Let’s all become activists

Climate March sign that says Green Not Greed
Shutterstock Alexandros Michailidis

The United Nations General Assembly in New York this September was the most important milestone since the 2030 Agenda was adopted in 2015. Four years in, heads of state, business leaders, civil society and more convened for a major stocktaking exercise to agree on shared priorities ahead of the Decade of Action for delivering the 2030 Agenda. 

And although progress is happening in some areas, the world is not on track to meet the 17 Global Goals by 2030. In particular, climate change and social inequalities are posing a major existential threat to our future.

Lise Kingo, CEO of UN Global Compact
UN Global Compact/Joel Sheakoski
Lise Kingo, CEO and executive director, at the U.N. Global Compact Leaders Week 2019.

Although many U.N. Global Compact business participants have made huge strides to operationalize the Ten Principles and advance the Global Goals, the needle is not moving far enough. We need a business transformation on a scale we’ve never seen before to deliver on the 2030 Agenda. Only when more than 30 percent of businesses are setting radical goals and establishing a "new normal" for the global business community will we start experiencing actual tipping points. 

Against this backdrop, the U.N. Global Compact has launched three "Global Impact Initiatives" to challenge and support companies in being more bold, ambitious and transformational. 

First, we are calling on companies to set science-based targets aligned with keeping global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius and also challenging them to aim for net-zero emissions by 2030. We also suggest that companies take the opportunity to optimize both internal energy consumption and request renewable energy from energy suppliers to help transform the energy market from fossil fuel to sustainable energy supplies, as we have seen, for example, in Denmark. 

Encouragingly, over 650 companies have committed to set science-based targets, and more than 90 companies are aligning with a 1.5 degrees Celsius scenario. We expect these numbers to significantly increase by COP 25 — the U.N. climate change conference — in Chile this December.

Time is running out to act on climate, and we desperately need strong role models and leadership. Bold climate action also makes good business sense: Shifting to a low-carbon economy alone would offer $26 trillion worth of market opportunities and could create 65 million new low-carbon jobs. The opportunity is there, but we need more bold leadership.

At the heart of the 2030 Agenda is the promise to leave no one behind. Even so, the gap for social inequalities is widening. Gender equalities, equal opportunities for young people to get an education or a job, human and labor rights in the global supply chain are all moving backwards. 

On gender equality, the Global Goals never will be met without the full participation of women in the global economy. The McKinsey Global Institute projects that closing the economic gender gap could add a further $28 trillion to global annual gross domestic product (GDP) by 2025.

At the current rate of progress, however, it will take more than 200 years to get there. Therefore, the U.N. Global Compact has launched our second new Global Impact Initiative called "Target Gender Equality" to work with companies across the world to set concrete and ambitious targets to increase women’s representation and leadership in boards, in top management — and develop a conscious focus on including female entrepreneurs across the global supply chain. 

For some companies, women’s equal representation at the board and senior management level are in reach, whereas for others, a target of 30 percent is still very ambitious. As research has shown, 30 percent is the minimum limit for giving women a fair opportunity to participate and will represent a real tipping point not only in representation and leadership, but also in terms of business performance and outcomes.

Results from our two new surveys — captured in the U.N. Global Compact Progress Report 2019 and the U.N. Global Compact-Accenture Strategy CEO Study 2019 — make clear that companies have great awareness and policies in place on the Ten Principles (nearly 90 percent) and on the Global Goals (more than 80 percent).  

But when CEOs of companies participating in the U.N. Global Compact are asked if they think business could have a critical role in delivering the Global Goals, 71 percent agree, while only 21 percent believe this is happening at the moment. So companies have to become more serious and fully integrate the Ten Principles and 17 Global Goals across Business Strategy, Business Operations and in all Stakeholder Engagement throughout the organization and supply chain.  

This is why we have launched our third Global Impact Initiative — SDG Ambition. We have launched our new Implementation Model that gives clear guidance and support to more than 1,000 companies across the world on how to turn risks into opportunities by raising ambition and deepen implementation. 

Anand Mahindra
U.N. Global Compact/Joel Sheakoski
Anand Mahindra, U.N. Global Compact Board Member and Chairman of Mahindra Group, at the Private Sector Forum 2019.

In the words of Anand Mahindra, chairman of the Mahindra Group and member of the U.N. Global Compact Board: "The Global Goals are the biggest business opportunity for the next decades."

During the UNGA week, it also became very clear that climate action and making the Global Goals a reality by 2030 is no longer just a topic for high-level people in conference halls. It is now a global movement where young people across the world demonstrate every Friday for our generation to take action and transform the world now. 

My plea to all business leaders is to join this movement — and to become activists ourselves. We cannot create a divide between generations at a moment in time when we need to join hands and drive the biggest transformation humankind has faced.

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