It’s been all-Sustainable Development Goals, all week on the banks of the East River.
Tuesday, the so-called “private sector” was the star of the United Nations show, formally known as the High-Level Political Forum, a two-week session in which countries and agencies are to take stock of the progress toward the 2030 goals. Companies and investors sat down with the folks from government and multilateral organizations to discuss collaboration. ImpactAlpha was invited to lunch.
“I need your help,” new UN Secretary General António Guterres told the business crowd. Guterres has acknowledged that the rate of progress toward the 17 SDGs is far slower than is needed to meet the targets. The clock is ticking, he is known to say.
Indeed, it’s becoming clear we’re going to go down to the wire in meeting the targets the world adopted for the Sustainable Development Goals. As of today, there are 4,913 days to Dec. 31, 2030. The warm-up period is over.
The C-Suite from the IFC, Aviva, and the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment were all the room. Will the other investors please stand up?
Guterres, the former prime minister of Portugal who was sworn in as U.N. secretary-general in December, speaks, refreshingly, with conviction and without notes. Technology, climate change and globalization are upending the traditional ways of working, he says. Power is no longer centralized, the future is increasingly uncertain. The United Nations, development assistance, governments, businesses and investors must adapt to meet 21st century challenges.
For the public sector, he says, the questions are: How do we govern? How can the SDGs become a tool to improve the lives of populations?
For the private sector, the challenge is to see the “financing gaps” as “investment opportunities” as sustainable-development-is-good-business takes hold as conventional wisdom.
“We need to make sure that the international financial institutions are able to leverage resources and to multiply their capacity to fund the implementation of the SDGs,” Guterres said elsewhere during the high-level political forum. He also said it is critical “we help countries to be able to access global markets, financial markets, and to be able to attract private investment without which it would be absolutely impossible to achieve these goals.”
Investors and businesses must step up in four critical areas:
№1: The future of jobs in the context of artificial intelligence and automation. Cheap labor will no longer be a competitive advantage for emerging economies. “What’s the back up plan?” Gutterez asks.
№2: Sustainability and climate. Green is the future of business and technology. Gutterez says innovation leads the way. Change must accelerate, official U.S. misgivings notwithstanding.
№3: Human mobility. Migrations are part of the solution to sustainable economic growth, he says. Business solutions and support have been promising.
№4: Peace and good governance. Business prospers with peace and good governance. Corruption is a drain on growth.
“Your involvement is critical,” Guterres told the finance and business community.