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Executive Update: Rest up, the biggest challenge yet awaits you

The following is an article by Lise Kingo, CEO & Executive Director, UN Global Compact. A version of this article was originally published on 6 August 2018 on GreenBiz

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With a busy and fruitful first half of 2018 now behind us, let us take a moment to stop and reflect on our many triumphs and challenges thus far this year. As many of us enjoy some well-earned rest and relaxation, we leave on our desks a to-do list so critical that it will be hard to relax knowing the mountain of effort that awaits us on our return.

Almost three years into the 2030 Agenda, important progress has been made, particularly when it comes to raising awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and mobilizing action. But at the global scale, progress on the SDGs is happening far too slowly. In far too many areas — such as climate, conflict and inequality — we are moving alarmingly backwards, putting the international community at serious risk of failing to deliver on the SDGs by their 2030 deadline.

With their colourful icons and catchy headings, the 17 SDGs offer an appealing vision of a better world by 2030, but while it is one thing to inspire a movement towards a more safe, sustainable and prosperous future for all, getting the wheels of the local and global economy turning in the right direction is much harder than the architects of the 2030 Agenda perhaps realized.

This is where the private sector comes into play and why enlightened business leaders are so critical to kick-starting, driving and accelerating the 2030 Agenda. As the largest corporate sustainability initiative in the world, and the United Nations flagship for responsible business action, the UN Global Compact is committed to guiding and supporting business leaders on this journey.

At the UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) in New York from 9 to 18 July, I was inspired to see the business presence (and interest) undoubtedly stronger than ever before. As the central multi-stakeholder mechanism for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, the HLPF is the single largest opportunity each year for Governments, business, civil society organizations and other local stakeholders to come together and review progress towards SDG implementation.

This year, the Forum focused on the theme of “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies.” Resilient societies enable people to live prosperous, equal and healthy lives without overstepping planetary boundaries. So how are we faring towards this vision?

Despite slow global progress, we continue to see many strong examples of meaningful progress towards the SDGs at the local and regional level. 47 countries — representing both developed and developing nations alike — came together to present Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) as part of the HLPF this year. These voluntary, state-led reviews focus on the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned, with a view to accelerating implementation of the 2030 Agenda.

This year, nine Global Compact Local Networks accompanied their national delegations to New York, helping to more systematically inject private sector contributions into their countries’ VNRs — a huge step forward in formally engaging business in what has historically been an exclusively inter-governmental process. This engagement is incredibly positive as it signals how Local Networks on the ground are being recognized more and more by Governments as the voice of business at the local level.

As a clear reflection of this progress, we launched a new publication, Global Compact Local Networks: Accelerating National SDG Implementation, which features examples from more than 30 Local Networks around the world highlighting how they help accelerate action and collaboration to close the gaps between where we currently are and where we need to be by 2030.

The magnitude of these efforts is clear: Local Networks have set up more than 1,500 awareness-raising activities for the Ten Principles and the SDGs, and we have engaged more than 14,000 companies at the national level to date through our Making Global Goals Local Business campaign. As a result of this awareness raising, significant action is also being taken — more than 75% of UN Global Compact companies have taken up the SDGs and have begun to address them from a company-wide perspective.

But the challenge now, looking ahead, is to really take this progress to scale. It is no longer just about raising awareness. Now, we will want to ensure we are supporting responsible business action at a larger scale, and it is essential that we begin seeing some of the societal impact of the work that companies are doing. To do so, our focus at the UN Global Compact is on rolling out a range of practical new products and resources that are all about measuring and managing the SDGs in a more concrete way.

Together with GRI and PRI, we have developed In Focus: Addressing Investor Needs in Business Reporting on the SDGs, which features recommendations on how corporate reporting on the SDGs can best address investors’ information needs. The report complements the newly launched Integrating the SDGs into Corporate Reporting: A Practical Guide, which outlines a process to embed the SDGs in business and reporting processes in alignment with recognized principles related to human rights and the environment.

At the same time, fostering corporate transparency and accountability around the world’s most pressing issues also empowers the financial sector to become a much-needed catalyst for change. Given that reporting and financing must go hand in hand, we are also working to inspire and develop the conditions for a global market in SDG Bonds which can raise the funding necessary to pay for this intentional global shift towards sustainable business and development.

With 1,000 days of momentum behind us, and with business energy around the 2030 Agenda at an all-time high following the High-level Political Forum, let us build on the important awareness raising we have achieved thus far. But let us also remember that we are moving dangerously backwards in a number of areas. The SDGs will not be realized by accident.

If we want to truly deliver on this ambitious vision for a better world, measurement and reporting will be essential. By working with local stakeholders, enlightened businesses are providing the “rocket fuel” that will accelerate the SDGs at the national and local level. Only by scaling this momentum can we get back on track towards achieving the world we all want.

So rest up, relax and recharge, for now. But remember, a critical SDG to-do list is awaiting you — and we need all hands on deck. I very much hope you are ready for this new challenge — ready to join thousands of leaders just like you in accelerating progress towards the SDGs and creating the world we want.

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