Business' role in meeting UN global goals

NZ business can help push the UN's development goals.

This week New Zealand will adopt the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The 17 goals set the international development agenda for the next 15 years. It is deeply ambitious. The goals aim to eradicate poverty, to fuel inclusive growth and fix climate change.

It is also the first time the business community has helped shape the agenda so actively. Unlike the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the new global goals call on businesses to innovate and help solve the world’s challenges.

Business has to be part of the solution because businesses can’t succeed in societies that fail. Equally, business has an important role, working alongside governments and civil society to bring about change. It’s fantastic to see New Zealand endorsing these global goals.

Business and investors already have a major role in poverty reduction and economic growth in the developing world. A group of companies involved in developing the SDGs believe that on average, business provides 60% of GDP, 80% of capital flows and 90% of jobs in developing countries. And it’s also a major source of the $US1 trillion ($1.59 trillion) a year needed to finance development.

However, the global goals aren’t only relevant to businesses operating in some of the poorest parts of the world. The goals are universal. They are relevant to everyone, everywhere. We all have a role in keeping the world’s temperatures within two degrees and doing our part to stem biodiversity loss, as well as supporting wider human rights and anti-corruption measures offshore.

Many New Zealand businesses are already working toward their own goals that align with the international targets. World unemployment rose from 170 million in 2007 to nearly 202 million in 2012, with about 75 million of those aged under 25 years.

Here in New Zealand, Sustainable Business Council (SBC) members have recognised we have an important role in removing barriers to employment for young people, especially young solo parents. 

Many businesses also want a bigger part in the transition to a low carbon economy. Companies across SBC and BusinessNZ’s Major Companies Group are working together to identify actions that business can lead.

The UN SDGs identify specific targets for business. That includes encouraging more companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and bring sustainability information into their reporting cycles.

Sustainability reporting and disclosure is an area where New Zealand lags behind many other developed countries. Having a better understanding of a business’ environmental and social impacts would be a great place for any business to start to contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.  

The international targets are ambitious. But what the Millennium Development Goals have shown is that we can make big strides if we work together – with business included.
Penny Nelson is executive director of the Sustainable Business Council

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