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Heads of state, CEOs, UN chiefs call for action on sustainability to recover better from COVID-19

29 JUN 2021
Heads of state, CEOs, UN chiefs call for action on sustainability to recover better from COVID-19
UN Secretary-General António Guterres was joined by heads of state and dozens of chief executive officers and UN chiefs at this year’s United Nations Global Compact Leaders’ Summit recently to address the converging crises of climate change, the COVID-19 pandemic, worsening social and economic inequality and unchecked corruption in order to offer a roadmap for a sustainable recovery.

Opening the Summit, UN Secretary-General and UN Global Compact Board Chair António Guterres remarked: “Only through global cooperation at an unprecedented level can we build back from the pandemic, get on track to achieve the SDGs and avert the worst impacts of climate change. Business has a central role to play. Your efforts and leadership can lift the entire world. But you need to embrace transformational change. In every sector, a much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic changes demanded by the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change.”

UN Global Compact CEO and Executive Director Sanda Ojiambo noted: “Events in the extraordinary year since our last Leaders’ Summit have proven how fragile our systems and how unequal our societies really are. Amidst a pandemic, an economic crisis and a climate emergency, business as usual is no longer an option. Instead, this is a time for ambition.”

Sanda Ojiambo also announced that Expo 2020 Dubai and the United Nations Global Compact are joining forces to hold a Sustainable Development Goals Business Forum during Expo’s Global Goals Week (16-22 January 2022), to spur further action towards a sustainable and inclusive future.

Marking the first anniversary of the Race to Zero campaign, COP 26 President Alok Sharma issued a strong call to action to business leaders to accelerate the transition to a net-zero world by 2050: “Race to Zero is central to our COP26 Presidency. We are urging companies and investors, cities and regions, organisations of all kinds, to sign-up. To play their part in keeping 1.5 degrees within reach. And to make clear to governments that climate action will be welcomed and not resisted across the economy.”

Over 26 hours of continuous virtual programming – including more than 100 global, regional and local sessions – leaders from business, civil society, governments and the UN reflected on the importance of collaboration and public-private partnerships and pledged to increase their ambition to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and accelerate climate action.

In a series of sessions under the banner ‘Elevating Ambition for Corporate Action’ the UN Global Compact’s new strategic plan for the next three years was launched to galvanise bold, rapid progress on sustainability through business transformation. It calls for enhanced corporate accountability, including cutting carbon emissions in line with a pathway to net-zero by mid-century and envisions regionally-balanced growth of the UN Global Compact network. It also enables greater flexibility for business action at the local level, with companies adapting to each country’s unique context as well as seeking to harness the energy of small and medium-sized enterprises as the foundation of national and local economies. And it promotes stronger business engagement with UN partners, including partnerships to finance the 2030 Agenda.

It was also announced that the UN Global Compact SDG Ambition Accelerator programme will now be open to further participants to set and meet bold, tangible targets for sustainability. Paul Polman, Vice Chair of the UN Global Compact presented on the results of the UN Global Compact 2021 survey of companies and CEOs, in partnership with Accenture, which revealed 79% of CEOs believe the pandemic has highlighted the need to transition to more sustainable business models.

During the plenary session ‘Financing the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement’ which explored how linking ‘ESG’ to meaningful corporate sustainability action will benefit investors and companies, the UN Global Compact CFO Taskforce committed to key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure their progress towards the implementation of the CFO Principles on Integrated SDG Investment and Finance.

Further corporate action was called for during the CEO panel discussion ‘Accelerating Progress Towards Setting Science Based Targets’ which looked at the key role the private sector has to play in sending strong market signals and scaling innovative solutions to present concrete, realistic plans towards a zero-carbon economy while advocating for a green recovery. 

The session built on the findings of a recent report from the Science Based Targets initiative, the UN Global Compact and CDP which showed that none of the Group of Seven countries’ main stock indexes are aligned with goals to limit global temperature rises to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius.

The session ‘The Road to Transformational Governance: Launching the Business Framework for Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions’ discussed how to accelerate action on the ‘G’ in ESG to strengthen business culture, ethics and performance and support public institutions, laws and systems building on the recently released ‘SDG 16 Business Framework: A Blueprint for Transformational Governance’.

