The United Nations had launched highly ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. The comprehensive SDGs covered a variety of subjects from reducing carbon emissions, to reducing poverty, hunger and improving healthcare industry; set targets for the countries of the world to be accomplished by 2030.
However, as the 2030 deadline to achieve them draws ever nearer, the UN’s recent annual report on progress towards the goals concluded that a “much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed” to unleash the economic and social transformation necessary to achieve the SDGs.
On human wellbeing, the report predicts that 6% of the world’s population will still live in poverty by 2020 (SDG 1), while global hunger (SDG 2) continues to increase and half the world’s population still lacks essential health services (SDG 3). And of course, every day sees some reminder of the effect the climate crisis is having on the planet.
The surprising part is, that there is a lack of progress despite the fact that businesses are embracing the goals. PwC has conducted an annual survey into the SDGs, examining the corporate and sustainability reporting of over 700 listed companies. Last year, 72% of these organisations mentioned the SDGs in their annual corporate or sustainability reports – a year-on-year increase of 10% on last year. Turning these pledges into real action, however, is proving far more difficult.
According to the UN, achieving the goals in developing countries calls for up to $5 trillion of investment a year, yet currently, just $1.4trn is being allocated. In order to bridge this gap, private finance needs to be mobilised to achieve the SDGs.
Specialist green bonds are have proved to be highly popular for this purpose. HSBC, for instance, has issued a £1bn SDG bond that aligns to several goals. The bank is also looking at introducing loans that are linked to specific SDGs. Impact investors buy into those bonds with the bank then lending the money to businesses for projects eligible under the bond’s green framework. The bank also provides annual reports to investors demonstrating the impact of their investments.
The positive side to this is that achieving the SDGs could open up an estimated $12trn in market opportunities for businesses. This can also contribute heavily to human development by creating 380 million new jobs, according to the Business & Sustainable Development Commission.