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Time and time again, Norway has proven its dedication to supporting the movement to end extreme poverty.

In 2015, world leaders gathered at the United Nations (UN) headquarters to address and set 17 Global Goals that, when achieved, would put an end to extreme poverty by 2030. Throughout the years, Norway has committed to reaching the UN’s target by fighting ocean plastic, keeping girls in school, and more on — and off — the Global Citizen Festival stage.

Norway’s State Secretary of International Development for the Christian Democratic Party Aksel Jakobsen spoke with Global Citizen about Norway’s latest efforts to ensure the world is on track to meet the UN’s deadline.

With 10 years left to help meet the Global Goals, Norway is stepping up in 2020, a critical year, to invest in crucial initiatives to end extreme poverty, from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The country is also leading the charge in the urgent race to find a vaccine for COVID-19 and made an NOK 36 million (approximately US $3.2 million) contribution to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) in January. This funding is in addition to Norway’s ordinary contributions to CEPI, which will total NOK 1.6 billion for the period 2017-2025.

Read the full interview here.

I would love to start by having you highlight Norway’s Global Goals priorities for our audience and where you think we will see the greatest success this year.

We need to work on all Global Goals. But Norway has five priority areas we focus on, which align very well with the basic needs for [a] prospering society: health, education, zero hunger, job creation, and climate adaptation.

We need to stop the great development destroyer, and that is this climate change. If you don't do that, the progress we have seen will be set back. [The] increasing numbers of people living in hunger and malnutrition are maybe the clearest example of the effects of climate change in developing countries. 

Global Goal 3 for good health and well-being for all is very top of mind for many countries as coronavirus spreads. One of the most important campaigns this year is to support Gavi’s work to vaccinate 300 million children around the world. Not only is the Global Vaccine Summit to mobilize funds in June, but the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of a solid health infrastructure around the world. 

I have a few words about COVID-19 and the pandemic situation. We need to work together to save lives and to ensure international coordination to combat this disease. And I'm very happy to see the work that Global Citizens are doing to raise awareness and to mobilize around this issue

Norway has supported the World Health Organization with extra contributions now and is especially highlighting the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations that is working around the clock to develop vaccines against the coronavirus. They need a lot more funding.

We all need to get around to make sure they have the money to produce these vaccines. This is especially important when this virus hits the poorest countries of the world with weak health systems. Even our countries with robust health systems are struggling to meet this situation. And it's worrisome to think about how countries with poor health systems will handle this crisis. So it's really important to fund the work to create a new vaccine. 

Norway has historically been among the most generous supporters of Gavi and, through that support, has helped Gavi immunize 760 million children, saving 13 million lives since its creation in 2000. Some of its innovative financing mechanisms, such as the International Finance Facility for Immunization (IFFIm), have been critical in giving Gavi the flexibility it needs to help respond to urgent global health security crises. How is Norway planning to help Gavi build the kind of resilient health systems that can help mitigate outbreaks like COVID-19 in the future? How can Norway ensure it continues to lead the development sector in its embrace of innovative financing mechanisms? 

Gavi does great work. Saving children's lives — there's no better investment case than that. Norway chooses to support and fund Gavi again and again because the results speak for themselves and the numbers are unprecedented. Through Gavi, a whole generation has been positively affected. And I do believe that it's possible to reach the previously unreachable with vaccines. It's so important that we fully fund Gavi for the next four years to continue the great work. Gavi is the best example of smart aid work. 

Gavi is key to reach the goal of universal health care coverage and to build strong health systems because vaccination is the health interface that reaches the most people in the world. You could build a whole health system around vaccination and immunization. Rwanda is one of the examples of how you can build functioning health systems around vaccination. 

I have been personally engaged as part of the high-level steering group for the replenishment and Norway will contribute to that replenishment. We also are working on calling around and asking all the donors to step up. And, of course, Prime Minister Solberg is also a champion for global health, for saving lives with vaccines. 

Along with Gavi, it is also important to ensure that the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is fully funded. The world is 99.9% of the way toward eradicating wild poliovirus from the planet, and Norway has been a key contributor to GPEI dating back many years. How can the international community ensure that we keep up this momentum to finish the job? 

We must finish the job. The price of not doing that is so high. You can see it with the measles epidemics that have happened in the last year. If we let polio strike back it will be so much worse and so many more people will die of this disease. We cannot allow ourselves to be complacent. We have to finish the job on polio and Norway has continued support for the Global Polio Eradication Initiative. Of course, we support Gavi and the work to get polio vaccination and the IPV [inactivated poliovirus vaccine] into routine immunization. I believe that is the answer, in the long run, to get the inactivated polio vaccine into routine immunization through Gavi. 

