ICEF 2018 Concurrent Session “SDGs for Business Activity”

Posted by Ismail Serageldin on June 17, 2019
Founding Director Emeritus, Library of Alexandria


Ismail Serageldin (Chair)

Founding Director Emeritus,
Library of Alexandria

Kanako Fukuda

General Manager, CSR Office,
Sumitomo Chemical Co., Ltd.

Masafumi Okuda

Assistant Manager,
Corporate Citizenship Dept.,
AEON Co., Ltd

Nicolette Bartlett

Director of Climate Change, CDP

Jim Falk

Professorial Fellow,
Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute,
The University of Melbourne

Discussion Summary:

It is wonderful that a number of business leaders have been addressing climate change in a serious way and the civil society is active in many parts of the world. In 2015, we had a global consensus on a scale that never happened before. We got every country in the world to sign up to the Paris accords. We had the SDGs adopted by the United Nations. We had the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR), with its seven targets and four priorities for action, adopted as well. It seemed like finally the political will which was the missing ingredient that undermined almost every initiative from the time of the earth Summit in Rio in 1992 to the present was finally available.  The world had woken up to the existential challenge posed by Climate Change. 

Unfortunately, some political movements that are anti-science and anti-environment have appeared in the USA and even in Europe, where the greens are winning ever more support among the public.  At the same time, new political movements are fueled by a new form of populism and nationalism that refuses to recognize the importance of dealing with Climate Change.  They consider international agreements to be intrusive on national sovereignty, and want to deregulate economic activity and continue to destroy the environment looking only to potential short-term profit and the possible gains at the next election… A return to the short sighted policies of the past.  The policies that caused climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution of land and water and pollution of even the oceans with plastic trash that is now entering our food chains.  So let us reassert the principles and the science that led to all these 2015 accords, which need to have a reinforced and reinvigorated implementation in the face of these retrogressive forces.

Toward SDGs, we must find our way to avoid the sort of abyss that such retrogressive force would take us into, using all the collective wisdom, power, technology and money that we can marshal. Continued dialogue with all members of society is needed.  Different people may agree on one thing and disagree on another. We must continually reinforce the pursuit of ever more accurate scientific evidence and be guided by it in our discussions and in our choices, and here we mean both individual and collective choices. Business and the private sector are very much part of this dialogue and discussion, and given their vast outreach, both to the customers and through their suppliers and the value chains behind the suppliers, business can be a central part of this societal dialogue. Business can address their customers and reach them with messages that explain how their activities help or hinder the achievement of sustainable development.   The Non-Government organizations and the academics and the media can all help on providing the kind of messages and insights that explain the best choices that the public should embrace, from renewable energies to conservation, from fighting pollution to protecting endangered species, from reforestation to reducing pesticide use.  

Companies need to transparently disseminate their activities for SDGs and the financial sector can encourage their activities. Advocacy on efforts related to SDGs is the starting point. By announcing new initiatives to help meet our global and local challenges, such as charging money for plastic shopping bags, companies get both positive and negative feedback from customers.  But with the intensified public dialogue and increased transparency, this will also probably get support from stakeholders and outside partners as well as customers. Although it may be difficult for some companies to accomplish internalize activities that would help the SDGs in their own work, they can still think of encouraging collaboration with others and participating in Corporate Social Responsibility by giving a small part of their budgets to supporting constructive activities as well as to promote dialogue.

It is understandable that we focus on energy and manufacturing as contributors to Climate Change, but we should also remember that Agriculture is the largest user of land and water and potentially has the largest impact on the environment.  It is also sad that industrial farming has often mistreated animals and led to great pollution of ground water.  But today, given the issues related to the availability of land and water and the needs of a growing population for nutritious food, we must harness the revolutionary new developments in ICT and biology to transform our old farming approaches into new, science-based smart farming systems techniques.  We need that high tech companies to invest in this smart-farming techniques of the future, to promote the innovations required for highly efficient agriculture relying nature-based Solutions. And in these discussions we must remember that sustainable fisheries are also very important as a sustainable approach to valuable proteins for the growing population of the world. 

Finally, we must recognize that both evidence-based regulation and a sense of ethics should govern our ongoing interactions with the natural world, whether through agriculture or industrialization or infrastructure.  Ultimately, all of us, of course, want to live in harmony with nature and not to harm the ecosystem on which we all depend.

We can tell from meetings such as this one, especially when we look at all the innovations that are taking place around the planet in many fields, that people are active and thinking and doing to bring about that sustainable future we want for ourselves and for our children.  And ultimately, there is nothing beyond the ingenuity of human beings.

We are off to a good start and certainly by having these kinds of discussions, we, all of us, are taking another step forward in the right direction.