Source: UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs
In 2015, all United Nations Member States adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda encompasses a 15-year plan to achieve goals that include gender equality, clean water and sanitation, zero hunger, and affordable and clean energy.
But according to a new report from the non-profit Social Progress Imperative (SPI), due to global inaction on issues such as climate change and human rights, the world will not achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development until at least 2082. The consequences and fallout from COVID-19 could also add an additional 10 years to the prediction, setting the target goal of 2030 back by over 60 years according to SPI.
Palladium’s Christina Shim isn’t surprised. “There is an element of the tragedy of the commons here, where everyone is responsible and therefore no one was responsible to really focus on the SDGs in meaningful ways,” she says.
According to the UN, the “scale and ambition of the Agenda requires a revitalized global partnership to ensure its implementation” and that international public finance plays an important role alongside the efforts of countries across the world to mobilise public resources domestically, especially in the poorest and most vulnerable countries.
SPI’s recently published 2020 Social Progress Index indicates that while the world is improving, progress is ‘slow and uneven’ across those original 17 SDGs. Though there has been vast improvement on SDG 4 (Quality Education) and SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), there have been steep declines in Personal Rights and Inclusiveness, and a stagnation on Environmental Quality.
Michael Green, CEO of SPI, believes that the past ten years has been a ‘lost decade’ in terms of progress, specifically on issues such as rights and inclusiveness, where many places are actually moving backwards.
“There has been stagnation on environmental issues,” he notes. “We are not moving forward fast enough on issues like water and sanitation that are very solvable problems.”
Moving the Needle
While the SDGs are ambitious to say the least, they address global challenges that, if solved, would create a better and more sustainable future for everyone, effectively changing millions of lives. But if they’re to be achieved, and in a timely manner, it’s up to more than development organisations and policymakers to step up.
In a recent Investment Week op-ed, Palladium CEO Christopher Hirst and Bamboo Capital Partner’s CEO and Founder Jean-Phillippe de Schrevel argue that it’s time to bridge the current investment gap in order to achieve the SDGs through private and institutional investors. “The scale of ambition requires equally impressive scale in the level of investment.”
Their answer is the use of blended finance funds to engage with a wide range of investors, from donor governments to foundations and corporations. Partnerships between firms with complementary services and capabilities, such as the recent strategic partnership between Bamboo Capital Partners and Palladium, are crucial to moving the needle.
They clarify that solving for these massive global issues goes beyond simply ‘throwing money’ at the problem, and instead requires products or vehicles in which private and institutional investors are willing to invest. Hirst and de Schrevel use the example of blended finance funds, which attract a wide range of investors from donor governments to foundations and asset managers.
According to Shim, achieving the SDGs also requires a shift in the way that private companies both function and view corporate citizenship – a critical practice for businesses in 2020. This is an opportunity for businesses to look closely at the way they interact with their communities, supply chains, and consumers, and improve those processes for the greater good.
Where incorporating and working towards relevant SDGs as part of the overall business strategy was once a nice to have, it is now imperative for businesses and their survival.
“This is a time for action rather than discouragement,” Shim explains. “What the report shows is that there has been progress, albeit too slowly and too unevenly. What I hope this does is spur CEOs to truly consider how their businesses think about the systems in which they work and view this as a call to more purposeful and accelerated action.”
Hirst notes that since their inception, the SDGs have provided the private sector with a framework to guide and measure their activities, helping progressive companies to build sustainability and development outcomes into their core business strategies.
“What seemed to be an exercise in lip service has actually become an entry point into discussions about global development for those who may have previously lacked the language or even the awareness to engage, particularly in the private sector,” he says.
Engaging the private sector is crucial to development in the long-term, but real change happens slowly and requires extensive resources. If the SDGs are to be achieved in the next decade, it’s all the more imperative for corporations and the private sector to get involved now.