29 October 2015

Sustainable Development Goals Offer Inspiration to Turn Risks into Possibilities, Profits, Secretary-General Tells Global Compact Private Sector Meeting

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Global Compact Private Sector CEO meeting, in Madrid, today:

Buenas noches.  I am pleased to join you to discuss the important role that business has in helping to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect our planet.

The Global Compact Network Spain is the largest of the country networks, representing almost two thousand companies, large and small.  Your network has a solid record of being inclusive and advancing principled business. 

Growth has come not just through engaging the largest companies, like most of those here tonight, but also with the smallest.  We will need all hands on deck to implement the new 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  The Sustainable Development Goals [SGDs] truly define the world we want.  They apply to all nations and aim to leave no one behind.

Achieving the SDGs is not an option. It is a necessity.  Violence, poverty and exclusion plague too many societies.  Climate change is accelerating and the earth’s ecosystems are at risk.  These are all threats to long-term prosperity and security.  The Sustainable Development Goals are a blueprint for a safer world of well-being for all.  Our challenge is to move from aspiration to reality.  We have a 15-year agenda.  We have no time to waste.  We begin on solid ground.

The SDGs originated in dialogue that encompassed Governments, business, civil society and citizens.  Governments must take the lead by affirming their strong commitment to timely implementation and by establishing national plans.  But the private sector action has a central role to play in the success of each of the global goals.

Worldwide, we are seeing the business community mobilize as never before.  In today’s interconnected world, more and more companies understand that a safer, more prosperous and sustainable world is synonymous with stronger business and thriving markets.

That is why we are here this evening.  We believe that business can and must be a force for good.  Everywhere, we see the business agenda and the sustainable development agenda converging in new and exciting ways.  The SDGs offer an extraordinary pipeline for investment and an environment for responsible business to thrive.

All companies can make a difference, by acting responsibly and pursuing the new opportunities that sustainable development offers.  We will be closer to the world we want when companies everywhere take fundamental steps such as respecting employee rights, avoiding pollution and rejecting corruption.

As participants of the United Nations Global Compact you have committed to this approach.  You recognize that the Global Compact’s Ten Principles provide a universal definition for responsible business.  Once companies take care of basic responsibilities there is a world of opportunity ahead.

The SDGs provide inspiration for turning today’s risks into possibilities — and profit.  Sustainable cities, climate-smart agriculture, clean energy, better health for all — these and many other areas demand the innovation and dynamism of the private sector working in partnership with governments, communities and organizations like the United Nations.

Many of you are already taking the initiative.  You are tapping into new markets and developing solutions.  You are setting ambitious corporate goals inspired by the SDGs.  You are letting sustainability drive innovation and investment.  As trailblazers you understand that healthy societies and healthy markets go hand-in-hand, and that you can make long-lasting contributions to the cause of global sustainability.

The new Sustainable Development Agenda needs generous and visionary leaders, working through partnerships with other stakeholders to make the implementation of the SDGs as effective as possible.  In particular, there are two areas where you, business leaders, can make an enormous contribution, and tonight I personally ask you to take action.

First, the Climate Change Conference in Paris this December is a test of our ability to make progress on an issue that underpins so many SDGs.  We need more leaders to stand up for a greener future through the United Nations Caring for Climate initiative. 

Eleven of you here tonight have already signed up, and I urge you all to do so, and to advocate with your peers for climate action.  We need you to call for a price on carbon, emission targets based on science, and an end to negative lobbying.  We need you to show the world that green business is good business.

Second, we have a grave refugee crisis.  Many of you are responding to the call to action released in September by the UN Global Compact and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].  We ask that you consider putting your business to work for the common good through hiring, through your supply chains, through technology and lending and through philanthropic support.

As we embark on achieving the SDGs, it will be essential to strengthen and broaden the relationships that have been built with business through the UN Global Compact.  In Spain, you are doing notable work to advance responsible business.  Many of your companies have partnered with the Global Compact Network Spain to develop practical solutions and resources on issues such as fighting corruption or implementing the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

It is notable to see that all those resources have been adapted to the reality of both large and small corporations.  It is now time to extend this leadership to the implementation of the SDGs.  The goals with the greatest relevance here in Spain include education, gender equality, youth employment, health, strong institutions, water and renewable energy.

We need the engagement of companies of all sizes if we are to make significant progress in solving society’s greatest challenges.  Small and medium sized enterprises offer enormous potential for job creation.  I ask you tonight to take a leadership role in advancing the SDGs through business in Spain.  You can help to educate and motivate companies towards our common goals.

I hope you leave here more committed to taking action to transform our world.  The SDGs hold the promise of a better, safer, greener future for all.  It is an agenda we must all stand behind.  I count on your leadership and thank you for your partnership as we embark on a new era full of opportunity.  Thank you.

For information media. Not an official record.