Published on 08 October 2019


The first global summit on the sustainable development goals proves there is a long road ahead to achieving them

Four years after their adoption, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have become the focus of a first-ever summit at the UN.  While certain targets seem increasingly unattainable, it may only be a matter of remobilizing the public and private actors needed to achieve results by 2030.

SDG Action zone ONU Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed UN Photo Kim Haughton
Deputy Secretary-General for the UN, Amina Mohammed, during the SDG summit on September 25th.
@UN Photo/Kim Haughton

An alarming trajectory

After four years, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned, “no country is on track to meet the 17 sustainable development goals” adopted in 2015.  Yet, according to Guterres, the SDGs form the basis for fair and inclusive globalization.  The first global report on the SDGs echoed this sentiment with a warning that the planet is on an alarming trajectory.  The independent group of scientists behind the report insisted that we still have “the opportunity to change,” but we must respect the interconnectedness of the 17 SDGs and “not continue to choose to support certain SDGs over others”.


To achieve this, implementation of the SDGs as a guide to sustainable action must still be improved.  France, Japan and Great Britain are particularly lagging with only 10% of the population familiar with the SDGs, compared to more than 50% of the population in China, India and Turkey.  This is according to a study published during the summit by IPSOS/World Economic Forum.  Despite the SDGs being recognized by economic actors, only 21% of the 1,000 global CEOs interviewed for the Global Compact/Accenture study think that companies have a role to play in achieving these objectives.


Only 10 years left to act

The 195 member states voted unanimously to mobilize financing, improve the visibility and usage of the SDGs throughout their countries and reinforce their nations’ institutions so that the 2030 agenda may become a reality.

The only new development comes from the creation of a platform designed to pilot forthcoming actions by different actors over the course of the next decade.  An update on the chosen actions should be done annually but as of September 2019, only 50 such updates had taken place.  A similar tool was already introduced during the COP21 but has since been forgotten.

Other engagements include: the will expressed by Brazil to reduce their premature death rate from non-transmittable diseases by one-third no later than 2030; Mexico’s engagement around providing internet access to all its citizens; partnerships between the Maldives, Parlay for the Oceans, American Express, AinBev and Adidas, to combat climate change, produce responsibly and protect biodiversity and the oceans.


Financing the SDGs

At the summit, the Prime Minister of Uganda insisted that there is a, “lack of funding to carryout development and a fair low-carbon transition.” As representative for the African states, he added, “We need support and countries must respect their engagements as they concern public development aid.” Public aid is precisely what is lacking.  According to Paul Polman, companies are going to have to pay out of their own pockets. The former CEO of Unilever and current president for the International Chamber of Commerce and Vice-President of the Global Compact was one of the speakers during the SDG summit for companies.

"The biggest mission for humanity is to unlock the trillions of dollars needed to implement the SDGs: only $1.5 trillion is available out of the $3 to $5 trillion needed. “In the old world, we relied on governments. Today, we see that that global governance is not working. Companies need to step up and fill this gap," reported French press agency AEF Info.  But action is largely insufficient according to a former executive: “We move from 3° C to 4° C and we sit there, as if nothing happened. If companies continue to do business as usual, we will not succeed. "

Béatrice Heraud @beatriceheraud

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