The World Economic Forum on the Sustainable Development Goals

r2Hb2gvXThe Sustainable Development Goals, described as a social contract to transform the world by 2030, were the focus of a panel event at the World Economic Forum in Davos last week, which aimed to introduce the advocacy work being done around the SDGs as well as discuss what needs to be done to ensure the SDG agenda motivates action.

Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon’s opening remarks introduced the goals as an ambitious blueprint to put the world on a more sustainable path, and as both a vision and a promise by world leaders. In order to deliver on the SDGs, and as quickly as possible, he affirmed that we need partnership and advocacy, introducing the SDG Advocacy Group (see below for a list of all members). Co-chair of the group, Mr. John Dramani Mahama, President of Ghana, was next to speak, further explaining the SDGs as a social contract to fix what is broken and to ensure all people have access to clean drinking water, sanitation, food, shelter, healthcare and education. In order for the world to see progress and peace we need to address the fact that many people do not have access to these goods and services as basic human rights, and we need to fix this fast. As global crises such as child hunger and malnutrition, the creation of refugees through conflict and the rise of terrorism show we do not have the luxury of time. President Mahama made clear that the SDGs cannot be a placebo that peddles false hope, we need to keep meeting, keep generating ideas and maintain momentum. “Our ability to effect change islimited only by our imagination.”

The second co-chair, Mrs. Erna Solberg, the Prime Minister of Norway, then spoke about the role of the SDGs as a call to action and a roadmap to the future we want. We cannot continue as normal without expecting social, economic and environmental bankruptcy. She also laid out the lessons we need to learn from the Millennium Development Goals:

  • Progress is faster with effective partnerships (and sustainable investment models can scale up financing);
  • The 17 goals are a coherent plan, not a menu and we need to get away from a silo mentality and start seeing the synergies between the goals.
  • Establishing the goals is not enough, we need governments to show political will and resolve in dealing with difficult issues such as eradicating tax havens, halting illicit financial flows and combating corruption. We also need to monitor data to measure how effective new policies are at achieving the SDGs.
  • Finally, it has proved difficult to make progress in areas of crisis and conflict so the international community must work together to improve situations in these locations immediately.

Again she reaffirmed the need for strong advocacy to sustain determination, and the next three speakers, members of the advocacy group talked of ways of maintaining momentum in the global population, on the ground and in business. Ms. Alaa Murabit, from The Voice of Libyan Women, discussed the need to strengthen local institutions from the bottom up as without peace, stability and strong institutions we will fail to reach any of these goals. Richard Curtis, screenwriter, producer and film director, discussed the importance of extensive promotion of the SDGs, for example through Project Everyone. He also pointed out the extraordinary achievements of the past 25 years including the reduction in under five mortality from 12 to 6 million and the reduction in the incidence of malaria by some 80%. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, noted that we are already seeing commitment from business and government to the SDGs in the form the signing of the Paris Climate Deal in 2015. He outlined how many of the SDGs, such as goal 13 on tackling climate change, are really development goals because poverty reduction, peace and protected natural resources cannot be achieved without combating climate change. Because the SDGs are an all-encompassing moral framework, he discussed how this could be overwhelming for organisations but business needs to be involved, since they provide 80% of the financing and 90% of global job creation. It will be important to make clear to business that they have a responsibility to deliver on the SDGs but also that they are an opportunity. There are costs to business if society doesn’t function. The global economy would be some $37 trillion bigger if women had equal rights, for example. He has a vision of the SDGs being the basis for business models, a vision that may become closer to being reality once we all understand that in the battle between us and the planet, the planet will always win.

While we heard from several other advocates, Jeffrey Sachs, Head of the Earth Institute, stood out describing both how we mobilise stakeholders and bring about action as well as planting some seeds of hope that finding the trillions of dollars needed to fund the SDGs will not be as difficult as it sounds. In order to reduce deaths from malaria first experts had to work out how to achieve this, then activists gave the cause a voice, the companies made the theory into a reality and finally political will and international institutions helped deliver the finance. It wasn’t many years ago that reducing deaths from malaria was thought impossible and yet this route to achieving that goal worked. Maybe it can work for all of the SDGs too? Of the trillions needed to achieve the SDGs, he assured that in a global economy worth some $110 trillion, we have the resources, we just need to re-direct them to human needs.

So the meeting was filled with hope and cautious optimism that we can achieve the SDGs, eradicate poverty and hunger and find a more sustainable path for the planet and humanity. That we can pinpoint the actions needed, the sources of finance and learn from past mistakes is encouraging. That agreement between countries, between sectors, and between powerful individuals (some of whom are in the SDG advocacy group) is achievable also inspires some confidence that progress will be made towards these new global targets. One of the main messages of this session is that we all have our part to play whether educating others, spreading the message, making different consumer choices or putting pressure on politicians and businesses. And wouldn’t it be great to not only see the SDG targets become a reality during our lives but to say we had some small role in this achievement?


Members of the SDG advocacy group:

H.E. Mrs. Erna Solberg (Co-Chair), Prime Minister of Norway

H.E. Mr. John Dramani Mahama (Co-Chair), President of Ghana

Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium

Richard Curtis, Screenwriter, Producer and Film Director

Ambassador Dho Young-Shim, Chairperson, United Nations World Tourism Organization’s Sustainable Tourism for Eliminating Poverty (ST-EP) Foundation

Ms. Leymah Gbowee, Director, Gbowee Peace Foundation

Mr. Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group

Mrs. Graça Machel, President of the Foundation of Community Development and the UNESCO National Commission in Mozambique

Ms. Shakira Mebarak, Artist, Advocate and Founder of Pies Descalzos Foundation, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

Mr. Leo Messi, Renowned football player, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador

Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser Doha, Qatar

Ms. Alaa Murabit, The Voice of Libyan Women

Mr. Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever

Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Earth Institute at Columbia University

Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden

Mr. Forest Whitaker, Founder and CEO, Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative

Professor Muhammad Yunus, Founder, Grameen Bank

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