OECD Forum 2019 Session: Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: Matching Ends & Means

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This OECD Forum 2019 background note will be used to prepare speakers on the panel Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals: Matching Ends & Means, taking place at the OECD headquarters from 14:30-15:45 on Tuesday, 21 May. Join the Forum Network to comment and help inform the upcoming debate and, whether you're with us in Paris or watching online, let us know what you think of the session!

Achieving the 2030 Agenda requires immediate and accelerated actions by countries along with collaborative partnerships among governments and stakeholders at all levels. This ambitious Agenda necessitates profound change that goes beyond business as usual.   

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General 

There is urgency to deliver on the SDGs. With only 11 years to go, this is no longer a time for commitments but a time for concrete action. Meeting the SDGs is not only the responsibility of public authorities. Unless everyone pitches in proactively – from governments at all levels, to business, philanthropy and citizens – the goals will not be reached.  

According to a new OECD report to be released on May 20 at the OECD Forum, Measuring Distance to SDG Targets, even in the most developed countries progress is uneven and falling short in many areas. Inequalities persist and people are being left behind: around 14% of the population in OECD countries lives in poverty, far from the goal of halving poverty rates (half of the median rate in OECD countries is 5.5%). The situation is even more worrying for low-income countries, where access to basic services and infrastructure, as well as extreme poverty, remain major challenges, according to the UN. 

Yet reaching the SDGs is in everyone’s interest, to tackle today’s biggest challenges and help all of us build a better life and more sustainable world in the long run. 

Encouragingly, more and more political leaders, civil society organisations and businesses are answering this call. They are finding innovative ways to integrate the SDGs as a framework for their decisions in planning and investment, to guide actions and adjust organisational practices. 

Governments are setting national priorities and action plans, but local and regional leaders are also increasingly looking at the SDGs to guide rural and city-level strategies. The OECD estimates that 100 out of the 169 SDGs targets – at least – will not be reached without the engagement and participation of subnational governments, as cities and regions often manage policy areas underlying the SDGs such as water, housing, transport, infrastructure, land use or climate change. Under initiatives like the OECD’s Territorial Approach to the SDGs, regions and cities are rethinking sustainable development with an SDG focus. 

Philanthropy and civil society organisations, including NGOs and community groups, are orienting their programmes and commitments through an SDG lens. They provide funding, programmes and solutions, but also play a key role in making companies and government accountable to deliver on their commitments – raising public awareness and calling for action through campaigning. 

In return, business is stepping up with corporate responsibility measures guided by initiatives like the Global Compact and Global Reporting Initiative and the OECD Guidelines for multinational entreprises. Facing pressure from governments and consumers, many companies and sectors are actively measuring and reporting on their contribution to the SDGs, which also helps to inform their strategies. The 2018 Business for Social Responsibility Sustainable Business Agenda Index reports that 71% of its members are now using the SDGs as strategic guidance in setting corporate targets; up from 50% in 2017. This is also the case at sectoral level through industry associations, where collaboration is in place to set a common vision and roadmap, for example in the mobile industry.  

In the financing space, investors are increasingly embracing the SDGs, making them a new compass in the responsible investment journey, according to a recent BNP Paribas ESG Global Survey. Over 90% of the survey’s respondents indicated that more than a quarter of their funds will be allocated to Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) by 2021, compared to 50% in 2017. 

But is this enough? Are these initiatives really going beyond business as usual? 

To meet the SDGs will require more than USD 4 trillion of investment per year according to the World Bank. Other UN agencies put the price tag much higher. 

  • Are we matching ends and means for achieving the SDGs by 2030?
  • What can we do to further mobilise around the SDGs, working across the public, private, civil society world?
  • What are the communities of action and partnerships we can build?
  • There is a lot of communication around the SDGs. What is the role of campaigns?
  • How do we ensure that companies are not just “cherry picking” – emphasising their positive contribution to one goal while having a negative impact in other regards, such as human rights?
  • How is civil society making business accountable? How do we reconcile profits and SDGs?

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Flora Monsaingeon

Campaign manager, OECD