House View by the Chief Investment Office

What are the Sustainable Development Goals?

16 January 2017 | Tags: World Economic Forum

Reading time: 6 minutes

This is an excerpt from the UBS white paper: Mobilizing private wealth for public good.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have one simple objective: to promote global economic growth and development that is sustainable, for humanity and for the planet.

The SDGs were conceived and announced at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012. They build upon the Millennium Development Goals, expanding their reach and scope. The SDGs came into effect on January 2016, with a targeted fulfilment date of 2030.

Why are we talking about the SDGs now?

2017 marks a watershed year for the world. It’s the 10-year anniversary of the start of the US subprime mortgage crisis. In the wake of the global financial crisis that followed, governments, policymakers, and businesses around the world have tried new and innovative methods to reignite global growth, reduce economic imbalances, and promote a fairer, more sustainable world.

Success has been limited. While world economic growth looks set to improve this year compared to 2016, the way our world is growing is unsustainable. By early August last year, our lifestyles demanded more of Earth’s natural resources than the planet can regenerate in a single year.

Source: Global Footprint Network (GFN)

We’ve made great strides in reducing global poverty - but in the developing world the latest data suggest around 780 million people were still chronically undernourished in 2014. And for the first time in modern economics, millennials living in the developed world have a lower average income than their parents.

What is the role of the SDGs in helping solve these problems?

The 17 SDGs aim to maximize the world’s long-term growth potential by making the best use of each and every form of capital. Capital is no longer just a machine in a factory, or a piece of railroad, or the workers that build the railroad. Technological changes arising from the Fourth Industrial Revolution (extreme automation via robotics and extreme connectivity through complex, rapid networks) marks the advent of new forms of capital, and fresh ways of thinking about how to invest in that capital.

"For the first time in modern economics, millenials living in the developed world have lower average incomes than their parents."

The SDGs offer clear, concise goals on how we can maximize sustainable growth and invest in all forms of capital together. The SDGs outline ambitious but achievable aims, like zero poverty, reducing food waste, promoting equality, and tackling climate change.

Everyone needs to invest their time, talents, and money into the SDGs to make them work. Public bodies can provide some ideas and some capital. But private wealth is needed too in order to turn the sustainable development goals into sustainable development outcomes. Private wealth is willing and able to commit its resources to the public good. And yet both policymaker oversight and investment obstacles are stopping the mobilization of private wealth to fund the SDGs. What are these roadblocks - and how can we clear them?

"Private wealth is needed in order to turn the sustainable development goals into sustainable investment outcomes."

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What's stopping private wealth from helping fund the SDGs?

There’s no time like the present to engage private investors and encourage them to use their wealth to help fund the SDGs. Why is it not happening?