Political uncertainty poses obstacle to U.N.'s global goals, businesses say

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 24 September 2019 12:30 GMT

Only one in five chief executives thinks business is playing a critical role in the wide-ranging development goals

By Ellen Wulfhorst

UNITED NATIONS, Sept 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Business leaders complain of being hampered by political uncertainty and market constraints in efforts to fight poverty, inequality and other ills by 2030, research showed on Tuesday as world leaders met to discuss the United Nations' global goals.

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Only one in five chief executives thinks business is playing a critical role in the wide-ranging development goals, according to a study by the United Nations Global Compact, a network of businesses, and consulting company Accenture Strategy.

World leaders at a high-level summit at the United Nations on Tuesday and Wednesday will conduct the first review to weigh the progress of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 with great fanfare and optimism.

The 17 goals with 169 targets agreed by the 193 U.N. member states set out an ambitious "to-do" list tackling conflict, hunger, land degradation, gender inequality and climate change by 2030 but assessments of their progress have been bleak.

"Look at the facts," said Peter Lacy, an Accenture senior managing director. "Unequivocally we know that the global goals are not on course to deliver the ambitious targets set."

The study of about 1,000 chief executives from 21 industries and 99 countries found less than half reported integrating sustainability into business operations.

Four in 10 said political uncertainty was slowing or stalling their efforts, and a third said the closing of global markets and limits on free trade were hindrances.

More than half cited pressure to operate under extreme cost-consciousness as an obstacle to investing in longer term sustainable objectives.

"The way in which markets are working at the moment, political uncertainty is a real concern," Lacy said. "Global trade looks ever more threatened. Populism is rearing its head again."

While heads of state meet at the United Nations, dozens of activist and civil society groups organized by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP) were planning a parallel meeting and public protest to demand urgent action.

Among the obstacles cited to the goals' progress have been climate change, growing inequality, gaps in wealth distribution and a lack of capital.

The cost of implementing the global goals has been estimated at $3 trillion a year.

"I told leaders not to come with fancy speeches, but with concrete commitments," U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said ahead of the summit. "We have no time to lose."

(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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