The Sustainable Development Goals (Agenda 2030) and the Role of Business in Nation-Building and in Achieving the Global Goals

Jan 26, 2016


Mr. Ola Almgren

UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in the Philippines

    during the

Philippine Business for Social Progress Annual Membership Meeting

26 January 2016

Dusit Thani Hotel, Makati City



  • Magandang hapon po, sa inyong lahat,


  • Thank the Philippine Business for Social Progress for the invitation and opportunity to present Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development


  • I expect that I will be preaching to the choir, or the already converted, precisely as this is a gathering of the Philippine Business for Social Progress.  Nevertheless, for me personally and for us in the United Nations, it is a very welcome opportunity to discuss this important subject with you and, perhaps, to trigger an even closer cooperation as we move forward in the implementation of Agenda 2030.


  • As you know, Agenda 2030 follows the United Nations Millennium Declaration of 2000 and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that came to an end in 2015.  Over the last 15 years, much progress has been made all over the world in meeting the MDGs – and that is certainly the case also here in the Philippines.


  • Nevertheless, with a quarter of the population in the Philippines still living in extreme poverty, it is obvious that we cannot stop here and that the quest for inclusive growth that the Philippines is pursuing must continue.  More remains to be done also when it comes to improving maternal health, to make sure children stay in school until graduation, and to stop the alarming rise of HIV/AIDS in the Philippines to mention a few. 


  • It should also be obvious that this quest must take account of resources and environment, in a way that we can improve the lives of the current generation while safeguarding resources and the planet for future generations. 


  • In short, much more work remains, to ensure that we keep and further improve on the progress already made, and to step up our efforts on the unmet goals so far.  Let me illustrate the point…


  •  (Video “No Point Going Half-Way”)


  • Last year, on 25 September, Member States of the United Nations met in New York at the Sustainable Development Summit to adopt Agenda 2030 and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  The development of Agenda 2030 had been underway since 2010 already, when the Secretary-General launched the post 2015 discussion in the realization that there would be more to do as the Millennium Development Goals drew to a close. 


  • In the journey to develop the next generation global development goals, human development was integrated with climate and natural resources to become the first truly integrated global development agenda.  For the United Nations – and I am talking about its Member States, “we the Peoples of the United Nations” as the Charter of the United Nations states; the adoption of Agenda 2030 is a true landmark resolution which, 70 years after and in my personal opinion, comes very close in importance to the formation of the United Nations itself in 1945.


  • Allow me to read just a quick excerpt from that resolution.  It speaks volumes of the commitment that Member States have made to the five principal strands of Agenda 2030 (people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships):


  • We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.


  • We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.


  • We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.


  • We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.


  • We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalised Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.


  • Agenda 2030 is a global call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all human beings enjoy peace and prosperity. It is a bold and ambitious agenda to shift the world to a path of sustainable development. To deliver on economic development, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.


  • The first six goals relate directly to the eight MDGs.  But the SDGs broaden the scope, and raise the ambition. As an example, rather than looking at further reducing poverty over the coming 15 years, the SDGs speak of ending extreme poverty altogether.


  • The SDGs are also means to an end.  They look at our habitat, our livelihoods, our behaviour, the need for innovation, and the importance of an effective infrastructure, to mention a few.


  • And they aim to take action against climate change, safeguarding land and water resources for future generations, and ensure peace and justice by strengthening institutions, and, through partnerships, bringing together the many layers and circles that make up society around us.


  • Agenda 2030 is an universal agenda, it applies equally to the global North and South.  All countries have to deliver on the goals, recognizing that our world is interconnected and that achieving and safeguarding prosperity and sustainability requires all of us to contribute, whether we live in Sweden (my home country) or here in the Philippines. 


  • The SDGs are a set of integrated and indivisible goals.  We should not view the boxes as independent but rather as interrelated.  Actions for one goal will also have something to do with the other goals.  This is the challenge and opportunity in development.  Development is not linear and its component parts don’t fit neatly into simple boxes.


  • Finally, the SDGs are far more than inspirations or words of good intent.  They provide a guide for action in the key areas where countries, including the Philippines, will have to invest in order to move forward.



Private sector and the SDGs


  • So much for the introductions, now comes the difficult part…


  • How do we move forward and implement?  Well, one thing is clear, achieving these goals will not be simple or cheap.  Goal 17 speaks of a partnership comprised of all stakeholders – governments, the private sector, development partners, multilateral banks, research institutions and advocacy organizations.


  • So what is then the role of the private sector?  (And you are looking at somebody who has worked his whole life in the public sector..).


