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As part of the United Nations (UN) High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in New York, the SDG Business Forum gathered governments and business leaders to take stock on progress made so far on the SDGs.

Business leaders and government representatives gathered at the UN Headquarters on 17 July to highlight partnerships that can help speed up the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Just over 1000 days after the Goals were agreed upon, the SDG Business Forum opened with a call on all participants to think critically about the progress made so far, considering the long way ahead.

 

Under this year’s theme ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’, 47 countries reported on progress so far. But according to a new report by the United Nations Development Solutions, no country is on track to deliver on the 2030 Agenda. This concerning trend underscores the importance of partnering with all economic actors in society to ensure that implementation of the 17 Goals will be realised in time to achieve our common objectives within the next 12 years.

Business is already partnering to speed up progress for the SDGs, but more can be done to establish action-oriented collaborations with the United Nations and governments around the world. Here are four takeaways on how we can improve partnerships in the year ahead:

 

1. We need to be transparent about both progress and failures

It was clear that both business, governments and the UN representatives at the Forum want to see more transparency in discussions around the SDGs.

Jean-Pierre Clamadieu, CEO, Solvay, said that “transparency is critical to raising benchmarks and keeping companies challenged,” and called on companies to continue their transformation for the SDGs. “Things are changing — probably not at the speed we would like — but we are moving in the right direction.”

“I’m a big believer in naming and faming companies that are doing good, and naming and shaming those who do not play a role,” said Erik Solheim, Executive Director, UN Environment.

Rebecca Self, CEO Sustainable Finance, HSBC, highlighted the need for more alignment in the way we report on sustainability targets and investments with ESG policies. “I think we need to be more innovative about our reporting processes.”

Tonye Cole of the Sahara Group, Nigeria, intervened from the audience to share an example of ways to develop Voluntary National Reviews (VNR), the mechanism by which governments report on SDG progress at the High-level Political Forum each year. By collaborating with local business organisations and the government, the group has now established a dialogue where Nigerian businesses feed information on activities that are later taken up in the country’s official government communiqué on SDGs.

To provide governments with an idea of what business is doing in all countries around the world for the SDGs in focus this year, ICC launched a report at the SDG Business Forum on ‘Business for Sustainable and Resilient Societies’, which highlights case studies from businesses taking action, and policy recommendations on how governments can help more companies implement the SDGs into their strategies. Here are a few highlights from the report:

 

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2. Trade is key to sustainable development and inclusive growth

“Trade is essentially a partnership that can drive economic growth, increase incomes […] and empower societies,” said David MacLennan, CEO, Cargill, during the panel discussion on ‘Leadership and Innovation for the SDGs’. “In a time when trade is under attack, we cannot forget to talk about its positive impact on sustainable development.”

Working together for the SDGs requires governments, businesses and civil society to act openly and engage in partnership across borders. Participants at the SDG Business Forum agreed that trade can fuel inclusive growth, if a dialogue that includes both big and small businesses is established. The Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation is a great example of how the public and private sector can partner to enable more efficient cross-border trade.

 

3. Technology can help speed up transformation for the SDGs

 

Technology can not only help governments and businesses communicate digitally and thereby be more transparent about progress for the SDGs; it can also provide governments with the tools to improve lives. Financial solutions, digital access to information on health and connectivity to global markets are just some of the benefits that Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) can bring.

ICC just published a paper on ICTs’ role in fuelling the Goals in focus this year. Read the full report with more case studies like this:

 

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The Global Enabling Sustainability Initiative (GeSI) in partnership with Accenture also presented a new report called ‘Enabling the Global Goals’, which points to strong positive correlations between digital access and the SDGs.

 

 

 

4. We need to make the SDGs work for everyone

“The full room here today is a clear signal that the private sector is supporting the 2030 agenda and the SDGs,” said Liu Zhenmin, Under Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs at the UN. “Consolidate, renew, and re-iterate your vows to the SDGs. Let us leave no one behind.”

Although the number of small business representatives attending the Forum had increased this year, in line with improved awareness of the SDGs among small and medium-sized enterprises, there is still a great knowledge gap that needs to be filled among entrepreneurs, start-ups and other small businesses. Efforts must also be made to raise awareness at all levels in any given company. Cargill shared plans of doing exactly this for their 150,000 employees to get everyone consciously thinking about ways they can contribute to the SDGs on an individual level. Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, is taking a broader approach by encouraging societal transformation and inviting all people in society take action for the SDGs in their new publication.

ICC recognises its role in in making the SDGs work for everyone, every day, everywhere. As Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the UN, put it:

“Businesses contribute to the engines of employment, bringing opportunities to women, vulnerable people and young groups. To the young business leaders: Continue to be disruptive because we really need that to see real change.”

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