UN Turns to Global Investors for Billions Needed for its 2030 Development Agenda
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 29 2019 (IPS) – A Republican US Senator of a bygone era was once quoted as saying “a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”
And, not surprisingly, at the UN, when it comes to the
implementation of its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the financial
targets keep moving – from millions into billions, and eventually from billions
into trillions of dollars.
At a ministerial meeting in September, Secretary-General
Antonio Guterres thanked member states for their pledges and commitments at
three high-level summit meetings: on Climate Action, on SDGs and on Financing
for Development (FfD).
“But to make serious progress,” he told the ministers, “we
need to fill the financing gap for SDGs—some $1.5 trillion dollars per annum.”
According to the 2014 World Investment Report by the
Geneva-based UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the financing gap
to achieve the SDGs in developing countries is even higher — and estimated to
be around $2.5 – $3.0 trillion per year.
The SDGs include the eradication of extreme poverty and
hunger, universal health care, quality education, clean water and sanitation
and a green economy, among others– to be achieved worldwide by a 2030 deadline.
At the same time, Guterres has said there is a need to
replenish the Green Climate Fund (GCF) to meet the commitment to mobilize $100
billion per year for climate action, including mitigation and adaptation in
developing countries, by next year.
But at the GCF Pledging Conference in Paris October 24-25,
27 rich nations pledged only $9.8 billion to the Fund.
And one of the world’s richest nations – the United
States—made no pledges, and is unlikely to do so, since it is planning to
withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate Change agreement.
But with deliveries falling short of pledges, off and on,
Guterres is looking for concrete commitments.
In his annual report for 2019, the secretary-general was
unequivocally clear that “at the current pace, we will not reach our targets”
–unless there is much greater urgency and ambition, including enhanced
international cooperation, private-public partnerships, adequate financing and
With a huge shortfall in funding, he has now turned to the
world’s business and private sector for investments.
On October 16, Guterres launched the Global Investors for
Sustainable Development (GISD) Alliance, described as “a UN’s first-of-its-kind
grouping comprising 30 high-powered business leaders from all over the world.”
In an interview with IPS, Navid Hanif, Director, Financing
for Sustainable Development Office at the UN’s Department of Economic and Social
Affairs (DESA), said these are men and women who have responded to the
Secretary-General’s challenge to find ways to rapidly and significantly
increase the private sector’s contribution to addressing sustainable
development, including achieving the SDGs.
Essentially, he pointed out, the Alliance will help provide
leadership in mobilizing resources from the private sector for sustainable
Asked why an alliance was needed, he said: “ I can do no
better to explain it than the GISD Alliance Members themselves, who issued a Joint Statement at the official launch at the UN. ”
They said that investment in SDGs “is not happening at the
required scale or speed. While investment into sustainable development has
become increasingly important, there is more work to be done to bring this
long-term and inclusive approach into the mainstream.”
They went further, adding: “Businesses need to develop local
solutions and projects; investors need to step up their support with financing;
and policy makers need to set an enabling framework,” said Hanif.
These are powerful statements by the world’s top investors
and banks. By articulating so clearly what this challenge has been, they have
also set out to answer the questions of how can this status quo change, and how
can it be done as soon as possible?
Excerpts from the
IPS: With the Secretary-General frequently appealing to the private
sector to play a constructive role in helping implement the SDGs, what’s the
track record of big corporations and international banks. Have they
substantially contributed towards achieving any of the UN’s goals?
Navid Hanif (NH) : Many – for example Citigroup, Standard
Chartered Bank, Enel, and ICBC – are involved in major sustainable
infrastructure projects, including in developing countries. In fact, most of
the CEOs in the Alliance are engaged in other UN initiatives, and they are
coming together under the GISD umbrella to go above and beyond.
But the Alliance has also been formed in acknowledgment of
the fact that without a scaling up of finance and investment from the private
sector, including big banks, pension funds, and other investors, the Global
Goals will not be achieved, because what is available from public sources will
not be enough.
IPS: Last month a coalition of civil society organizations (CSOs) said
the UN provided an exposed stage at the summits for millionaires and numerous
representatives of transnational corporations. but the last few decades have
shown that the market-based solutions these corporate actors have propagated
have not solved the global crises, but rather aggravated them. Is this a realistic
NH: The UN of course is very inclusive, precisely because
this is how it is constituted. The annual General Debate brings together the
highest level of representation from each country – Heads of State, Heads of
Government. One of the strengths of the UN is its unparalleled convening power
to assemble people at the top of the various sectors in the world, from top
economists to billionaires, and putting them in the same room to try to address
issues of global concern.