  • But if a definition of the goals of a business (and I know there are many variations) is to maximise the profits for its stakeholders while maintaining corporate social responsibility; engaging in the sustainable development goals goes far beyond corporate social responsibility.


  • In fact, to me it is essential to see sustainable development as actually linked to the core business strategy of a corporation.  Sustainability of profit over time is linked to sustainability of our environment, our natural resources and development for the people who make up the workforce and customers of a corporation.  I am sure you had that figured well before me…


  • Unmet investment needs of the SDGs are estimated in the range of 3 to7 trillion USD per year in developing countries alone, with an annual gap estimated at about 2.5 trillion USD.  Not everyone agrees with costing the SDGs, but these numbers clearly point to the scale of the challenge. All sources of finance, public and private, domestic and international, will have a role to play.


  • But should we talk of “the cost” of the sustainable development goals?  Aren’t we really looking at investment opportunities with an expected return over time.  Of course there will be financial flows but these flows must go somewhere and why shouldn’t that somewhere lead to decent work, increased income for the poor, access to health and other services, responsible use of natural resources, etc, etc.


  • As our Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said, “Governments must take the lead in living up to their pledges. At the same time, I am counting on the private sector to drive success. Now is the time to mobilize the global business community as never before. The case is clear. Realizing the Sustainable Development Goals will improve the environment for doing business and building markets. Trillions of dollars in public and private funds are to be redirected towards the SDGs, creating huge opportunities for responsible companies to deliver solutions.”


  • As I have already pointed to, the challenge for the private sector is to move towards inclusive and sustainable business models - going beyond the concept of philanthropy and voluntary corporate social responsibility - without undermining profitability. How to achieve this?


  • We believe that within businesses themselves, solutions lie in innovation, new business models, and the right leadership. This needs to be combined with better regulatory frameworks, smart public incentives, and changes in consumer demand to mention a few.  We are very interested in your thoughts on this and how you see this challenge.



Entry points/opportunities for private sector partnerships


  • For our part, the UN is focusing its support for the implementation of the SDGs in three areas:


  • on mainstreaming the goals in national development plans, budgets and, why not, in cooperation with the private sector, in business plans;
  • on support of accelerating the process; and,
  • on providing policy support, drawing on our global practices and experiences.


  • As we move to another transformative period, the UN will continue to accompany the Philippines in very practical and tangible ways:


  • We can help with research and analysis that can inform future legislation, policies and actions.


  • We can help to translate the Global Goals into national and local strategies, plans, and budgets, and strengthen data and monitoring systems.


  • We can help identify the obstacles and bottlenecks to making progress on goals and targets, and to identify actions which could speed up progress.


  • We can draw on development acceleration tools that have been used in more than fifty countries in recent years.


  • We can provide demand-driven advice and technical assistance drawing on the great depth and breadth of knowledge and programme experience gained over many decades and in many parts of the world.


  • We are looking at establishing an innovations fund that will help start-ups with innovative and promising development solutions to build their businesses for private investment. 


And there is more.


  • We encourage the business sector to commit to the UN Global Compact and its 10 principles in the areas of Human Rights, Labour, Environment, and Anti-Corruption, as well as to submit an annual Communication on Progress (COP).


  • We have launched the SDG Compass website, which contains a new tool to support companies in navigating and operationally aligning with the SDGs - offering the tools and knowledge to put sustainability at the heart of your business strategy. 


  • In his statement at "Making Public-Private Partnerships Work for the Sustainable Development Goals: The United Nations a Catalyst for Innovation" in Davos earlier this week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said:


  • “I call Agenda 2030 our ‘declaration of interdependence.’ The world is coming to recognize more and more that problems in one country reverberate in another. A crash in one market can drive a crisis around the world. That is why it is so important to make the most of our collective strengths. We will need to work together – across sectors and industries – to address how to realize new approaches to finance, investment, trade and technology.”


  • I take the opportunity to congratulate the Philippine Business for Social Progress on your 45th foundation anniversary this year. The theme of your Annual Membership Meeting today, “Solving problems together works!” very much resonates the transformation Agenda 2030 calls for.


  • There are many opportunities for us to work closely together but above all, we need your contributions to the achievement of Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.  I certainly look forward to maintaining and deepening the contact with the PBSP in this regard.


  • And as a summary of the last 15 minutes, let me close by a short video on 17 ways of saying “hope” (video: “We the Peoples – Don’t’ Drop It”)


  • Don’t drop it!  We count on you!


  • Thank you very much, maraming salamat po.

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