Davos Agenda

Beyond Geopolitics: What are the challenges in making our world more sustainable?

Demonstrators with "Black Lives Matter" banners begin to gather at the Lincoln Memorial for the "Get Your Knee Off Our Necks" rally and March on Washington 2020 in support of racial justice in Washington, U.S., August 28, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner - RC21NI9DH2L2

The Great Reset is a chance to collaborate and build a better, more inclusive world. Image: REUTERS/Tom Brenner

Samantha Sault
Writer, Washington DC and Geneva
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Davos Agenda?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how Geopolitics is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

Davos Agenda

This article is part of: Sustainable Development Impact Summit
  • We need more progress on peace, justice and developing strong and effective international institutions – which are essential to building a better world for everyone.
  • COVID-19 heightens the risks for the world's most vulnerable – and highlights the need for international collaboration.
  • The Great Reset is an opportunity to come together to achieve all 17 SDGs.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face in building a better, more inclusive world for everyone. “Conflict, insecurity, weak institutions and limited access to justice remain threats to sustainable development,” among many others, says the UN SDG Progress Report 2020.

These challenges have crystallized in recent months. As several World Economic Forum experts and partners explained, “the rise in populism and ‘country first’ politics have threatened the spirit of international co-operation and the workings of the multilateral institutions,” which are sorely needed right now to work together to overcome the crises. “This left the international community at a significant disadvantage as it faced the COVID-19 pandemic,” they continued. Around the world, journalists are persecuted and even killed trying to get to the truth. Even the wealthiest nations aren’t immune: systemic racism is embedded in police departments, medicine, even housing and financial policy in the United States, says the IMF, a sign of decades of injustice towards Black and African American communities across the country.

As COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on all economies, societies and people, we’re physically separated, with people staying in their homes, meetings and travel all but halted – and the world’s most vulnerable are falling through the cracks.

Have you read?

"The COVID-19 pandemic is a tragic reminder of how deeply connected we are. The virus knows no borders and is a quintessential global challenge. Combatting it requires us to work together as one human family,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

It’s hard to say there’s a silver lining to the pandemic, but perhaps there’s this: as we embark on the Great Reset, we have an opportunity to come together stronger than before, with a greater commitment to achieving a more sustainable world.

Sustainable Development Goals beyond geopolitics

All 17 SDGs play a role in building a better, more inclusive world – but two in particular focus on geopolitics:

SDG 16: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions. The targets include:

  • Reducing all forms of violence and related death rates and ending all forms of violence against children.
  • Promoting the rule of law and ensuring equal access to justice.
  • Reducing illicit financial and arms flows, organized crime, corruption and bribery.
  • Developing effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels, with responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making.
  • Protecting fundamental freedoms and ensuring non-discriminatory laws for sustainable development.

SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals. This comprehensive goal aims to implement and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. As part of this, developed countries must fully implement their official development assistant commitments and work to assist developing countries with other financial challenges. Additional targets include:

  • Enhancing cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation, and promoting the development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries.
  • Supporting developing countries in implementing all of the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Promoting a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization, as well as increasing developing countries’ exports and realizing duty-free and quota-free market access for LDCs.
  • Enhancing global macroeconomic stability, including through policy coordination and stability.

How much progress has been made?

The short answer: not nearly enough.

Too many innocent people are being killed or abused, according to the UN SDG Progress Report 2020. Between 2015-2017, nearly 107,000 civilians were killed in a dozen armed conflicts. While intentional homicides have declined – from 6.8 per 100,000 in 2000 to 5.8 in 2018 – if current trends continue, we’ll only reach around 5.2 per 100,000 in 2030. Meanwhile, between 2012-2019, nearly 8 in 10 children between the ages of 1-14 were subjected to psychological aggression and/or physical punishment at home in the previous month in 69 countries, and children accounted for one-third of trafficking victims in 2016.

Image: UN

Access to justice also requires more progress. Worldwide, 31% of prisoners are being detained without being sentenced for a crime – “a level that has not declined since 2005,” continues the report – and 60% of prisons in 190 countries exceed capacity. Even the wealthiest, most developed nations require greater progress on justice – as we’re seeing now in the United States with the Black Lives Matter movement against systemic racism.

Speak up about these injustices, and one may face retribution: “From 2015 to 2019, the United Nations recorded at least 1,940 killings and 106 enforced disappearances of human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists across 81 countries, with over half of killings occurring in Latin America and the Caribbean," says the progress report, along with physical and online attacks and harassment. "This is underscored by a marked rise in widespread hostile rhetoric directed at the media and journalists,” according to the report.

Image: UN

COVID-19 makes these challenges worse. In 2019, more than 79.5 million people fled war, persecution and conflict. Now, these displaced people face another risk: a deadly virus. Women and children face increased risk of domestic violence when locked down in unsafe homes; even vulnerable children who don’t face violence may not have food or access to education if they can't go to a physical school. Even in areas where we’ve made considerable progress – like the steady increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) to developing economies – we expect to see declines. FDI, as just one example, is projected to decline by as much as 40% in 2020 due to the economic crisis, and 5-10% more in 2021.


What's the World Economic Forum doing about diversity, equity and inclusion?

What are the World Economic Forum and its partners doing to make geopolitics more sustainable?

  • Established by the UN Secretary General with support from the Forum, the Task Force on Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is identifying how digitalization will reshape finance and to identify, theorize, and propose how best this transformation can support the financing of the SDGs.
  • The Forum's Trade and Investment Platform is engaging business and policymakers on short- and long-term steps towards a global economic architecture fit to tackle current challenges. Activities include Business Insight calls, scenario development, and recommendations to decision makers in national and international contexts. Multi-stakeholder taskforces are supported by a global academic and institutional network and Global Future Council on International Trade and Investment.
  • The Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation – jointly led by the Centre for International Private Entreprise, International Chamber of Commerce and World Economic Forum, in cooperation with Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit – works with the public and private sectors to identify bottlenecks in the supply chain and implement targeted solutions to facilitate trade, with projects in development around the world.
  • The Global Coalition to Fight Financial Crime presents a concerted and collaborative effort to address the societal costs and risks that financial crime poses to the integrity of the global financial system.
  • In recent months, Forum partners and members have donated billions to social justice organizations and launched new initiatives to make their own workplaces more inclusive and equitable. Learn more about what they've been doing to fight systemic racism.

What can I do to create a better world?

  • Educate myself about the inequalities and injustices in the world, and speak out or peacefully protest when I see them in my country or community.
  • Engage in the political process and vote if I’m eligible.
  • Ensure my business and business partners comply with all laws and meet international standards. Be transparent about what my company is doing to be more sustainable and report on progress.
  • Engage in dialogues, partnerships and action to work towards sustainability, inclusivity and justice.
Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Davos AgendaGeopoliticsSustainable DevelopmentDavos AgendaDavos Agenda
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How deep-sea technology could transform life above water

Mattie Rodrigue and Diva Amon

February 23, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum