Progress toward sustainable development is seriously off-track

UN Photo/Manuel Elias UN Secretary-General António Guterres at UN Headquarters, New York (2019)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


The UN Secretary-General is calling on business leaders to use their “enormous influence” to push for inclusive growth and opportunities that benefit all people and the planet.

António Guterres made the appeal in an op-ed first published earlier this week in the Financial Times.

“It is both good ethics and good business to invest in sustainable, equitable development,” he wrote.

“Corporate leadership can make all the difference to creating a future of peace, stability and prosperity on a healthy planet.”

He pointed to recent protests across the world where people have taken to the streets to protest rising living costs as well as real, or perceived, injustice.

“They feel the economy is not working for them — and in some cases, they are right. A narrow focus on growth, regardless of its true cost and consequences, is leading to climate catastrophe, a loss of trust in institutions and a lack of faith in the future,” he said.

Mr. Guterres believes the private sector is critical to solving these problems, and businesses have been working with the UN to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted in 2015.

The 17 SDGs address challenges such as poverty, inequality, the climate crisis, and peace and justice. They aim to bring about a more just future by the deadline of 2030.

‘We are seriously off-track’

The UN chief noted that since their adoption, extreme poverty and child mortality have fallen. However, he lamented that overall, “we are seriously off-track”, with

lack of financing a contributing factor. As public funding is not enough to meet the challenge, the UN is working with the financial sector to fill the gap.

Mr. Guterres stated that businesses need long-term investment policies which serve society, not just shareholders. He added that the UN and the private sector are working to find new ways to invest in sustainable growth and development

Last month, 30 leaders of multinational companies meeting at the UN launched the Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance. Already they are backing clean energy projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America, among other initiatives.

‘Push for policy change’

The UN chief expressed hope that other business leaders will follow suit.

Mr. Guterres further called on the corporate sector “to go beyond investment and push for policy change”, noting that consumers are already exerting pressure.

“We need business leaders to use their enormous influence to push for inclusive growth and opportunities,” he said. “No one business can afford to ignore this effort, and there is no global goal that cannot benefit from private sector investment.”

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