SDG Goals

Reaching UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Requires Global Business Leadership

By Greg Sandler

The United Nations is leading a worldwide sustainable development initiative to address issues ranging from poverty and climate change to environmental degradation and urban infrastructure. While the initiative has strong support from governments and policymakers, business leaders around the world need to do more to help realize the 17 global sustainability goals that are part of the 2015 United Nations Global Compact.

The UN’s latest report card on progress across all 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs) paints a rather grim picture of the future. While some progress has been made since the SDG initiative was launched, António Guterres, secretary-general of the UN, notes that “much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our 2030 goals.”

The 2030 agenda provides a blueprint for action by governments, non-governmental organizations, and the business community. As Henrik O. Madsen, past president of DNV GL Group observed when the 2030 goals were rolled-out: “Now is the time for business statesmanship.”

That means private sector leaders need to take the lead in moving from a “business as usual” perspective to a mindset which recognizes that a failure to achieve the SDG goals will ultimately lead to a planet that can no longer sustain business. “Business must continue to work together with the Global Compact, policymakers, scientists, labor organizations and civil society to scale up actions and achieve real transformative impact,” said Madsen.

The good news is that a UN-supported coalition of 30 business leaders was launched in October 2019 to help mobilize private sector resources for sustainable development. The Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance (GISD) will initially spend the next two years focusing on solutions related to long-term SDG investment. The group’s work will include identifying investment opportunities for developing countries, and enhancing the impact of private funding in development efforts. 

“We face widening inequality, increased devastation from conflicts and disasters and a rapidly warming Earth,” said Guterres. “These leaders have seized our sense of urgency, recognizing that our pace must be at a run, not a crawl. They are committing to cooperate across borders, across financial sectors and even with their competitors, because it is both ethical and good business sense to invest in sustainable development for all people on a healthy planet.” 

Among the actionable solutions the alliance is expected to advance are innovation in financial instruments, aligning business models with the 2030 agenda, and addressing industry obstacles to long-term investment in sustainable development. 

The Alliance is comprised of 30 recognized leaders from major financial institutions, manufacturing corporations, and technology service providers – spanning all regions of the world. A full list of participants is available here.   

“The Alliance has come together to help drive financing for the 2030 Agenda as we enter a crucial decade of action,” said Amina Mohammed, deputy secretary general of the United Nations. “In particular, to help forge concrete solutions for securing the long-term finance and investment necessary to achieve the SDGs.”   

Greg Sandler is executive director of The ThinkGlobal Institute

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