Washington, D.C.

12 April 2019

Deputy Secretary-General's remarks at Ministerial Lunch: "Building Bridges: An open dialogue on financing for development – What will it take to unlock private investment for the SDGs?" [as prepared for delivery]

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
I welcome this opportunity to offer a few thoughts on an issue that is critical to the achievement of our common goals.
 
The Sustainable Development Goals are both ambitious and achievable. 
 
Yet we will need significant public and private investment to bring them to life for all people, everywhere.   
 
Not only that, governments cannot achieve the SDGs alone. Private investors have a key role to play in filling the financing gap across a range of sectors.
 
The business case for investing in the SDGs is clear.
 
Some estimate that investing in the SDGs could generate an additional $12 trillion in market opportunities.
 
Studies indicate that investors can use sustainability information to better manage long-term risks, and potentially enhance returns.
 
Similarly, the benefits of climate action far outweigh the costs of inaction.  The New Climate Economy Report found that action on climate change would result in savings of $26 trillion by 2030 compared with business as usual.
 
So it is a bit perplexing that we are still struggling to unlock private investment in the SDGs.
 
But that is where we are.
 
Let me tell you what the United Nations is doing to address this challenge.
 
First, the Secretary-General is convening a Climate Summit in September. The objective is to raise ambition on climate action, align this ambition with the other SDGs, showcase the many solutions that exist and scale up finance and investment from all sources – domestic, private, public and international. We are working with several country partners, the World Bank and other multilateral development banks, as well as private finance actors, towards ambitious climate finance outcomes from the Summit.
 
Second, the United Nations is working with policy makers, the international financial institutions and the private sector to create greater consensus around measuring SDG impact investment. We welcome the launch of the impact investment principles at this year’s Spring meetings. The commitment to disclosure and verification is an important step in attracting private capital for projects with positive social and environmental outcomes, and in avoiding the so-called “impact-washing” that would undermine SDG investing.
      
Third, the United Nations is helping to bring together SDG projects in developing countries seeking capital, with investors seeking opportunities.  One example is the SDG Investment Fair running in conjunction with the ECOSOC Forum on Financing for Developing in New York just following these Spring Meetings.
 
Our aim is to strengthen the pipeline between bankable SDG projects and foreign direct investment.   We also need to tackle other barriers, including the perceived high investment risk in many developing countries, especially in LDCs, SIDS, and in conflict-affected countries. In conflict-affected countries, the UN continues to work in building and sustaining peace to mitigate risks and create conditions to allow investments to flow.   
 
Governments, for their part, can use public policy to incentivize greater alignment of investment with sustainability, for example by redirecting finance towards low-carbon investments and climate adaptation initiatives, by phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, and by introducing carbon taxes.
 
Some commercial banks and big investment funds are still hedging their bets: they are investing in renewable energy at a much bigger scale than before but, at the same time, investing in the brown economy.
 
To them I say: pick a side.
 
Or perhaps I should say, pick the right century: the 21st and not the 19th!
 
But this will not be enough. I need your help to convince all investors, private and public, to make the right choices.
 
Ladies and Gentlemen,
 
The United Nations is strongly committed to working with the business sector and harnessing the insights from private sector leaders.
 
This commitment is demonstrated in the Secretary-General’s Strategy for Financing the 2030 Agenda, which sets out priority actions to align global and national financial systems with sustainable development, increase financial flows and investment opportunities at country level,  and to seize the potential of financial innovation and technology.  
 
The Strategy includes the establishment of two high level global networks with the private sector by the Secretary General. The Global Investors for Sustainable Development Alliance, which will be announced in the coming days, will explore ways to remove impediments and implement solutions for scaling up long-term investment for sustainable development. The Secretary General’s Task Force on Digital Financing of the SDGs was launched in November 2018 and has already advanced work to harness the potential of digital finance for the SDGs in developing countries.  
 
Today, I look forward to your views as we deepen this essential work.
 
Thank you.