What can we do to achieve our SDG and climate goals? Here are the answers we got at SDIM23

The SDG financing gap is estimated 'at $3.9 trillion US dollars a year', UN Secretary-General António Guterres said during his remarks at UNGA.
The SDG financing gap is estimated 'at $3.9 trillion US dollars a year', UN Secretary-General António Guterres said during his remarks at UNGA.
Image: World Economic Forum
  • The World Economic Forum held the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings 2023 (SDIM23) in New York from 18-22 September.
  • More than 1,000 leaders across politics, business and civil society committed to accelerating momentum towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
  • But key actions are going to be needed. Here are five major themes that have emerged in this week's Meetings.

"Halfway to the 2030 deadline, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are in deep trouble," the UN declared at the start of its SDG Summit this week. Only 15% of the goals set under the 17 SDGs are on track. And many are going in reverse.

Within this context, the World Economic Forum's Sustainable Development Impact Meetings 2023 (SDIM23) were held in New York from 18-22 September, with key insights released on the global economic outlook, the effect of AI on jobs and the importance of restoring and safeguarding nature.

More than 1,000 leaders across politics, business and civil society committed to accelerating momentum towards achieving these global goals, including responding to the climate and nature crises, improving access to nutrition, harnessing artificial intelligence for better jobs and advancing digital inclusion.

But what key actions are going to be needed? Here are five major themes that have emerged in this week's Meetings:

1. Addressing the financing gap

As the financing gap for achieving sustainable development took centre stage at the UN's General Assembly (UNGA) this week, leaders at SDIM23 highlighted ways to boost financing, especially for emerging markets.

"Finance is key and we cannot afford, after all these multiple shocks, to have more debts," says Hala H. ElSaid Younes, Egypt's Minister of Planning and Economic Development. "Debts in most of the developing countries have soared. So we need more investment; we need more concessional finance."

Rania Al-Mashat, Egypt's Minister of International Cooperation, emphasised the urgent need for "just financing" to support development and climate action during a session on 'Building Sustainable Trust in a Fragmenting World'. She said: "Just financing" ensures "that countries are able to get not just quantities of finance but quality of finance, finance that creates sustainability."

Miroslav Lajčák, Special Representative of the European Union for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and Western Balkans, spoke of the 'great divide on this planet' and called for a redirection of finances to bridge the SDG gap. "What is missing is the common commitment to direct them [finances] where they are most needed."

The SDG financing gap is estimated 'at $3.9 trillion US dollars a year', UN Secretary-General António Guterres said during his remarks at UNGA. "Developing countries face borrowing costs up to eight times higher than those of European countries in particular, and this is a debt trap."

He called for structural reforms to address systematic problems but spotlighted some immediate steps, including the SDG Stimulus and strengthening of Multilateral Development Banks.

2. Building partnerships and collaboration

"The Sustainable Development Goals are not a barrier to business; it is an enabler of business," says Svein Tore Holsether, President and Chief Executive Officer, Yara International ASA, while recognising the benefits of working together. "There's only so much we can do as individual companies, and we have to do this in collaboration."

Voices from across industries called for strong, pragmatic and innovative partnerships among governments, businesses and civil society to address the world's challenges.

Uganda-based Divine Nabaweesi, for instance, spoke about the importance of partnerships in developing alternative solutions for a greener world. She is the Chief Executive Officer at Divine Bamboo Group Limited, which utilizes bamboo to provide sustainable, clean cooking solutions as an alternative to traditional options like burning charcoal and firewood.

"In Uganda, like in most of Africa, over 90% of the population rely almost entirely on charcoal and firewood for their cooking needs. This leads to a loss of about 200,000 acres of forest every year, and so we need sustainable solutions," she says.

"That's where the partnerships come in. We need to work with the private sector and the government to make sure that people have alternatives."

Benedikt Sobotka, Chief Executive Officer, Eurasian Resources Group Sàrl, echoes the importance of coming together towards a common goal. For example, the green energy transition is causing the "biggest purchase order in the history of the mining industry," he explained. But at the same time, "it's incredibly difficult to expand production and bring more of these energy-transition-critical materials to the market and to do that in a sustainable way."

