This week, the international community is once again assembled in New York for a series of important discussions about climate change and sustainable development. This time they will be watched carefully. Young climate leaders and civil society representatives will be there at every step, making sure conversation and decisions go in the right direction for the planet, for its poorest inhabitants and for future generations. But are we collectively up to the challenge? Can we respond to their justified demands for concrete and immediate action?

It’s been four years since the adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, and despite sincere efforts from many players, the reality is that globally we have been moving backwards rather than forwards. Meanwhile, the “price tag” for turning things around on time, and constructing a sustainable and inclusive future, continues to increase from the forecast of a $2.5 trillion annual SDG financing gap made in 2014.

Image: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development

To me, financing the SDGs can be compared to sailing, in that countries need to assume the skipper role and take back the ship’s wheel. Each knows best the waters they should be sailing to meet the development needs of their own people. At the same time, the collaborative architecture of the international community needs to operate as effective wind power, providing the catalytic energy for the boat to sail ahead.

In order to achieve this, existing efforts from development finance institutions, civil society and the private and public sectors need to work in sync so that the wind blows in one direction, and the skipper can acquire better control of the boat and navigate a smoother and more efficient route for everyone involved.

Financing Sustainable Development

The world’s economies are already absorbing the costs of climate change and a “business as usual” approach that is obsolete. Both scientific evidence and the dislocation of people are highlighting the urgent need to create a sustainable, inclusive and climate-resilient future.

This will require no less than a transformation of our current economic model into one that generates long-term value by balancing natural, social, human and financial conditions. Cooperation between different stakeholders will be vital to developing the innovative strategies, partnerships and markets that will drive this transformation and allow us to raise the trillions of dollars in investments that are needed.

To tackle these challenges, Financing Sustainable Development is one of the four focus areas at the World Economic Forum's 2019 Sustainable Development Impact summit. A range of sessions will spotlight the innovative financial models, pioneering solutions and scalable best practices that can mobilize capital for the the world's sustainable development goals. It will focus on the conditions that both public and private institutions should create to enable large-scale financing of sustainable development. It will also explore the role that governments, corporations, investors, philanthropists and consumers could play to deliver new ways of financing sustainable development.

Finally, you cannot sail without the right point of sail – the boat's direction of travel in relation to the wind. This is the tricky part, and for this you need an experienced, committed and focused crew: a task force that has access to the right tools and knowledge to prepare the sails with the right angle that can move the boat in the right direction.

For the purposes of our metaphor, this is the Country Financing Roadmap, a set of actionable next steps, tools and networks that leverage public-private collaboration to help countries accelerate their SDG efforts and increase the sources of capital available to advance their sustainable development priorities.

The roadmap will be officially launched at the World Economic Forum Sustainable Development Impact Summit in New York on 24 September, with the first batch of countries to embark on this journey, including Saint Lucia, as the prototype for small island states. The roadmap will be key to advancing the UN and the Forum’s strategic collaboration to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

What is the World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact summit?

It’s an annual meeting featuring top examples of public-private cooperation and Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies being used to develop the sustainable development agenda.

It runs alongside the United Nations General Assembly, which this year features a one-day climate summit. This is timely given rising public fears – and citizen action – over weather conditions, pollution, ocean health and dwindling wildlife. It also reflects the understanding of the growing business case for action.

The UN’s Strategic Development Goals and the Paris Agreement provide the architecture for resolving many of these challenges. But to achieve this, we need to change the patterns of production, operation and consumption.

The World Economic Forum’s work is key, with the summit offering the opportunity to debate, discuss and engage on these issues at a global policy level.

Keeping the SDGs afloat

The good news is that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel – or the mast. There are already good examples of transformational solutions for SDG financing that operate as an effective GPS and that fall within any of the three key interconnected areas that drive sustainable development: financing (including blended finance), capacity/pipeline and enabling environment.

And the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here to help. We have the right digital analytic tools: COSMOS is a mapping platform to identify the most relevant active programmes, initiatives, coalitions and institutions working on mobilizing financing for the SDGs in sub-Saharan Africa, and can help identify gaps, overlaps and potential spaces for collaboration. The goal is to turn it into a global screening process of action on the ground that can be used to support countries more effectively.

The question is: can we build the right collaborations to scale transformative solutions for countries at the speed that is needed?

As the clock is ticking, multi-stakeholder collaboration has never been more vital and needed to address the systemic challenges standing in the way of creating the conditions for SDG financing. As we’re all in the same boat when it comes to the climate and sustainable development, I hope that together we can sail away to a better future.