The high-level session entitled ‘Uniting Against Corruption: Launch of the UN Global Compact Anti-Corruption Collective Action Playbook’ looked at how companies and other stakeholders from civil society and the public sector can come together to tackle corruption through a six-step approach drawn from the collective action methodology.

The UN Global Compact Leaders’ Summit also recognised the work of 10 ‘2021 SDG Pioneers’ who are doing an exceptional job to advance the Global Goals through the implementation of the UN Global Compact Ten Principles on human rights, environment, labour and anti-corruption.

The UN Global Compact Network Sri Lanka co-hosted three sessions. The first session, Network Sri Lanka collaborated with Networks Mexico, United Kingdom and Turkey and hosted the ‘Responsible Business: Diversity & Inclusion in the Workplace’ on 15 June and featured Sharmila Sherikar, Senior Vice President – Talent Management Head – Americas Business, Virtusa. 

Additionally, the second session, Network Sri Lanka hosted the session titled ‘Sustainable Manufacturing for an Equitable Future’, was on 16 June. 

Sri Lanka, as one of the fastest growing markets in the world, possesses abundant opportunities and fascinating approaches to cross-cutting the Sustainable Development Goals. The session on Sustainable Manufacturing highlighted the urgency to replace unsustainable economic development models with socially and environmentally responsible practices that consume minimal resources. Further the session also placed emphasis on total life-cycle considerations to develop products that are economically sound and socially beneficial. 

The panellists for the Sri Lanka Network session were Dilmah Tea CEO and UN Global Compact Network Sri Lanka Chairman Dilhan Fernando, Unilever Sri Lanka Chairperson and Managing Director Hajar Alafifi, Aitken Spence Plantations Managements PLC Managing Director and Aitken Spence PLC Executive Director Dr. Rohan Fernando, MAS Holdings Chief Operations Officer Shakthi Ranatunga, and Haycarb PLC and Eco Solutions Managing Director and Dipped Products PLC (Hayleys Group) Deputy Chairman Rajitha Kariyawasam.

Furthermore, for the third session, Network Sri Lanka partnered with Networks Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan and hosted the session on ‘Towards Economic Prosperity: Perspectives from South Asia’ on 16 June and featured John Keells Holdings Chairman Krishan Balendra.

Government speakers who participated in this year’s event included President of the Republic of Singapore Halimah Yacob; Prime Minister of Jamaica Andrew Holness; Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea Kim Boo-kyum; African Union Commission Deputy Chairperson Dr. Monique Nsanzabaganwa; Minister of State-Owned Enterprises, Indonesia, Erick Thohir, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Italy, Marina Sereni; Minister for Development Cooperation and Foreign Trade, Finland, Ville Skinnari; Minister of State, Federal Foreign Office, Germany Niels Annen; Vice Minister for International Cooperation, Netherlands, Birgitta Tazelaar; Secretary of State in the Ministry of Development Funds and Regional Policy, Poland, Jarosi?ska-Jedynak; Permanent Representative, Mission of Sweden to the UN, Anna Karin Enestro?m; Deputy Prime Minister, Thailand Dr. Wissanu Krea-Ngam; State Minister for Foreign Affairs, State of Qatar Soltan bin Saad Al-Muraikhi; and UK Environment Agency Chair Howard Boyd. 

Other speakers included UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina J. Mohammed; UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen; UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet; International Trade Union Confederation Secretary-General Sharan Burrow, and Ford Foundation President Darren Walker; as well as more than two dozen leading CEOs including Julie Sweet, CEO, Accenture; Roberto Marques, CEO, Natura &Co; Jean-Pascal Tricoire, CEO, Schneider Electric; Francesco Starace, CEO, Enel; Paul Polman, Chair of Imagine and Vice Board Chair of the UN Global Compact; Jane Karuku, Managing Director and CEO, East African Breweries Ltd. and Olukayode Pitan, CEO, Bank of Industry, Nigeria.

This article was taken from the Daily FT