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The role of business in delivering the Sustainable Development Goals

By Jovontae Catline
28th November 2019

What are the SDGs and why are they important?

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 ‘Global Goals’ which form a framework for the transformation to a sustainable world and a better future for all. The Goals set targets covering topics ranging from poverty, climate action to heath & wellbeing, and were launched by the United Nations (UN) in September 2015.

What is the role of business in delivering the goals and how can business align with the goals?

The SDGs were launched in 2015 as global priorities for 2030. With this ambitious timeframe set, the 193 member states involved in the creation of the Goals called upon governments, businesses and individuals to come together to achieve them.

Businesses played a key part in determining what the Goals should be and were recognised as having the resources to help successfully deliver the Goals and so were explicitly called upon to do their part. Not only do businesses hold the resources to drive the achievement of the Goals but aligning business strategy to the SDGs opens up opportunities to tap into new market opportunities and attract new talent and customers.

There are many companies who are now aligning their sustainability strategies and reporting with the Goals through identifying which ones are the most relevant to them and choosing indicators to measure and monitor progress.

Accelerating Climate Action (SDG 13)

SDG13, which advocates for urgent action to be taken to tackle climate change and its impacts, has received a lot of global attention this past year, particularly in the wake of Greta, the climate strikes and global bodies setting ambitious emission reduction targets.

The Paris Agreement was signed in the same year that the SDGs were launched and is currently ratified by 186 nations, all agreeing that warming should be limited to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels by the middle of the century, preferably limiting warming to 1.5°C.

The case for tackling SDG13 is growing. This year saw the UK government declare a climate emergency and commit to achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. There has also been rapidly rising public awareness of the climate crisis with protests and strikes taking place worldwide, calling for governments and businesses to take urgent, meaningful action.

What can businesses do to tackle SDG13?

The targets underpinning SDG13 are to strengthen the resilience and capabilities to adapt to climate related disasters, integrate climate change measures into policy and planning, build the knowledge and capacity to tackle climate change, implement the UN Convention on Climate Change, and promote mechanisms to raise capacity for planning and management of climate change.

In terms of business activities, these targets relate to the improvement of energy efficiency, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, considering the risks and opportunities presented by climate change and making investments in climate change adaptation.

With businesses making a very large contribution to global emissions, they have a responsibility to make every effort to tackle SDG13. In addition,  the effects of the climate crisis are set to cause widespread physical and economic disruption, meaning it’s in businesses best interest to proactively address SDG13 and future proof their business.

Setting ambitious carbon reduction targets is a good first step for businesses to take. By setting a target aligned with the Paris Agreement (Science Based Targets) your business will go through a process of understanding your biggest sources of your emissions, identifying opportunities to reduce them and engaging key stakeholders along the way.

Progress to date

In the new year, we’ll be a third of the way to the 2030 target for achieving the goals. It has been reported that progress towards achieving the goals has been slow despite there being increased awareness and urgency over the last 4 years.

In terms of climate action, the world is now 1°C warmer than the pre-industrial baseline and the last four years have been the warmest on record. Positive steps have been taken by both governments and businesses to increase climate action however, the Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019 indicates that further funding and involvement is needed to meet this goal.