The Decade of Delivery: Can We Still Meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030?

As we enter a new decade, there are just ten years left in which to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. With this in mind, Eco Age’s Account Director for Sustainability Zara Williams looks at the progress made so far, and the accelerated action needed by both businesses and individuals in order to put us back on track.

In September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched by the United Nations which was then celebrating its seventieth anniversary. Adopted by all United Nations Member States, the 17 Goals and 169 related targets provide a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and planet, setting an international agenda to 2030.

These universal, people-centred global goals were designed to drive transformative change by all, governments, civil society, academia and the private sector included, with the aim to achieve sustainable development across economic, social and environmental dimensions in a balanced manner. By the year 2030, they seek to eradicate poverty in all its forms, to combat inequalities within and among countries, to promote gender equality, to respect human rights, to build peaceful, just and inclusive societies and to protect the environment and all of its natural goods and services.

Now, as we enter the 2020s, many are evaluating the progress that has been made to achieve these critical, shared goals and the action therefore required to meet them within the next ten years. Dubbed ‘the decade of delivery,’ the turn of the century has been accompanied by a call for action by world leaders, in order to advance the agenda and meet the 17 Sustainable Development Goals on time.

Four years since the launch of the SDGs and the Paris Climate Agreement which followed, the world appears to have fallen short with insufficient action at an insufficient pace. During 2019, two major reports (The Global Sustainable Development Report and the latest IPCC report) were released highlighting just how far off track we are in meeting the SDGs by the 2030 deadline and, in turn, tackling the climate crisis. Whilst corporate sustainability is becoming increasingly mainstream and forward-thinking companies are addressing the impacts throughout their supply chains, there is still a considerable way to go. Progress is not being felt everywhere, and where it is, it lacks the necessary ambition. In fact, even CEOs agree that business is not playing a leading role in advancing towards the SDGs; just 21% think that business plays a critical role, according to the 2019 UN Global Compact Accenture Strategy CEO Study on Sustainability.

So, where do the gaps lie? Well, two of the most pressing issues globally are deemed to be the lack of decent working conditions and the climate crisis itself.

In the latest UN Global Compact Progress Report (2019), it is reported that 152 million children are trapped in child labour and 40 million people are experiencing modern slavery. Complex global supply chains often result in increased risk of human rights violations due to reduced visibility and appropriate grievance mechanisms. Despite increasing legislation requiring large companies to report on the actions they have taken to address modern slavery risks, such as the UK Modern Slavery Act (2015), concrete and effective action to mitigate such risks are lacking.

Similarly, the climate crisis is considered to be the defining issue of this century, with the latest IPCC report indicating we have less than twelve years to limit warming to 1.5°C. Action is certainly increasing, as is public outrage – demonstrated by the international strikes seen this year such as the Friday For Future school strikes launched by Greta Thunberg and activism efforts by Extinction Rebellion. However, current pledges towards the Paris Agreement put the world on track for a 3.5°C warming scenario; after which, the average global drought length could reach ten months according to Carbon Brief.

These two issues are far from mutually exclusive; in fact, climate action presents an opportunity to provide decent work for many. According to a 2018 report by the International Labour Organization, the transition to a low carbon economy could result in a net increase of approximately 18 million new jobs with 24 million employment opportunities by 2030, compared to the six million anticipated losses in industries heavily reliant on carbon-based production. The shift to a greener economy will also help to protect 1.2 billion jobs dependent on a stable and healthy environment, in industries such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. In addition, bold action to tackle the climate crisis could unlock economic and sustainable benefits worth US$26 trillionbetween now and 2030 according to the World Resources Institute.

To get back on track towards achieving the SDGs by 2030, businesses need to urgently engage with such international sustainability frameworks and make the necessary changes to their business models and supply chains for a better social future. Corporations can also take climate action by procuring renewable energy, shifting to low carbon transportation and seeking to decarbonise operations and supply chains. Decent work and economic growth can be directly targeting the goals by providing employment opportunities with equal pay for equal work, living wages and support and protection for employees throughout the value chain to ensure human rights are upheld.

Such actions are increasingly being called upon by the United Nations and the public. “The people of the world do not want half measures or empty promises,” said the UN Secretary-General in the opening remarks at the High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July. “They are demanding transformative change that is fair and sustainable.” The SDG Summit this year also called on global leaders and passionate individuals to make 2020 a year of activism to kickstart the decade of delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals, demanding greater awareness, action and accountability from all sectors. “We are off track to meet the Goals by 2030,” said Trisha Shetty, founder of SheSays. “We, the young, demand more from all our leaders across governments, sectors and communities, and we will hold you to account.”

Businesses are now joining together to promote the decade of delivery. In September, The World Business Council for Sustainable Development, The B Team and the World Benchmarking Alliance launched the ‘Business Avengers’ campaign. It will bring 17 companies, representing over US$500 billion in revenue with 900,000 employees, to declare the importance of the goals and share their efforts to achieve them. We expect to see more and more businesses sign up to this movement and report on the steps they’re taking to contribute towards the global Goals in the final decade for their achievement. Whether the scale and speed of such action is sufficient to protect the future of people and planet is yet to be judged.

Whilst corporate action is essential for delivering the Goals by 2030, there are steps you can take as an individual to make a difference. We’ve rounded up 17 top tips for acting on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as we enter the decade of delivery:

  1. Support companies that pay a living wage
  2. Minimise food waste through clever prep, storage and cooking
  3. Take care of your mental and physical health
  4. Help children in your local community learn to read
  5. Call out sexist language and behaviour
  6. Save water when washing
  7. Upgrade appliances and lighting to energy efficient options when time to replace
  8. Support local businesses at home and when abroad
  9. Invest in new responsible innovations
  10. Raise your voice against discrimination
  11. Walk, cycle or use public transport
  12. Choose recycled content and recyclable products
  13. Purchase renewable energy
  14. Reduce plastic use
  15. Eat more plants and less meat
  16. Participate in local politics
  17. Get involved and volunteer in your community

For more ideas on how to be a #changemaker and support the SDGs, visit Uyolo – a community for committed individuals working towards the 2030 Agenda co-founded by our very own Alessandra Gargiulo. Find local events, non-profit organisations and neighbours who you can join forces with to share ideas, resources and make change happen with!