Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
World leaders have committed to achieving the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, but they won’t succeed alone. That’s why Goal 17 is to, “revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development” – a partnership that must embrace and be embraced by the private sector and its financial systems and technological innovation. While it’s the last goal, it is absolutely essential to establishing the foundational infrastructure necessary to achieve the other 16 goals.
The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious effort to end poverty and hunger, to establish equality for all, to protect our planet, and to ensure a healthy, sustainable future for humankind. The UN wants to achieve these goals by 2030. It’s a 15-year sprint, and the pistol fired on January 1, 2016.
Governments around the world pledged their commitment to achieving the 17 global goals, but they won’t succeed alone. That’s why the 17th goal is to, “revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.” This partnership must embrace – and be embraced by – private sector companies and their financial systems, technological innovation, and the capacity-building necessary for success.
Financing the SDGs is not for the faint of heart. Early estimates show that it will take between US$5 trillion and $7 trillion of annual global public and private investment in sectors as wide ranging as education, clean energy, agriculture, and health to deliver on the SDGs. The scale of investment needed to create these opportunities is immense, so the ninth annual United Nations Private Sector Forum focused on the theme of “Financing the 2030 Agenda: Unlocking Prosperity.” During the forum and also at the fifth International Conference for Sustainable Development in September 2017, leaders discussed ways the business and finance communities can make this leap in conjunction with governments. As UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, emphasized: “This is now an objective that can only work if the whole of society engages. The role of the business community, the private sector, the financial sector is absolutely crucial. Without your leadership, our project will simply fail. Finance can make or break all our carefully laid plans.”
Financial backing for programs alone won’t get us to the finish line by 2030. Most of the goals need more than funding. Consider goal 2 – ending hunger and achieving food security. Not an easy task when you consider demand for food is quickly outstripping the growth in supply. Researchers estimate that by 2050, we will have global shortages in food supply if major systemic changes are not made soon. This requires a technological leap. In some cases, the technology exists, but farmers in underdeveloped countries lack access to it and to the knowledge required to improve crop yields. In some cases, new technology must be innovated and then widely adopted in 15 short years. Not a small feat, though not impossible, if recent history is our guide.
The challenge with technology is that innovation isn’t always ideal, forcing trade-offs. For example, improving electrical output may require the development of dams or coal refineries, which negatively impacts environmental goals. Other energy technologies, such as biofuels used to power cars, protect the environment but consume food staples needed to achieve food security. These are not easy decisions to make. Furthermore, success is very dependent on the private sector to develop and distribute new innovations that align with the goals. It also depends on consensus-building at the global, regional, national, and local levels to vet and adopt the best technologies, and it depends on countries having the capacity to absorb them.
Desire alone is not enough to achieve results; it also requires capacity. Consider global goal 2 again. It is insufficient to simply desire food security. Countries must also have the capacity to cultivate or import food. Similarly, achieving universal education requires the capacity to teach everyone; achieving carbon emission reductions requires the capacity to monitor and eliminate pollution. It’s a tall order for many countries with poor infrastructure, a weak economic base, and an unstable political state. Huge investments must be made to help stand the poorest countries on their feet and to track progress.
Tracking progress itself requires massive capacity-building in many countries. Government statistical offices tend to be the main vehicle for monitoring national progress through household surveys sent every 5 to 10 years. As pointed out in the SDG Report 2018, however, censuses and vital statistics are still not universal. Only 143 countries or areas had birth registration data that were at least 90% complete over the period from 2012 to 2016; in sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only 8 out of 53 countries met this standard.
Former UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, believes the data revolution should be harnessed to help monitor and achieve the SDGs. This is a very sensible idea given the exabytes of data embedded in data centers, Web sites, smartphones, and, increasingly, things. In essence, there is capacity in private-sector databases to monitor the global goals if multistakeholder partnerships, such as the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, can form to mine this digital gold. But harnessing the data revolution also requires capacity-building. Many countries have yet to experience the data revolution, due to a lack of Internet access.
Though last, global goal 17 is not least. Rather, it is absolutely essential to establishing the foundational infrastructure necessary to achieve the other 16 goals. Without a growth in technical prowess, financial and economic strength, and core capacity within developing countries to tackle the SDGs, it’s unlikely progress will be made at all.
Nobody ever said achieving the SDGs would be easy. But that’s not a reason to lose faith. Many thought sending mankind to the moon was, well, quite literally a “moon shot,” but we eventually accomplished the impossible by taking, “One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” The SDGs represent 17 urgent leaps for mankind, for without them humanity may run out of steps to take.
SAP is working hard to revitalize the partnerships needed to achieve the UN’s global goals.