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.
This isn’t the UN’s first global race. It’s been here before. The Millennium Development Goals ratified in 2000 were just as far-reaching, though for a more modest eight goals. Reviews on progress are mixed. As with everything, how you measure progress determines how you claim success. One of the most touted successes is the 43% reduction of people living in extreme poverty, defined as less than US$1.25 per day. It was accomplished in 15 short years. Worldwide. Rather impressive.
Critics claim many left extreme poverty because of economic growth in India and China, not because of specific efforts by UN agencies. But that is precisely the point. Long-term success will come only from sustainable development– economic, technological, and political – through a group effort. Private enterprise and the market economies it thrives on are crucial.
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 as well as at the fifth International Conference for Sustainable Development this past September, leaders discussed ways the business and finance community 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.”
Moving from billions to trillions of dollars requires a new approach. Billions granted by organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and World Bank worked for the Millennium Development Goals but doesn’t scale well moving forward. Rather, financing must come from a partnership among communities that are public and private, national and global, in both capital and capacity. In essence, government agencies are asking private financial institutions to commit to working together.
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: to end hunger and achieve 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 the technology and the knowledge 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 capacity to cultivate or import food. Similarly, achieving universal education requires capacity to teach everyone; achieving carbon emission reductions requires capacity to monitor and eliminate pollution. It’s a tall order for many countries with a 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. Many countries may survey their population only one or two times before 2030 and likely won’t capture the granularity needed to affect change. Things get further complicated for countries lacking statistical offices. The UN Statistical Commission estimates 78 countries need statistical capacity building over the next 10 years just to collect basic survey data, likely costing US$500 million to US$1 billion annually. In addition to financial resources, skills, relationships, political capital, digital inclusion, and advocacy must all undergo changes of the same magnitude to effect the required series of interconnected changes.
Former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon believed 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. Recognizing the challenge, ONE, an international advocacy organization and a consortium of other groups and individuals made the Connectivity Declaration, calling on governments to ensure Internet access for all of humanity by 2020.
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 will 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.