SDG Knowledge Weekly: Looking Ahead on Green Economies, the G20 and Business Engagement
Photo by IISD/ENB | Kiara Worth
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The Green Economy Coalition and Overseas Development Institute released reports on transitioning to a green economy.

PwC and Corporate Citizenship each studied how businesses are engaging with the SDGs.

Bond published a paper on ‘Leave No One Behind'.

This week’s brief explores recent efforts in shifting towards a more sustainable economy, and the fora and actors that can facilitate such a transition. Other knowledge contributions reviewed here include an analysis of the G20’s priorities for 2018, and assessments of how well businesses and developed actors are responding to the 2030 Agenda and SDGs.

The Green Economy Coalition – a network of over 50 NGOs, businesses and international organizations, of which IISD is a member – recently published its annual Green Economy Barometer. The report is sub-titled, ‘The Transition Just Stepped Up a Gear,’ and it features statistics from 2017 that shed light on the challenges and opportunities facing green markets. Barriers to a sustainable economic shift include rising nationalism, distrust of governments and lack of major change in financial systems despite increasing investment in the green economy. However, the report identifies high points as well, including the mainstreaming of green solutions in the market (i.e. trajectory of electric vehicle sales) and the continued acceleration of a global clean energy transition.

ODI proposes indicators to measure progress towards green economies, including in G20 countries.

In a paper titled, ‘Financing the Transition from Brown to Green,’ the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) explores ways to shift from carbon-intensive models of development to green economies. The authors conduct an analysis of the current finance landscape, and propose indicators to measure progress at country level, noting specifically that they can be applied to G20 countries. The nine recommended indicators span three spaces: financial policies and regulations, fiscal policy levers, and public finance. Similar to the Green Economy Barometer’s findings, ODI’s analysis highlights an uptick in green finance, but warns that a faster shift is needed, particularly away from fossil fuels. ODI cites prior analyses finding that G20 countries provided upwards of US$230 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in 2014, in addition to US$72 billion annual investment in fossil fuel energy.

On the G20 itself, Heinrich Böll Stiftung North America’s Nancy Alexander reviewed the Argentinian presidency’s priorities. Alexander summarizes the priorities according to the official Finance and Sherpa Tracks, with a detailed analysis of the G20 Infrastructure Working Group (IWG). The IWG is largely contained within the Finance Track, and focuses primarily on “expanding infrastructure as an asset class for investment.” At the end of the year, Argentina will convene the G20 Leaders Summit from 30 November-1 December 2018, in addition to dozens of meetings planned for the year.

In the private sector, PwC asks whether businesses are ‘grasping the full potential of the SDGs’ in a study titled, ‘SDG Reporting Challenge 2017.’ The report finds that although nearly two-thirds of companies mention the SDGs in their reporting, far fewer are meaningfully engaging with the Goals. Co-author Louise Scott says the time is now for “businesses to stop paying lip service to SDGs and convert stakeholder and board aspiration into corporate action.” In this case, corporate action is primarily climate action, with nearly four out of five companies indicating that they prioritize SDG 13, followed closely by SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) at three-quarters of companies, across nearly all industries. The analysis also finds a disconnect between businesses’ and citizens’ priorities. For example, while over two-thirds of citizens surveyed rank SDG 2 (zero hunger) as being of high importance, less than a quarter of businesses did the same.

The PwC report comes closely on the heels of a paper by Corporate Citizenship, released in December 2017. Titled, ‘Accelerating Corporate Leadership on the Global Goals,’ the paper finds – similarly to PwC’s – that actions beyond mapping current initiatives against the SDGs have stalled. However, Corporate Citizenship’s analysis differs from PwC’s in that they see SDG 4 (quality education) as being prioritized by companies, noting particularly that SDG 13 (climate action) did not even feature in the top three, as it did last year.

Those seeking further information on business engagement and the SDGs can view an earlier report from 2017 here. The report, supported by PwC in partnership with GRI and UN Global Compact, looks at all 169 SDG targets individually, and lists specific business actions that support their attainment. Additionally, Corporate Citizenship led a webinar with the World Benchmarking Alliance (WBA) to “benchmark companies on the SDGs,” and staff from BrownFlynn authored an article on GreenBiz titled, ‘Unleashing Action on the Sustainable Development Goals,’ to help business leaders prioritize, act, learn and report on the SDGs.

On disclosures and reporting against the SDGs, researchers from the University of Queensland and Think Impact examined the top 20 Australian Securities Exchange companies (ASX 20) by market capitalization. The lead author writes in a summary blog on The Conversation that companies have yet to meaningfully disclose how progress against the Goals is measured, and that there is a distinction between making commitments and demonstrating progress. The report itself reviews the ASX 20 companies based on their commitment to, structuring for, action towards and measurement of the SDGs using 13 criteria, and offers a framework for improving businesses’ reporting of performance on the SDGs. The report also makes reference to and builds on the SDG Compass, which was updated in November 2017.

The development community is still considering the best ways to realize the 2030 Agenda’s commitment to leave no one behind. The civil society network Bond published a report on the subject, reviewing how development actors have responded to this clarion call. Authored by Kate Munro, the document identifies three steps to leaving no one behind: 1) identify who exactly is being left behind in the current development paradigm; 2) understand why they are left behind; and 3) take action against the exclusion of these people. The paper examines European government approaches as well as those of multilateral organizations, and recommends that: 1) donor-supported programs such as national dialogues and awareness-building activities should be followed up with concrete action plans; 2) programme data should be disaggregated; and 3) root causes of exclusion should be studied, understood and addressed, via policies and practices spanning aid, trade, climate, arms and information sharing.

Looking ahead to the 2018 session of the High-level Political Forum (HLPF) to be held this July, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) published an analysis of 43 countries’ Voluntary National Reviews (VNR). The report titled, ‘VNR Reporting Needs Evaluation: A call for global guidance and national action,’ was released as part of a larger series on evaluation with EVALSDGS and UNDP. It recommends revising current VNR guidelines to outline best practices on evaluation measures, and that countries develop national policies through engagement with Voluntary Organizations for Professional Evaluation (VOPE).

Additional issues of the SDG Knowledge Weekly can be found here.

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