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'We need to act now': 3 leaders on what must be prioritized to meet the 2030 Global Goals

The 17 Global Goals aim to secure peace and prosperity for people and the planet.

The 17 Global Goals aim to secure peace and prosperity for people and the planet. Image: Karsten Würth on Unsplash

Stéphanie Thomson
Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • The world is not on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, also known as the Global Goals.
  • At the current rate of progress, only 15% of the goals will be met by the 2030 target deadline.
  • Leaders at the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings, which take place 18-22 September at the World Economic Forum in New York, shared ideas on how to accelerate progress.

In 2015, world leaders committed to 17 goals that, if achieved, had the potential to secure peace and prosperity for people and the planet. Today, we’re past the halfway point to the 2030 deadline for achieving these Sustainable Development Goals, which are also known as the Global Goals.

Are we on track? Far from it, according to experts speaking at the Forum's Sustainable Development Impact Meetings. In fact, according to estimates, at the current rate of progress, only 15% of the Global Goals will be achieved by 2030.

“These goals present a pathway towards a better, more sustainable world, but unfortunately, we are not on track to deliver them,” said Miroslav Lajčák, Special Representative of the European Union for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and Western Balkans. “We need to act, and we need to act now.”

Here’s what he and other leaders in the panel discussion Building Sustainable Trust in a Fragmenting World say needs to be prioritized.


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

1. Fostering public-private partnerships

There are many examples where national governments have put in place measures that will go a long way to achieving some of the Global Goals. Take the recent Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, which has been described as the most significant climate legislation in US history. “This should serve as an inspiration to many other countries,” says Svein Tore Holsether, President and Chief Executive Officer, Yara International ASA.

Equally, there are many examples where the private sector has stepped up to the plate, such as the work Holsether and his peers in the food industry have done to reduce the carbon footprint of fertilizer. “But there’s only so much we can do as individual companies,” he concedes, arguing that public-private partnerships, such as the First Movers Coalition, will lead to deeper change, faster. “We have to do this in collaboration, since this will allow us to make changes across entire value chains.”

Lajčák agrees: “We need to have a partnership with the private sector that brings expertise, experience, technologies and investment. There are things governments cannot do without the private sector and vice versa.”

2. Sharing best practices

For Lajčák, knowledge silos have prevented the world from making adequate progress when it comes to achieving the Global Goals. “I see countries and organizations locked in their own information bubble, where we only talk with like-minded people…and we don’t interact enough with others,” he explains.

The result? Progress and successes in one country are not being disseminated with others. “I’ve seen many good examples, but what was missing was the ability to make them a universal model that others can follow,” Lajčák says. “There is little knowledge about how things can be done and that can then be used in other countries.”

Of course, it’s not about creating a one-size-fits-all approach. “I would always advocate for a participatory rather than a prescriptive approach,” Lajčák cautions. “Countries are not all equal by size, or by many other indicators, so it’s really important that everyone understands what the common goal is, without needing one prescribed way of getting there.” But it’s still important that lessons can be shared across borders — something that’s becoming harder to achieve in an increasingly fragmented world.

3. Getting financial resources to where they’re most needed

In the wake of the pandemic, an already large gap in the funding of the Global Goals grew even bigger, especially in developing countries, says Rania Al-Mashat, Minister of International Cooperation, Ministry of International Cooperation of Egypt. “Most of the pledges have not gone to where they’re most needed.”

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Unfortunately, a more difficult economic climate is exacerbating an already difficult situation. “It’s a very tight environment, currently, with increasing interest rates to fight inflation everywhere,” Al-Mashat recognizes.

Unlocking the finances required to achieve the Global Goals will require action from all stakeholders. “Concessional finance will be very important to entice more private sector investment,” Al-Mashat says. “It’s also up to individual countries to create an enabling environment, including providing more predictability with respect to fiscal policy and considering deregulation in certain industries.”

4. Creating a sense of urgency

Progress on many of the Global Goals, such as poverty, health and employment, has slowed, and yet for many people, especially those in the developed world, the issues at stake still feel too abstract and distant. “The threat is not felt clearly enough by enough people to create the urgency to drive change,” warns Holsether.

If we can create a sense of urgency, an understanding of the true cost of inaction, past events suggest we have what’s needed to drive change, thinks Holsether. “We saw a strong response to the pandemic, when there was a really clear, tangible danger. We had political leadership, we had business leadership, and we had the two getting together to seek solutions.”

Lajčák agrees, arguing that the cost of not achieving the Global Goals is too high for failure to be an option. “We only have one planet. It’s our responsibility to ensure we hand it off to the next generation in better shape than it is now.”

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