USCIB held a side event on September 22 at the end of the UN General Assembly opening week for its members, government and UN representatives on “Shared Interests in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s): Business Makes It Happen,” hosted by USCIB member Pfizer. The objective of this meeting, chaired by Novozymes CEO Peder Holk Nielsen, who also serves as USCIB board member and sustainability “champion,” was to explore the opportunities for improved transparency and cooperation in the United Nations that would scale up cooperation and partnership with U.S. business to deliver the SDG’s.
In his opening comments, Nielsen stated that the United Nations is part of the infrastructure that U.S. business depends on in commercial activity around the world, and looks to the U.S. government to work with U.S. companies for outcomes that reflect good governance and advance economic benefits both overseas and domestically. “Business understands the SDG imperative of ‘No one left behind’ to mean ‘everyone must get involved to make a difference, including business,’” he said.
Side event presenters, Diane McMahon of Bechtel and Kyra Kacszinski of Deloitte reviewed the findings of USCIB Expert Roundtables on Data Analytics for the SDG’s, and on Ingredients for Impact in SDG Public Private Partnerships (see other articles in this special edition newsletter for more information).
Norine Kennedy, who leads USCIB’s work on the SDG’s, discussed the pivotal role that the private sector has played in supporting UN sustainable development work, including the climate agreement and the SDG’s, and the recognized role that business has in the International Labor Organization (ILO) and in the Financing for Development process, among others. These integrated inter-actions have created ambitious and widely accepted sustainable development initiatives that continue to move ahead with vigorous U.S. business support, as evidenced in the USCIB Businessfor2030 web platform.
These positive examples and UN reform proposals to embed the UN Agenda for 2030 across UN programs and priorities, and make UN discussions more inclusive and transparent to the public, including the private sector, are indications of willingness for transparent and constructive dialogue and action. Kennedy suggested 3 steps towards enhanced business engagement as part of that reform:
- Involve recognized business community organizations throughout UN deliberations to identify and assess issues, provide technical expertise, inform deliberations and serve as a resource for implementation
- Favor multi-sectoral discussions, in combination with sectoral discussions
- Pursue “shared interest” models that open doors to all business sectors to work transparently and constructively with the UN, based on good governance.
Discussants from UNCTAD, UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs (DESA) added their views on how to help move ahead to tap business resources. Elliott Harris of UNEP reminded the meeting about the differences in language, time frame and scale between public and private sector expectations and contributions. While the United Nations sees a very big picture, the private sector focuses on direct and near term action. He encouraged USCIB to seek ways to build bridges between those points of view as part of its ongoing work to enhance business involvement and contribution on the SDG’s. Chantal Line Carpentier of UNCTAD stated that if UN discussions don’t bring in private sector, it will be extremely difficult to frame the right policies and market actions. Some fear the perception that UN development work is being “privatized,” and she encouraged USCIB to prioritize clear public-private partnership guidance that reflects the lead role of governments and IGO’s, in which business works to support and leverage resources for common benefit, rather than solely for private profit.
Thomas Gass, assistant secretary general of the DESA concluded the meeting with reflections about the challenges and opportunities ahead. The SDGs are a declaration of interdependence, he said, that relies on the private sector along with other societal partners. Gass warned against the SDG’s becoming an empty concept; U.S. business is critical to keep the SDGs moving through innovation and partnership. He stated that sustainability has to be placed in national contexts, especially those of the least developed countries that cannot cope with negative ecological impacts of larger and wealthier nations, and welcomed USCIB’s focus on analyzing and framing data for analysis and prioritized SDG action as a key contribution in that regard.
USCIB will follow further SDG-related deliberations in this year’s UN General Assembly, working closely with the International Chamber of Commerce and International Organization of Employers, to advocate for transparent and inclusive business involvement. Although the Business Makes It Happen side event marked the end of the UNGA high level sessions, USCIB regards its interactions and recommendations as a starting point to continue developing member ideas and action by a full range of U.S. business sectors to strengthen international cooperation on the SDGs as a platform to spread prosperity and opportunity around the world and in the U.S.
Please contact Norine Kennedy or Gabriella Herzog to find out more about USCIB’s positions on SDGs and the role of business in UN reform.