Innovative partnerships can also help unlock new potential, as Suzanne van Tilburg highlighted in a session around 'How Tech Is Closing the SDG Gap'. As Global Head, Food and Energy Networks at Rabobank Group, she understands the need for creative solutions to 'accelerate the transition pathways already out there'.

Through their innovation platform FoodBytes!, they play matchmaker, for instance, between start-ups and large food corporations. "It's just not enough to stick to traditional ways of financing," Suzanne says. "We are focused on food and solutions - and connecting start-ups and scale-ups to larger food corporate companies or investors allows them to bring in that venture capital."

3. Localising solutions

Focusing on localisation remains essential for SDGs, according to Egypt's Minister of Planning and Economic Development, Hala H. ElSaid Younes. "If you look at the 17 targets, 65% of them have to be implemented on the local level," she says.

She highlights the example of the Haya Karima, or the Decent Life Initiative, which also targets rural areas that comprise over 55% of Egypt's population.

"We are providing them with an upgrade of all quality services: sanitation, clean water, decent housing ... decent jobs. So this upgrade in the quality of services is not done with public money alone," she says.

"Of course, public money is important... but now, through Haya Karima, we were able to mobilise capital from the private sector."

4. Leveraging digital transformation

Digital transformation is "really the wind beneath the sails of the global economy," argues Nela Richardson, Chief Economist and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Officer at Automatic Data Processing Inc. (ADP).

During a session on the 'Economic Outlook and the SDG Agenda', Richardson emphasized that digital transformation is not just about technological advancement. It's also about leveraging these innovations to enhance social capital.

"When you educate a child, when you educate a group of students, that is just an investment that keeps paying off. But when you do so in a sustainable way and that actually improves the environment, then it just compounds and continues, and investment is all about compound growth."

The recently published Chief Economists Outlook revealed uncertainty on the likelihood of increasing flows of private capital from advanced to developing countries. However, if flows of private capital can be unlocked, the chief economists are quite optimistic about the impact it can have across a broad range of development-related categories.

This is particularly true with digital transformation, the report suggests. Up to half of the population in low- and middle-income economies lack access to the internet, rising to 64% in the least-developed economies.

But its benefits are wide-ranging, with potential progress in other sectors, including education, health and the deployment of zero-carbon technologies.

5. Accelerating the use of technology for good

Technology also remains a key ally in achieving the SDGs. "We must apply technology to help support our natural ecosystems, said Vaishali Sinha, Chief Sustainability, Social Responsibility and Communications Officer at ReNew Power Limited. "We must use Fourth Industrial solutions to find ways to maintain nature".

Wesley Spindler, Managing Director and Global Circular Economy Lead at Accenture, also described the critical nature of technologies in helping scale up solutions.

"We have worked with 50 start-ups over three years from 19 different countries, [with] all sorts of solutions across all sorts of sectors. And every single one has deployed at least one or more technologies in their innovation," she says.

"It's not just digital technology, although that is very key. It's also physical and biological technologies."

Emerging technology, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), can help accelerate growth and solve global challenges, provided the risks are managed. Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation of Rwanda, said she is "optimistic about the "ability to democratize access to opportunities" through technology.

'A world where rules apply to everyone'

"All this is happening against the backdrop of a fragmented world. So we are living in times with no clear rules, and we still don't know what world are we going into," says Miroslav Lajčák.

"What is most important for me is... whether it will be rules-based or power-based. We really need to contribute, all of us, to a world where rules apply to everyone. And we are not there, unfortunately, but we need to focus."

"We really need to contribute, all of us, to a world where rules apply to everyone. And we are not there, unfortunately, but we need to focus."

—Miroslav Lajčák Special Representative of the European Union for the Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue and Western Balkans, European Commission

And as we face one interconnected challenge after another, responding to crises is not enough, warned US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

"We must build resilience to them," she said. "This will reduce the need for future humanitarian assistance. It will support sustainable economic growth."

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