I think I would be more optimistic than to say this has been
a failure. Far from it. What we are seeing increasingly is an acknowledgement
by the business community that the success of their business is inextricably
linked to sustainable development, and to considerations of economic and social
For example, there was a recent statement by the Business
Round Table that companies should deliver value to all stakeholders – including
employees and customers – and not just shareholders. They know it is now
critical that companies follow up on this promise and deliver concrete actions.
But we have acknowledged that the pace and scale of change
are not commensurate with the level required to achieve the SDGs. That is why
we are using all possible avenues to accelerate action.
IPS: How are they planning to get this done?
NH: As a first step, the Alliance has agreed on six broad
commitments expressed in the Joint Statement. Taken together, these commitments
relate to a) finding solutions to scale up long-term finance and investment for
sustainable development; b) channeling this to countries and sectors where they
are most needed; and c) enhancing the sustainable development impact of these investments.
A concrete action of this newly formed Alliance will be to
focus on the investment opportunities in the developing world. As you know, the
SDGs apply to every country, but undoubtedly it is the poorest and most
vulnerable people and communities which are most in need of the kind of
investment the Alliance is attempting to scale up.
Those are the countries in which the 2030 Agenda is most off
track, due to conflicts, the climate crisis, gender-based violence, and
persistent inequalities. We know what to scale up.
Every day at the UN we hear new stories about sustainable
solutions working on the ground. The Alliance is committed to making sure that
these solutions go to where they are most needed.
One challenge they will face within their own respective
business sectors, is that of short-termism: that is, the tendency, based on
current trends, corporate incentive structures, and shareholder expectations,
to expect big returns on a quarter by quarter basis, rather than looking down
the road to years.
Most of the investments needed for fulfilling SDG targets –
such as in infrastructure, including roads, water, sanitation, health and
education – require a much more long-term perspective. But they have recognized
the need to move from a perspective of just shareholders, to stakeholders.
They said: “We, as GISD Alliance, pledge to scale-up and
speed-up our efforts to align business with the SDGs. We recognize that
achieving this ambitious plan for the future is not for one stakeholder, but
for all stakeholders.”
IPS: How realistic is it to believe that businesses and private
entities will contribute to the SDG financing gap? Is the SG expecting
significant amounts of altruistic investments? Will the ROI be worth it to the
private sector? Over how long?
NH: This is not altruism at all. Good business practice is
not at all incompatible with interest in saving the planet, climate action, the
environment, and the economic, social, and governance factors that support a
well-functioning global economy.
These 30 business leaders recognize that the continued
success of their businesses and corporations is inextricably linked to a
sustainable future for the world. For example, businesses must have an educated
workforce, so investment in schools and public education is necessary.
Workers, clients & customers must be healthy, so
investment in clean water and adequate sanitation is both necessary and makes
good business sense. This is increasingly being talked about in the business
world – for example, by the Business Round Table.
They recognize that we are an interconnected and
interdependent world, and their continued success depends on lifting others
from poverty, ill-health, lack of education, and in saving the world from the
brink of climate disaster.
One thing we can be sure of is that failing to meet the
targets of the SDGs will cost everybody on the planet, rich or poor. As usual,
unfortunately, the poorest will suffer most, but no one will be exempt in the
Already we see this in coastal communities, for example,
which are on the frontline of the climate crisis. Poor people have their homes
destroyed by the latest Category 5 hurricane, and so do rich people.
The members of the Alliance recognize this and are committed
to putting considerable muscle, and especially their collective convening
power, behind ensuring that their colleagues in business around the world will
both recognize and act on this reality. They will help to create an environment
that rewards long-term investment.
IPS: What do you see as long-term benefits, in addition to the scale up
of resources going to the 2030 Agenda?
NH: I think the biggest benefit will be the creation of an
enabling environment for long-term investment in sustainable development. These
would involve policies and regulations and also the development of long-term
benchmarks and metrics and an appropriate financial infrastructure that
We would also have readily available data about what
instruments work best, and investors would be able to see who and what to trust
to ensure their money is targeting sustainable development, with the best
chance of return on investment.
IPS: Isn’t that a tall order?
NH: No doubt—but not impossible. These are successful men
and women in their own right who are committing themselves to action, not talk,
and we and they are confident this venture will succeed.
The same concerns that we in the UN have about people and
planet, so well-articulated in the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda, are shared by
these global investors, and are now driving them to seize both the challenge
and the opportunities involved in helping to create a world that works for all
of us, including the most vulnerable. That is very good news.
*UN Bureau Chief and
Regional Director IPS North America, has been covering the U.N. since the late
1970s. A former deputy news editor of the Sri Lanka Daily News, he was a senior
editorial writer on the Hong Kong daily, The Standard. He can be contacted at email@example.com