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Opinion piece from Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Swedish aid has given us influence

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Opinion piece by Minister for International Development Cooperation Isabella Lövin in SVD 14th of December

While the world around us is being torn apart by a growing number of wars and conflicts, last weekend world leaders agreed on a climate agreement with substantially higher ambitions to save the planet from the worst effects of global warming, effects that would drive hundreds of millions of people into poverty.

It gives hope in an otherwise difficult time. Sweden played a crucial role in the final stage of the climate negotiations through several important mediations. The fact that we were given a mediator role is largely the result of being seen as a reliable aid donor and partner for poor countries. Swedish aid makes a difference – it has given us international influence.

It also enjoys wide and well-deserved support in society, which became clear in connection with the intense debate in recent months on possible cutbacks in aid. For this reason, Monday's parliamentary debate on the aid budget is so important.

This year, Sweden has received more refugees than ever before in modern times. At the same time, we continue to be one of the most generous aid donors in the world. The Government is now setting a limit – a maximum of 30 per cent of aid will be used to finance refugee reception in Sweden.

This demonstrates that the Government is safeguarding aid, even in exceptional times when the budget is strained. Without this limit, more than half of the aid could be used for refugee reception costs in Sweden next year under the current accounting model.

The Government also stands by its goal to use one per cent of gross national income (GNI) to combat poverty and oppression. Sadly, this is in contrast to the international trend, where an increasing number of donors are cutting back.

With limited resources available, we must prioritise, find our bearings in a changing world and directing aid to where it is most needed. I would venture to say that never before has aid been as important as it is now. The Government sees four areas where Sweden makes a difference, and where enhanced efforts are needed. Firstly, with regard to humanitarian disaster relief. Never before have more people been in need of disaster relief. The needs have doubled in five years and UN appeals only have half of their funding secured for humanitarian support this year. The number of wars and conflicts is increasing after decades of decline and a record number of people have been forced to flee their homes.

To meet these challenges, we will strengthen work in a number of areas in 2016. The Government will initiate a new five-year strategy for humanitarian work that reflects today's growing needs and also makes visible the situation of women and girls, which is all too often ignored today in international humanitarian work.

We will raise appropriations to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organisations working on the ground to help people in the neighbouring regions, and we will push for a more effective United Nations ahead of the global summit on humanitarian issues that will take place in Istanbul in May 2016. Secondly, and more importantly, we must get at the underlying factors forcing people to flee. The proportion of poor people in conflict-affected or fragile states is increasing. Today, more than 1.5 billion people live face-to-face with violence and insecurity, while the scope for democratic forces is shrinking in country after country and the oppression of women is increasing during and after conflicts.

Therefore, we will stress peacebuilding and statebuilding, with a strong focus on institution-building and inclusive, legitimate policy that builds on democratic principles with respect for human rights.

The Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) has already been tasked with including a conflict prevention perspective in all aid, and now we will give Sida an additional task to review how aid can better prevent armed conflicts and crises, and to present tangible proposals in April.

Thirdly, the lack of gender equality is one of the areas with the most acute needs, and where Swedish aid has long made a crucial difference. Access to schooling for girls and the right to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) are still very much being fought for in many countries.

Girls are married off at an early age, deprived of their right to schooling, circumcised and forced to become mothers at an age when they themselves are scarcely more than children. This cements poverty and prevents major sections of the world's population from contributing their full capacity and lifting the world out of poverty. Not all donor countries acknowledge SRHR as an important issue, and in this context, Sweden has a key role. Last but not least: the climate issue, which is closely linked to issues concerning sustainable food production, water and energy supply and thereby also the issue of combating poverty, and peace and security. Climate change puts further pressure on already vulnerable countries and risks inflating and worsening unrest. At the weekend, world leaders took a decisive step by agreeing on a global climate agreement. However, if the agreement is to be worth something, it must also be put into practice.

Money must be channelled towards clean and renewable energy, rather than brown, fossil energy. We will therefore sharply increase our ambitions to support poor countries' investments in clean energy, which can lead to revolutionary development for the poorest people in remote villages and communities. Today, a total of 1.3 billion people in the world do not have access to any electricity.

Through the initiative Power Africa, Sweden will contribute small-scale, renewable energy solutions at a value of USD 1 billion by 2020. We will also give Swedfund a capital injection of SEK 400 million to begin work on renewable energy, and we are one of the largest donors to the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund and the Least Developed Countries Fund to help the poorest countries leapfrog into the future using adaptation and renewable energy.

At the same time, we know that international financial institutions such as the World Bank and others have been investing hundreds of billions in fossil energy for many years. This is, of course, no longer tenable as the world is aiming to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

To this end, the Government has produced a new plan to redirect investments in all international financial institutions, to adopt ambitious and scheduled goals to increase the share of renewable energy. When international financial institutions decide on new energy projects, renewable energy is to be the first choice.

There are enormous sums of money at stake. In 2014, the World Bank alone loaned USD 9.5 billion to energy projects worldwide. Redirecting these investments to renewable energy would have enormous positive effects on international climate efforts.

Redirecting these investments to renewable energy would have enormous positive effects on international climate efforts.

Change is possible when the world successfully coordinates its forces. Aid is not a universal solution, but it does play an important strategic role. Swedish aid is world-class, not least thanks to the broad involvement of civil society organisations, trade unions, religious communities, municipalities and individual Swedes who want to make the world a better place.

I am tremendously pleased about this commitment, and I am convinced that by more clearly focusing our efforts on these strategic areas, Swedish aid will be even more important and relevant in a world that is moving ever faster.