• 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 Forum's annual Sustainable Development Impact Summit, from 20-23 September, is a chance to figure out how to achieve all 17 SDGs – together.

The past year has seen one crisis after another – from extreme wildfires and heatwaves and hurricanes, to the refugee crisis following the collapse of Afghanistan’s government, to the continued need to address systemic racism, including environmental racism. Meanwhile, COVID-19 is not waning, with cases and deaths rising as vaccine disinformation causes deep rifts and vaccine inequality remains a challenge.

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges we face in building a better, more inclusive world for everyone. And it’s made worse by the fact that many of us remain separated physically, while mistrust of international institutions and each other grows deeper.

Existential threats - geopolitical threats
Geopolitical threats top the list of perceived existential threats to the world.
Image: World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2021

"The effects of the pandemic should serve as a catalyst for changing course – away from competition and towards cooperation," according to the Forum's "Principles for Strengthening Global Cooperation".

"Making progress on immediate priorities, including developing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines and effecting economic and societal recoveries, all while taking more ambitious action on long-standing challenges such as climate change and inequity, requires purposeful, coordinated effort. Greater resilience can only occur if leaders rebuild or reimagine instruments for greater collaboration," the report argues.

The Forum’s virtual Sustainable Development Impact Summit 2021, taking place 20-23 September, will provide a chance to discuss how we can come back together to build a more sustainable, inclusive world.

Sustainable Development Goals for moving 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. 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. Developed countries must fully implement official development 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 the Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Promoting a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the WTO, as well as increasing developing countries’ exports and realizing duty-free and quota-free market access for lease developed countries (LDCs).
  • Enhancing global macroeconomic stability, including through policy coordination and stability.

How much progress has been made?

We have seen progress in recent years. For example, 2020 saw the lowest number of journalists killed in a decade (62), says the UN Sustainable Development Goal Report 2021 – though that could be due to lockdowns and restricted travel. More countries, including one in three LDCs, have internationally compliant national human rights institutions, compared with one in five in 2015.

But this progress is not nearly enough – and given the impacts of COVID-19, we’re off track to meet many 2030 targets.

“At the end of 2020, about 1% of the global population – 82.4 million people – had been forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict or generalized violence,” according to the UN's latest SDG report. This doesn’t account for the past eight months of crises in Lebanon and Ethiopia, at the United States’ southern border and now, Afghanistan, which alone could displace at least half a million people, as Forum experts explained.

Children are especially vulnerable. Currently, one in three trafficking victims are children; 72% are girls. “Previous economic crises suggest that the sharp increase in adult unemployment rates and an asymmetric global recovery from COVID-19 is likely to increase the risk of tracking.” Furthermore, at the start of 2020, one in 10 children were engaged in child labour, with 79 million in hazardous work. “The impacts of COVID-19 threaten to push an additional 8.9 million children into child labour by the end of 2022.”

The pandemic is intensifying children's risk of exploitation.
The pandemic is intensifying children's risk of exploitation.
Image: UN

We need strong international institutions and collaboration – but these, too, have been “shaky,” says the UN report. Foreign direct investment (FDI) fell 40% in 2020, dropping below $1 trillion for the first time since 2005.”

“Recovery from the [COVID] crisis and sustainable development must be built on a foundation of peace, stability, respect for human rights, effective governance and the rule of law,” continues the UN report. We are seeing many signs of the world coming together – such as the fact that foreign aid reached an “all-time high” of $161 billion in 2020.

Now, as we come together to solve the climate crisis – which could have a far worse impact than COVID-19 – we need to renew the spirit of international partnership for a better world.

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

What is the World Economic Forum doing on trade facilitation?

The Global Alliance for Trade Facilitation is a collaboration of international organisations, governments and businesses led by the Center for International Private Enterprise, the International Chamber of Commerce and the World Economic Forum, in cooperation with Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit.

It aims to help governments in developing and least developed countries implement the World Trade Organization’s Trade Facilitation Agreement by bringing together governments and businesses to identify opportunities to address delays and unnecessary red-tape at borders.

For example, in Colombia, the Alliance worked with the National Food and Drug Surveillance Institute and business to introduce a risk management system that can facilitate trade while protecting public health, cutting the average rate of physical inspections of food and beverages by 30% and delivering $8.8 million in savings for importers in the first 18 months of operation.

What can I do to create a better world?

  • Educate myself about 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.
  • Welcome refugees to my community and support them however I can.
  • 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.