Attaining Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 Will Be Impossible at Current Investment Rate
Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks at the United Nations Global Compact CEO round table, in New York on 26 September:
Thank you for being here for this year’s United Nations Global Compact CEO Round Table on Financing for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Four years into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we are not where we need to be and we are faced with the existential threat of climate change. We face a $2.5 trillion annual SDG investment gap — a gap that is all the more acute in the world’s most vulnerable countries and regions. At the current rate of investment, it will be impossible to achieve the SDGs by 2030. This is bad for people, bad for society, bad for the environment and bad for business.
Since 2015, businesses have undergone rapid transformations to align with the Sustainable Development Goals and Paris Agreement; companies and investors are increasingly committed to partnering around the Goals of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. I am encouraged to see the progress being made by many in this room to align your investment strategies with the SDGs.
Last Sunday, 130 banks from 49 countries holding assets of over $47 trillion signed the Principles of Responsible Banking, committing to align their business strategies with the SDGs. Earlier this month an SDG-linked bond valued at $1.5 billion was issued for the first time. This was oversubscribed by almost three times, signalling that the market is ready for sustainable investing. At Monday’s Climate Action Summit, businesses lifted their ambition. Energy companies such as Ørsted and Iberdrola committed to going carbon-neutral by 2050.
The shipping industry and port cities came together to launch the “Getting to Zero” coalition. This initiative aims to achieve zero carbon emissions for ships and marine fuels on the high seas by 2030. Food systems and consumer companies moved to put biodiversity conservation and regeneration at the heart of their supply chains. Nineteen companies with annual revenues of more than $500 billion launched the “One Planet Business for Biodiversity” initiative. Globally significant companies like Danone, Kellogg, Mars and Nestlé have committed to shift business
operations towards biodiversity protection, regenerative farming and reversing the damaging deforestation trends by food companies.
But more needs to be done. We need to tackle the hardest-to-reach sectors, from oil and gas to steel, cement and aluminium; we need to find and scale alternatives. We must ensure that the rapid technology revolution and evolution to 5G utilizes recycled wastewater and renewables to cool and power its data centres. We also must entirely transform our transport and energy infrastructures — we know how to do this, but costs must still come down and CEOs need to partner with national and subnational governments to build the systems we need in place. Urgently. At scale. Lastly, we need to identify successful means by which to transition out of these high-emitting sectors.
We cannot ignore the fact that, with transitions and change, come job losses. We must ensure that there are safety nets in place and that skill-building is prioritized for low-emission sectors. While interest in sustainable investing is growing, it is still hampered by misaligned incentives and regulations, narrowly interpreted fiduciary duties, and challenges in identifying, measuring and reporting on sustainable investments. This prevents the transition to sustainable investing from happening with the urgency the world needs.
The challenge is clear. To address the SDG investment gap, money needs to flow efficiently into sustainable technologies and innovative financial mechanisms. Investors and companies must recognize the key development challenges in the emerging and frontier markets where they operate, and the risks they present for business. At the same time, they must see these markets as a source of potential growth for enterprises that are taking action in support of the SDGs. Making this necessary shift is a challenge not just for the private sector. Development agencies, multilateral finance institutions, regulatory and trade agencies all stand behind this. They must also lead from the front towards a more sustainable future.
As stewards of trillions of dollars of investment, you have a responsibility to consider how the long-term issues outlined in the SDGs will affect your business. Through your supply chains and foreign direct investments, your companies can help financial flows reach those that are most in need to improve the ecosystems and livelihoods of billions across the world’s emerging economies. Asset owners and investment managers also have a critical role to play, and many have started to move, which is very encouraging. For example, at Monday’s Climate Action Summit, the Net Zero Asset Owner Alliance — representing $2.4 trillion – was announced. Its members have committed to transitioning their investment portfolios to climate neutrality by 2050.
This is impressive. Now let us bring the rest of the community along to rethink investment mandates and practices to respond to the opportunities and to broader environmental and societal trends. As we move ahead, creating better conditions for gender equality and women’s increased
participation in the workforce will help to unlock the resources we need into the economy. 2020 and the decade of action present a real opportunity.
As we review the progress we have made in four years, it is time to step up on financing for development and take concrete actions in the next decade to achieve the SDGs. We must bravely tackle the hardest-to-impact sectors and we must develop just transition strategies. Investors will need to build a closer dialogue with their portfolio companies, policymakers, regulators and civil society to address the real impact of their investments. Enlightened investors and companies are beginning to take leadership on the SDGs.
That is why the United Nations Secretary-General will launch a CEO-led initiative on 16 October: the Global Investors for Sustainable Development alliance. This alliance seeks to scale up private investment for the SDGs and to take coordinated action on some of the structural roadblocks that currently restrict long-term investment towards the Goals.
I invite you to take up the Secretary-General’s call for a decade of action for the delivery of the 2030 Agenda. As you leave here today let us not forget our ultimate goal: to create a more prosperous, just, equitable and sustainable world for all.