Global progress on UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, targets that were set in 2015, shows we’re halfway through but not halfway there in the world’s most challenging race.
Sept. 18: Only 12% of 2030 SDGs on track
Instead of focussing only on the narrow financial interests of clients, professionals need to embrace wider thinking and help protect society via Sustainable Development Goals.
For instance, tax accountants can help address the gap between rich and poor by pushing back against wealthy clients wanting to dodge tax. Family planners can help make sure there’s balance between men, women and children.
My exclusive conversation with Sarah Reay, climate change manager at the Institute of Chartered Accountants, England & Wales (having trouble with WordPress software):
The UK government seems inconsistent when it seeks to hit net-zero targets and also issues new licences for oil and gas, she said.
Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales:
Open letter to the UK Government
The world’s leading accountancy and finance bodies are urging transformative action to achieve the global SDGs and secure our collective future.
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We’re halfway to the 2030 deadline to hit the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The world is only on track to meet 12%* of its targets. In fact, we are going backwards, say 11 of the world’s leading accountancy and finance bodies.
Dear Prime Minister
As world leaders gather today in New York for the 78th United Nations General Assembly to review progress against the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): halfway to 2030, the scorecard will show that we are nowhere near halfway to achieving them. It’s time for the UK government to show global leadership and take decisive action to put us back on track.
The science shows us that, not only are we failing to collectively tackle the climate and nature crises, but inequalities are also growing at an alarming rate. This isn’t just a crisis of people and planet, it’s a crisis of our economies and global financial system.
The recent UN Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report warns that the world is on track to meet just 12% of the SDG targets by 2030, while headway on more than 50% of the targets is weak and 30% have stalled or gone into reverse. These include critical global targets on poverty, hunger, and climate. In the UK, we are on course to meet only 17% of our targets, but it is developing countries that are bearing the brunt of our collective failure.
The 2023 SDG Summit must mark a turning point. As the UN’s progress report states: “A fundamental shift is needed – in commitment, solidarity, financing and action – to put the world on a better path.”
With COP28 around the corner, and given the global nature of the challenge, it’s vital that the UK government – including the new Secretary of State for Energy Security and Net Zero, Claire Coutinho – shows leadership to help drive action internationally and to rapidly scale up financing for all countries in need.
Meeting climate goals is also inextricably linked to reversing global nature loss and addressing inequalities: we must tackle all three together. The UK must stick to its domestic net zero commitments and provide a clear policy framework to help businesses accelerate innovation and investment. It must also keep its commitments to be nature positive by 2030 and to aligning the activities of our institutions and finance system with this goal. The transition must also be socially just. There is enormous potential for net-zero initiatives that restore nature and improve the lives of people and communities.
As UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, put it, “unless we act now, the 2030 Agenda could become an epitaph for a world that might have been.”
As accounting and finance professionals working across all areas of the economy, we know first-hand the costs of inaction to the businesses and organisations we lead and advise. Acting now is an investment that will not only improve the lives of millions of people but safeguard our future economic prosperity and business resilience.
We urge you and your government to show global leadership and take decisive action to put us back on track to meet our commitments and create a more sustainable future for all.
We stand ready and willing to use our collective skills and knowledge in organisational governance, strategy, risk management and performance to support the British and other governments in implementing the changes needed to drive progress.
Signed on 18 September 2023
* According to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres on 23 April 2023, the SDG Progress Report shows that just 12% of the Sustainable Development Goal targets are on track.
To meet sustainability targets, the finance system must transform
Author: ICAEW Insights, Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
Published: 18 Sep 2023
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Global UN Sustainable Development Goals progress shows we’re halfway through but not halfway there in the race to take action on climate and the environment.
The establishment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 sent a clear and decisive message, resonating across the globe. Nations had to take immediate action to ensure that by 2030 we achieve prosperity for all people, a stabilised climate and protection for the natural systems on which humanity depends. ICAEW embraced the vision of the SDGs and adopted them as part of its 2020-2030 strategy, recognising the critical role they play in shaping a sustainable future.
Global progress has been made in some specific areas of the SDGs. Under SDG 8, Decent Work and Economic Growth, economies have shown resilience and adaptability. The pandemic, while introducing challenges, has accelerated digital adoption and transformed access to finance. As economies recover, there has been a measurable decline in global unemployment.
