Chief Sustainability Officers for SDGs – The 17 Goals remain the world’s north star for a sustainable and inclusive recovery

Key takeaways from flagship business event at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development

Published: 20 Jul 2020
Author: James Gomme
Type: Insight

Geneva, 20 July 2020: Across the world, the COVID-19 crisis has dramatically revealed our systemic vulnerabilities, exposing the fragility of human life, our economies, supply chains, social welfare systems and institutions. The way we respond to this crisis will be decisive in delivering the transformations required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the decade ahead.

In an interactive session co-hosted by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) with focus on navigating business risks and opportunities in a post COVID-19 world, leaders from business, government and the United Nations exchanged views on the lessons learned, highlighted transformative solutions, and discussed how to build collaborative synergies around the new normal we want.

The session, titled Chief Sustainability Officers for SDGs, took place on Tuesday 14 July during the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), the United Nations’ central platform for annual review of the implementation of the SDGs, will was held under the theme “Accelerated action and transformative pathways: realizing the decade of action and delivery for sustainable development”. The forum included a three-day ministerial segment from 14 to 16 July, where 47 countries presented their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) on SDG implementation. 
Here are the key takeaways of the fourth edition of HLPF’s flagship business event:  

  • COVID-19 has affected everyone, everywhere but not equally or with the same severity. Prior to the pandemic the world was off track to achieving the SDGs. COVID-19 added challenges of unprecedented magnitude and scale. Pre-existing inequalities have been exacerbated and injustice has been propelled, affecting the most vulnerable disproportionately – in particular with regard to poverty, nutrition, access to healthcare, education, and sustaining livelihoods.
  • The SDGs need to be the North Star for recovery and response. Placing the ambitions that sit at the heart of the SDGs at the core of global response efforts offer ample opportunity for innovation, global collaboration, building resilience, and redefining business success.
  • The pandemic is only the rehearsal for greater challenges like climate change. Sustainability and concerted action at global level have never been more relevant. COVID-19 provides us with the chance to create the world that the SDGs aim to create, putting the world on a healthier trajectory, one that is driven by new forms of productivity, greener transportation, more sustainable consumption and production patterns, more flexible working arrangements with less environmental impacts. Success depends on global collaboration between governments, business, and civil society.
  • Resilience is moving center stage – a concept that needs to be unpacked and differentiated from sustainability. We need to understand why we are not on track to achieve the SDGs and what we need to do differently. We need to understand how resilience and sustainability differ from and complement one another. This is key to achieving much greater personal, societal, economic, and planetary resilience.
  • Calls to reinvent capitalism are getting louder and louder. The current model under which we operate leaves us ill-prepared with the waves of shocks triggered by COVID-19. Real change is uncomfortable, and it takes business and governments to reflect, rethink and reinvent policies, supply chains, investments, and business models as a whole.
  •  The global response needs to focus on people, be human centric and place solidarity at its core without creating trade-offs when it comes to efforts to conserve nature. The “S” in ESG is gaining much more traction, yet it is the least defined. In essence, it is about the focus on people, how people are impacted and how governments and businesses interact with people. To lift the most susceptible out of their vulnerability a human centric approach is vital.
  • Policies need to be more consistent with development objectives outlined in the SDGs. Policies need to focus on rights and equality as we have entered the Decade of Action. Policy barriers placing disadvantages upon existing innovative technologies also need to be eliminated to ensure competitiveness in the marketplace.

The session featured the following speakers:

  • Alexandra Brand, Chief Sustainability Officer, Syngenta
  • Elliott Carlton Harris, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development and Chief Economist, DESA
  • Noppadol Dej-Udom, Chief Sustainability Officer, C.P. Group
  • Linden Edgell, Global Sustainability Program Director, Environmental Resources Management Limited (ERM)
  • Masaya Futamiya, Director–Chairman, Sompo Japan Insurance Inc. and Chair, Keidanren Committee on Responsible Business Conduct & SDGs Promotion
  • Martina Guarnaschelli, Embassy Secretary, International Organizations Department, and focal point for the National Social Policies Coordination Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, International Trade and Worship of Argentina
  • Alan Knight, General Manager Corporate Responsibility, ArcelorMittal
  • Sanda Ojiambo, CEO and Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact
  • Caroline Rees, President & CEO, Shift
  • Filippo Veglio, Managing Director, People Program & Outreach, WBCSD

Session materials

WBCSD resources on business and SDGs

WBCSD contact point

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