Business needs to do more for sustainable development

Thursday, 19 December 2019 00:34 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Discussion on the role of the International Chamber of Commerce in sustainable development. Private Industry and Investment Adviser to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Salman Fazlur Rahman chaired the panel


The Sri Lankan delegation was led by Higher Education Minister Bandula Gunawardana. Former CB Governor Nivard Cabral and Sri Lankan Ambassador to Bangledesh General Crysantha Silva and Chairman ICCSL Dinesh Weerakkody are also in the picture


The regional Conference on Financing Inclusive and Sustainable Development was inaugurated in Dhaka by the President of Bangladesh Md. Abdul Hamid last week. Also present were the Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, Minister of Finance A.H.M. Mustafa Kamal. UN Secretary-General António Guterres and former UN Secretary-General Dr. Ban Ki-moon also participated in the Conference through video messages. 

The Asia-Pacific Conference on Financing for Inclusive and Sustainable Development was organised by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the Government of Bangladesh, in collaboration with the International Chamber of Commerce-Bangladesh and the Asian Development Bank.

The Conference was organised to mark the Centenary Celebration of ICC world-over. 

The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), the world business organisation, has today a physical presence in more than 100 countries, ICC represents 45 million companies and more than one billion workers worldwide. Globally, one in every three workers depend on ICC Members for their livelihood. 

ICC was founded in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War, when no world system of rules governed trade, investment, finance or commercial relations. ICC’s founders, referred to as ‘The Merchants of Peace,’ acted on their conviction that building stronger trade relations between nations would reduce the risk of war and armed conflict. 

ICC is the largest and the only private sector non-sovereign organisation, which was granted the status of a Permanent Observer at the General Assembly of the United Nations in December 2016. 

2030 agenda 

The two-day conference highlighted the fact that sufficient financing remains the greatest challenge to effectively pursue the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, this was highlighted several times over by many of the speakers at the Conference. 

Although interest in innovative financing and digital options are growing among public and private sectors, investments needed to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) continue to remain hugely underfunded. 

United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ESCAP Dr. Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana speaking at the inauguration expressed serious concern that the region is unlikely to achieve any of the SDGs by 2030, if no radical changes are made soon. UNESCAP estimates that developing countries in Asia and the Pacific should invest an additional $1.5 trillion per year, or 5% of their combined GDP, to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Today, ambition is the only option in our region, noted Dr. Alisjahbana.


Bridging the funding gap

The funding gap for countries in South Asia for SDGs, is even higher, as much as 10% of the GDP according to Dr. Alisjahbana. She further emphasised: “While mobilising private financing is essential to unlock enough resources for the achievement of the SDGs, the achievement of many of the Goals will still need additional public funding which requires modernising tax systems and improving the efficiency of tax administrations.”

Many of the speakers at the conference highlighted that given the considerable financing gaps in Asia and the Pacific, developing countries would need to mobilise additional financial resources by mobilising domestic resources, essentially by partnering with the private sector, and enhancing international development cooperation. 

Financing the SDGs would also need unprecedented coordination and cooperation between the public and private sectors, facilitated by international development agencies and multilateral development banks, like the World Bank and ADB. 


Chamber leadership 

The business leaders’ panel highlighted the urgent need to scale up investment and international development cooperation to adequately finance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the region. To achieve that they noted the urgent need to strengthen and diversify capital flows, as well as innovative financing approaches such as taxation, capital markets, non-bank financial schemes, climate finance, small business and supply chain financing, and fintech solutions. 

Chamber leaders at the Conference pushed for strengthening the financial system at both regional and national levels by addressing the barriers that prevent the free movement capital towards sustainable development and also leveraging opportunities to increase investment in the SDGs. 

They noted digitalisation can also radically accelerate the pace at which countries can mobilise funds for sustainable development and also improve the use of these funds by enabling a better management of their social impact. They also noted that by using sustainability-related data to progressively integrate environmental and social risks into risk management policies, financial institutions could focus very much more on initiatives to address the environmental challenges societies face.


Way forward 

Many of the conference participants noted that despite all the efforts poverty in all its forms and dimensions, particularly extreme poverty, remains the greatest global challenge. It is an indispensable requirement for sustainable development they noted. 

Around the world, 815 million people regularly go to bed hungry, while of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year, around 1.3 billion tonnes gets wasted. ‘What are we doing to bridge this gap?’ they asked. 

A total of 800 government officials and representatives of international organisations, private sector and civil society participated in the two-day Conference. The Conference highlighted the urgent need to build consensus and articulate the views of the region on financing for development issues through regular high-level regional consultation. 

The Conference created a platform for sharing best practices among the participants to focus clinically on SDG funding but also to focus on the key policy options and interventions required at global level to achieve the 2030 SDG Agenda, the biggest among them being poverty, education and skills.

(The writer is a thought leader.)