The Norwegian government is also a longstanding leader in promoting global education. This leadership has been displayed in a number of ways, including through Norway's ongoing support of Education Cannot Wait (ECW), which is a global fund to transform the delivery of education in emergencies. We've already seen even more children have been suddenly pushed into crisis and are missing out on education because of coronavirus. Why has Norway chosen to champion education in emergencies, and how can other world leaders join you in addressing this issue? 

Education in crisis and conflict situations is a priority for Norway for several reasons. Access to education offers protection and a sense of normality for children affected by the crisis. I think it should be a prioritized element in all humanitarian responses. Education can also help equip children and youth with the skills required to rebuild a society once the crisis is over. And finally, education is a prerequisite for unlocking progress on all SDGs. 

Educational work has proven to be an effective tool and has created new political momentum for education in emergencies. Last year, Norway announced a commitment of 550 million Norwegian kroner for Education Cannot Wait. Education Cannot Wait brings added value in terms of joint planning and mobilizing for this and financing education in crisis. 

We were originally going to speak at Global Citizen’s Commission on the Status of Women event, which was canceled in light of coronavirus earlier this month. Norway has historically taken a bold stance in advocating for girls' education. What are Norway's plans to continue to support the movement for girls' education, and galvanize more momentum from all stakeholders for this issue? 

Education is a major priority in our development corporation. It’s a priority for our prime minister, and she’s personally engaged in these questions. We are committed to ensuring that all girls get their right to education, and we are specifically focusing on girls in sub-Saharan Africa. 

What we need to do to achieve this goal [is support] good teachers and quality teaching and invest so that the world's most marginalized children can benefit from schools. We work with the Global Partnership for Education, UNICEF, UNESCO, and the United Nations Girls’ Education initiative. Girls who have been in school live healthier and more prosperous lives — science tells us that. To lift girls, you lift the whole society. Investing in girls’ education is investing in our common future.

You also mentioned the importance of combating climate change. Norway has been a leading champion of Global Goal 2 — zero hunger — and supporting farmers and rural communities that are on the front lines of climate change. How do you see Global Goal 2 as being critical to achieving other goals?

When I started this job, the number that hit me the hardest was when I heard that 1 in 5 children is stunted. In the poorest countries in Africa, 1 in 3 children is stunted and this is a crisis that is really threatheningthe future for this generation and taking hope away. This is something that we should focus more on in international development. We have to wake up [and] see that [despite] decades where the numbers of people living in hunger went down, for the last five years, we have seen increasing numbers and today 820 million people live in hunger or malnutrition. In a few years, this will be 1 billion if we don't take action now. 

If you don't have food and go hungry to school, you will not learn much in school. Food is the basis for good health. Without food, you will have no development at all. This is so key, and the world needs to take action to fight hunger.

Maybe the most important thing in the coming years to focus on to fight hunger and to work more on the climate-smart agricultural sector is to work with the smallholder farmers, to help them be more productive and more climate-smart in the way they're working to make sure that everyone can have access to food.

Norway has shown consistent support for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in the past. Do you envision 2020 to be a particularly critical year for increasing support?

Yes, IFAD is a partner to Norway and it’s a partner that is especially focused on small scale farmers. These 500 million small-scale farmers are key to reaching the goal of zero hunger. Numbers from the World Bank said investing in agricultural sectors is twice as effective as any other development investment to eradicate poverty. Norway will work to make the IFAD replenishment a success. 

We are in close contact with the Nordic countries. We included IFAD in our discussions with these countries. This is a main priority for us. I believe that together we will be able to ensure financing for the next period. 

We are planning Global Goal Live: The Possible Dream in September, and Prime Minister Solberg has been a major champion of the Global Goals but has also drawn other leaders to make commitments. What do you envision Norway will do to galvanize global pledges at Global Goal Live?

I commend you for initiatives like Global Goal Live. The way you inspire us all and mobilize around the Global Goals is impressive and so important. Norway will continue to be generous and provide funding and take part. There’s strong national support to uphold 1% of our gross national income as our contribution to addressing major global challenges and we will continue [pushing] our partners to reach the same level of development assistance.  

Prime Minister Solberg is the co-chair of the United Nations secretary-general's advocacy group for the SDGs and she will continue to play a leading role. More details to come when it comes to Norwegian participation in their events. The fight against hunger will be a key area. By that time, I hope we will have already a well-funded GAVI.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.


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