That is, unfortunately, where the good news ends. Halfway to the 2030 deadline, we are far from halfway there in terms of progress.
The latest UN Sustainable Development Goals Progress Report warns that the world is currently on track to meet only 12% of the SDG targets by 2030.
Headway on more than 50% of the targets is weak and 30% have stalled or gone into reverse. These include critical global targets on poverty, hunger, climate and nature. The UK is on course to meet only 17% of our targets.
As we fail to collectively tackle the climate and nature crises, inequalities are growing at an alarming rate, and developing countries are bearing the brunt. But this isn’t just a crisis of people and planet, it affects our economies and global financial system. Our destructive impacts have been acknowledged since the 1992 Earth Summit. It is a crisis we have knowingly created.
As we stand at this halfway point, more needs to be done to fulfil the promise of the SDGs. UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, suggests that to deal with the root causes of the problem we need “deep reform of our outdated, dysfunctional and unfair international financial architecture”.
Science tells us that we have fewer than seven years to cut carbon emissions by half and reverse global nature loss to avoid catastrophe. The time to be radical is now. Business as usual has brought us to where we are today – we cannot achieve the SDGs if we continue on the same path.
We need to reimagine our economies, how we do business and how our financial systems operate, rapidly shifting financial flows towards net zero, nature positive, socially just outcomes. This is not only the right thing to do, it is an economic imperative. Inertia will be far more costly than decisive action.
The UK has made notable advances on some fronts. Since 1990, it has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 44%. It was the first major economy to set a legally binding net zero target. The UK has also invested heavily in low-carbon technologies, expanded its renewable energy base, and supported climate adaptation and mitigation in developing countries.
Following the groundbreaking Dasgupta Review on the Economics of Biodiversity, the UK government made clear commitments to align the UK economy and finance system with a nature positive future, and is introducing mandatory biodiversity net gain requirements for developers.
However, the pace and scale of action falls far short of what’s required. Mixed policy signals are stifling investment in low-carbon solutions, threatening UK competitiveness and putting the UK’s net zero target at risk. Finance is still overwhelmingly flowing to activities that damage nature, including through UK supply chains and lending and investment overseas.
As COP28 approaches, we have an opportunity for world leaders, businesses and civil society to align commitments with action and put us back on track. We urge governments to show bold leadership, to reaffirm their commitments and ramp up ambition; to put in place the policy frameworks that help businesses across all sectors rapidly transform how they operate and allocate capital.
Governments must use all levers at their disposal, including fiscal policy, to provide the right incentives and support for businesses (particularly SMEs), including considerations for the current and future skills of the workforce. We need to keep fairness and justice at the heart of the transition. Developed nations must be held to account on their financial commitments to developing nations.
Accountancy and finance professionals are well placed to help drive this transition, playing an important role working across all areas of the economy. By integrating sustainability into financial decisions, analysing risks, identifying opportunities and ensuring transparent reporting, they can actively contribute to bridging the gaps identified. The profession can leverage its influence to reshape practices across business and the wider finance system, catalysing positive change aligned with the SDGs. It has a responsibility to drive change as fast as possible.
Consider what story you want to tell your grandchildren about the role you played. We either transform the way things are done or fiddle while Rome burns.
ICAEW recognises this shared challenge is monumental. It is committed to stepping up and playing its part, and is willing to work with and support the government to create the frameworks needed to accelerate business action. Through our role in the UK’s Transition Plan Taskforce, we will continue to help shape development of a gold standard for climate transition plans that also delivers on nature and social justice.
We will continue to equip our members with the knowledge, training, support and infrastructure to embed climate, nature and social justice into decision making and disclosure – we support the global alignment of disclosure and reporting frameworks. Through our strategic alliances and partnerships, we will continue to advocate for the necessary changes in accounting practices.
The journey toward achieving the UN SDGs is a continuous effort that demands our collective commitment. It is crucial to rally together, acknowledging the work accomplished while channelling our collective efforts towards a sustainable, equitable and prosperous future for all.
LATEST INSIGHTS ON UN SDGS
- 18 Sep 2023
Time is running out. Halfway to the 2030 deadline to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, the UN reports just 12% progress and an open letter urges the UK Prime Minister to take action.
(Updated link, which didn’t work initially)