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Marcio Viegas, founder and managing director, SUST4IN - firstname.lastname@example.org
More than 1,500 business leaders and government representatives registered to attend the SDG Business Forum on 18 July, at the United Nations headquarters in New York. The big jamboree was organized by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA), and the UN Global Compact to discuss how business is progressing towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The demand for the event was so high – last year 200 people attended – that the organizers had to relocate the meeting to the famous and humbling UN General Assembly Hall.
The SDG Business Forum was part of the so-called High Level Political Forum (HLPF) which took place at the UN from 10 to 19 July. The HLPF is an annual meeting held since 2013 to discuss sustainable development globally and more recently to check how national governments and other stakeholders are implementing the 2030 Agenda, including the SDGs.
Who was there and why the HLPF is important for business and finance?
In addition to 77 ministers, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres and other UN leaders, NGOs and academics, people from organizations such as Aviva, Baker & McKenzie, BASF, Bloomberg, Danone, Fibria, Finnair, GRI, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Mastercard, Monsanto, MSCI, Nasdaq, Neste, Nestle, Novartis, Novozymes, NRG Energy, Pepsico, Pfizer, Syngenta, Takeda, Tata, Telenor, WBCSD, Veolia and others – including SUST4IN – made an effort to be there.
The numbers and list of companies present at the HLPF speak for themselves, but here are three reasons why the HLPF is important:
1. It is a great chance to debate with governments, NGOs and others in a neutral environment.
In addition to assessing the evolution of the SDGs, namely at the 43 countries which have presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs – yes, another acronym!) the HLPF is important because it is a place to hear and to be heard, at global level and to meet people you normally do not meet at business conferences.
The HLPF mixes UN agencies, governments, NGOs, business and other stakeholders in (mostly) honest conversations. It is a combination of boring, but important, official meetings – attended by governments and UN agencies basically and full of pre-written statements –, more than one hundred side events, learning workshops and courses, and three “special” meetings, such as the SDG Business Forum.
At the official part of the HLPF, “Business and Industry” is represented as a “major group” through the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which was already designated as the official business representative in the processes that lead to the creation of the 2030 Agenda, and in an unprecedented move was upgraded to “observer” status last December. Other “major groups” include NGOs, Workers, Women and Scientists.
2. Attendees better understand risks and opportunities.
The theme of the HLPF this year was "Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world". Even a cynical CFO can be convinced that “eradicating poverty” equals to more consumers (or users) and hopefully more stable markets. Others better understand the risks and get excited with “prosperity”, a term relatively new in UN speak.
For the first time a set of specific SDGs were reviewed in more detail: SDG1 (no poverty); SDG2 (zero hunger); SDG3 (good health and well-being); SDG5 (gender equality); SDG9 (industry, innovation and infrastructure); SDG14 (life below water); and, to be repeated every year, SDG17 (partnerships for the Goals).
3. New partnerships are born or strengthened
In addition to better mutual understanding, global meetings, such as the HLPF, spur real partnerships. There are more than 4,000 “SDGs partnerships” globally and currently more partnerships around SDG14 (Oceans) than for any other SDG. This is in great part thanks to the Ocean Conference recently held, also at the UN.
How is business, private finance – and the world – progressing? Eight takeaways.
> SDG Index and Dashboards Report provides an excellent overview of historic country performance (but not current effort) vis-à-vis the Agenda 2030 and the SDGs. It is lead by Prof. Jeffrey Sachs and produced by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) and the Bertelsmann Stiftung.
> The official Annual Report by the UN Secretary: Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals.
> The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2017
> EU’s Sustainable Finance High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) Interim report on sustainable finance
> The New EU Consensus on Development
See some pictures on the right.
Speaking at the UN – videos
On a personal note, I had the privilege to be back at the UN, for the first time since the SDGs adoption in 2015, to attend the SDG Business Forum, the Partnership Exchange, various side events, including the excellent and packed “Chief Sustainability Officers and Sustainability Champions”, organized by the WBCSD and attended by more than 100 representatives. Plus, the novelty and honour to represent “Business and Industry” at two official panels: where business is now even allowed to speak as if we were a country.
The not very popular UN Web TV streamed live from various HLPF meetings. We can still watch some modest interventions by this SDG servant and get a taste of the debate. Here are six videos:
1) At the official meeting on “Leveraging interlinkages for effective implementation of SDGs”:
2) At the SDG Business Forum:
3) At the “Business leading the way: the SDGs as a tool for sustainability and growth" side event:
In his closing statement, the Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Wu Hongbo noted that the HLPF is confirmed as the central global platform for review and follow-up of SDGs, while offering a space for exchanging experiences and peer learning.
1) Learn, implement and finance the SDGs:
Why the Sustainable Development Goals are good business?
SDGs: Doing nothing is a costly option
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Business: We Need To KISS!
Our first article, back in July 2014: Sustainable Development Goals (Proposal) just published: What does it mean for business?
2) If you (still!) want to learn more about the HLPF:
3) See if you can attend at least one of the following week-long events in New York
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