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May 24, 2016
Getting the Architecture Right: attracting business expertise and action for sustainable development on the road to 2030

By Dr. Louise Kantrow

Governments and stakeholders have spent the first months of 2016 discussing the implementation of the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including how the UN will support the agenda as an institution and will monitor and review progress towards 2030.  A key question in these discussions is how the UN will integrate the views of the diverse stakeholders -- essentially all of humanity -- who have an interest in the 2030 Agenda’s success and therefore have an opinion about its implementation at all levels -- globally, regionally and, most importantly, nationally.  While this may seem like an overly bureaucratic and speech-filled exercise, it is actually vital work:  without the right process and structure, it will be much more difficult to identify gaps, track action and impacts, and build bridges not only between governments but also with business and civil society, both of whom are called to action alongside governments to help achieve the 2030 Agenda.

As the outcome documents of the 2030 Agenda recognize themselves, business will play a critical role in its implementation and ultimate achievement in all countries because it business is the chief engine of economic growth, driver of innovation, and builder of infrastructure that undergirds other social progress. But there are substantial concerns that we do not yet have the structures in place at a policy level to attract and catalyze the requisite business expertise, resources and motivation to aid with implementation.

Challenges to business engagement in the current model

One obstacle to reaching the broad mobilization and knowledge sharing that we need is the current structure for non-state actor (“stakeholder”) engagement in the 2030 Agenda. This architecture is a relic of Agenda 21 from twenty years ago and no longer adequately reflects the diversity and involvement of non-governmental and business entities in the UN’s approach to sustainable development.  The current model lumps business in with all other so-called “major groups,” including important and valued representatives of civil society such as youth, the scientific community, workers, and others. In practice, this means that all of global business -- with its diversity across industries and geographies -- must often be reduced to only a few representatives, and is often expected to join consensus messaging with other stakeholder representatives, some of whom have substantial differences of view with business. This model persists even while it is widely acknowledged that business will shoulder an amount of the implementation burden disproportionate to the aggregate efforts of these other vital stakeholders, whose opinions and concerns must also be heard by Member States.

A proposed solution:  an autonomous Business Coordinating Mechanism to the HLPF

In response to this institutional gap, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) as coordinator of the Global Business Alliance (GBA) for 2030 (an umbrella group of major global industry associations and business organizations) has proposed establishing a High Level Political Forum Business Coordinating Mechanism (HLPF/BCM), which it believes will deliver benefits to both governments and the private sector. The HLPF/BCM would operate as an autonomously governed, distinct business representative entity that will serve as a focal point for Member States, offering comprehensive engagement with the full diversity of business expertise that can inform policy discussions on implementing the 2030 Agenda. 

This distinct and separate track for business participation would follow similar successful models of engagement on Financing for Development (FfD) and the Committee on Food Security (CFS), each of which features separate tracks for the private sector and civil society. These institutional arrangements allow these different stakeholder groups to independently represent themselves and would enable business in particular to take full advantage of the opportunities for engagement established by Resolution A/67/290, which addresses the need for an improved and more effective institutional framework for sustainable development, and stresses the importance of increased participation of relevant stakeholders.

Supported by the GBA, the HLPF/BCM would provide a year-round business interface to the relevant stakeholder focal points at the UN that already reach out to the private sector independently of one another, including the Office of the President of the General Assembly; the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), encompassing both the Division for Sustainable Development (DSD), the Financing for Development (FfD) Office and the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Support office; the UN Global Compact, and other agencies and entities, such as the UN Development Program’s (UNDP) SDG Fund.  Having a single point of contact would help with coordination between all of those internal constituencies and would have dramatic efficiencies for the business community.  Specific to the annual meetings of the HLPF, the HLPF/BCM would:  ensure broad and inclusive business participation in the High Level Political Forum; organize and disseminate annual reports on the contributions of business to the achievement of the SDGs; and promote communication and outreach to expand business awareness and increased understanding of the opportunities presented by the HLPF.

The GBA is already coordinating business engagement in Agenda 2030

Building on ICC’s ECOSOC consultative status at the UN since 1946, the GBA is a deep and broad “talent pool” of expertise and resources for the SDGs.  Its partners encompass major global, regional, national, and sectoral business organizations and associations, as well as companies from multinational corporations to small and medium-sized enterprises around the world, all of whom share a vision for the enabling conditions necessary for sustainable development.  The GBA has a proven track-record of serving as the focal point and interlocutor for business at the United Nations throughout the entire intergovernmental processes related to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.  Through the GBA, business is looking forward to participating in July’s High-level Political Forum (HLPF) and as part of that, to report on business progress on implementation of the SDGs. 

The business community welcomes the chance to be part of this conversation and has repeatedly taken every opportunity offered to it to provide its input to the ongoing formulation of the 2030 Agenda, including during the recent debates on the structure of the follow-up and review process at the global level, where the GBA offered its enthusiastic support for the “Elements Paper” and an annual review of all 17 SDGs through the lens of overarching themes.

We have also already started preparing to provide information at the HLPF about business activities in support of the SDGs.  During the recent High-level Thematic Debate (HLTD) on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, the United States Council for International Business (USCIB), the U.S. affiliate of the International Chamber of Commerce, explained how its Business for 2030 platform accelerates business community engagement during the implementation of the 2030 Agenda by providing a target-by-target catalogue of private sector initiatives that contribute to sustainable development (currently140 initiatives by 35 companies in over 150 countries).  These target-level, specific and impact-driven examples can educate others in the private sector about the 2030 Agenda in a practical way and stimulate them to action, simultaneously allowing Member States to ascertain which companies are focused on which goals/targets within their borders as well as neighboring states.  It is our hope that this collection of case studies and other relevant business experiences can be shared through the formal HLPF/BCM, jump-starting priority-setting conversations about implementation at the global and national levels that involve business from the start and thereby hopefully achieve maximum impact.

That is, after all, the goal: “to leave no one behind.”  Over the course of the next 15 years, the UN and a wide range of stakeholders, particularly business, must work together on effective implementation of the wide-reaching 2030 Agenda and it is clear that countries all over the world will depend on their local business communities to help deliver the SDGs.  It is therefore crucial that the private sector have clear, separate recognition in the HLPF process and throughout the UN system, which will make communication and sharing of views more efficient and clear, improving coordination, sharing of best practices and hopefully, scaling-up successful initiatives within and across borders.

Dr. Louise Kantrow is the Permanent Representative to the United Nations' Economic and Social Council for the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), and in that capacity, coordinates the Global Business Alliance for 2030 and the Business Steering Committee on Financing for Development.


This article was originally published by the Bizfor2030 Blog, on 11 May 2016. Find it here.