment of the international community with regard to the most crucial challenges: from ensuring food and nutrition security to guaranteeing access to affordable and sustainable energy; from promoting decent jobs to fighting climate change. Most of these informal groups included, or were lead by, EU Member States and the EU as a whole strongly campaigned in favour of ambitious and comprehensive SDGs. After the adoption of the 2030 Agenda, the EU has aligned its main policy strategies to the pursuit of the SDGs, both internally and in the framework of its partnership with international actors. The EU and its Member States, including Italy, continue to be constantly engaged in the promotion and implementation of all SDGs. To give just one example, last May the Italian Government hosted at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation a review conference on SDG 16: “Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies”, the outcome of which will contribute to the works of the September SDG Summit.
EBLIDA: What is the role of culture, and what could the role of libraries be, in the implementation of UN SDGs?
Ambassador Stefanile: Sustainability is above all a matter of culture. Without a cultural shift towards the philosophy of sustainable development, most of the SDGs could not be achieved. Culture is also a powerful driver of social and economic growth and an important peacebuilding factor. That is why the role of culture is reflected in the 2030 Agenda not only in SDG4 but also transversally in other SDG targets. It goes without saying that Italy is among the greatest advocates of the importance of culture, given its extraordinary cultural and historical tradition and its longstanding partnership with UNESCO.
The UN system promotes the culture of sustainable development in many ways, including through social media which today can reach the younger generations far more effectively than traditional information campaigns. Another formula to engage the youth is the so-called Model UN, where students simulate multilateral negotiations on issues pertaining to sustainable development, thus developing better knowledge and greater motivation.
A further factor is the involvement of civil society. NGOs, associations and academia are the watchdogs of Governments and can be, therefore, particularly effective in advocating for policy measures which may be initially costly but are certainly advantageous in the long term. To give an example, ASVIS, the Italian Alliance for Sustainable Development, has played a fundamental role in raising awareness about the 2030 Agenda in Italy and in stimulating SDGs-consistent policies.
To answer your final question, libraries too can play a fundamental role, being crucial gateways to knowledge, providing reference points for civil society and offering meeting places for public debates. They can certainly be important allies in promoting and disseminating a new culture of sustainability.
EBLIDA: Thank you very much for having devoted your precious time to this interview and for being a UN SDG advocate.
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