Business Action Critical to Secure a Sustainable Future

By Tina Nybo Jensen, Policy & Strategic Relations Manager, Global Reporting Initiative (GRI).
Sep 19, 2019 9:30 AM ET

The UN High-level Political Forum in New York this summer reviewed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) participated alongside representatives and leaders from around the world. This was a crucial stocktake on progress achieved.

Four years on from the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is worrying that we are not yet on track to meet this ambitious agenda. Furthermore, a review by GRI of the 2019 Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) – the country-driven analysis of progress – indicates a fall in the number of countries providing information on the private sector’s contributions to implementing the Agenda. We believe stronger engagement of business is required to support efforts to get the 2030 Agenda back on course.

While the primary responsibility for the SDGs lies with governments, business-led innovations can help solve sustainable development challenges. The importance of companies in realizing the Goals is reflected in SDG target 12.6 (“encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle”). That’s why we work in close collaboration with companies, the UN Global Compact and other international organizations to highlight the importance of corporate sustainability reporting for the SDGs, and to increase the prevalence of that reporting.

Through disclosure, governments, companies and other organizations can not only demonstrate progress made but also where more action is required, including opportunities to collaborate.

The VNRs show how hard governments are working to address the SDGs, but all of this effort – will have diminished impact if it happens only in silos.

One way we must reach across focus areas is by aligning the SDGs with climate action. The global Climate and SDGs Synergy Conference in April 2019 resulted in stronger connections between the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda. The next major opportunity to seek further alignment will be the Climate Action Summit on 23 September. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has tasked leaders with presenting “concrete, realistic plans” on how they can scale up the commitments in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to cut emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

Like the SDGs, efforts to implement the climate change mitigation measures of the Paris Agreement must include the private sector as a key delivery partner. As Luis Alfonso de Alba, UN Special Envoy for the Summit, has put it:

“It’s going to be fundamental for governments to recognize that they need to work in a more open way with the different stakeholders, the business sector, and the international actors which have been playing an important role, as well as through different constituencies, raising awareness about the challenges and the opportunities of acting.”

GRI and CDP recently published recommendations for governments and the private sector to support companies in reporting and managing their contributions to the NDCs and encourage policymakers to include clear targets for business involvement. We need to see best practice in this area spread and become the norm.

The frameworks and agreements in this space – not to mention acronyms – can be confusing. This is why the GRI Standards provides a common global language for reporting impacts and tracking progress. The Standards help companies understand and communicate how their actions contribute towards sustainable development and climate action.

The momentum can’t stop. In fact, it needs to increase. As the next stage of the journey is mapped out at the Climate Action Summit this month, GRI will continue to press for more progress. We must foster the collaboration and transparency needed to support the ambitious but achievable vision of both the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. And that’s a future that is fairer and more sustainable for us all.