By their scope and universal nature, the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in December 2015 offer an unprecedented promise for change and cause for hope. Imbued with humanism, this objective of transforming societies responds to two needs. First, the need to protect citizens across the world through decent jobs, gender equality and access to good-quality education. Second, the need to protect the planet by promoting sustainable cities, fighting climate change and, as we are reminded by the tragedy of the Amazon rainforest, combating deforestation.
Despite the great urgency of these two major issues and increasing calls to action as the risks of inaction materialize with the approach of 2030, the measures being taken to achieve the SDGs are still insufficient. This contrast is explained by what could be called a Janusian dilemma. We want to build a fairer and more sustainable world, but we are using tools of the past that have not been revised in light of this ambition. Despite an abundance of multilateral efforts by the international community in 2015, the Addis Ababa-New York-Paris trilogy did not succeed in producing a concept or a reference framework or methodology allowing initiatives that are commensurate with the SDGs.
In particular, the funding equation for the international agenda–directing investments towards the SDGs by mobilizing more significant international, national and private sector funding–has not been resolved. In the area of development funding, the only international reference is Official Development Assistance (ODA), which is now being called upon to fund the SDGs, despite being designed with entirely different intentions andonly amounting to a very small portion of the required international financial flows. ODA must not be called into question. It demonstrates solidarity between wealthier and poorer nations and, as promised by the French President Emmanuel Macron, it is set to increase. But the $150 billion of ODA generated each year will never succeed in meeting the needs of the SDGs.
We must therefore invent a new comprehensible and motivating funding framework as a complement to ODA that would be commensurate with the Sustainable Development Goals and could be called “Sustainable Development Investment” (SDI). This is the position I defend in an essay on development entitled Réconciliations. This concept of SDI would be complementary to ODA and would be part of a commitment approach aimed not at short-term financial return but at preserving common goods and creating label systems to promote maximum financial flows being converted into SDI. The goal would be to redirect the $20 trillion in annual global investment towards the climate and SDGs.
Many initiatives already exist, and labels are beginning to emerge: socially responsible investment, sustainable or green finance, etc. However, what is missing is a unifying, overarching standard. SDI would serve both as a label and a means of measurement. Far from a mere abstraction, this approach is already reflected at AFD in impact funds combining public and market resources, and an ongoing dialogue with philanthropists, banks and asset managers, aimed at persuading them to invest in developing and emerging countries.
We can now see the symptoms of the difficulties ahead “if nothing is done”–the unvarying incipit of repeated warnings. But soon we will wake up to find that a decade has slipped away. Will we then be ready to bear the consequences of our lack of initiative?
Rémy Rioux, Chief Executive Officer of the Agence Française de Développement Group
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