THE United Nations is reportedly on the brink of bankruptcy due to the recalcitrance of some member states not paying their dues on time. It’s a useful time, therefore, to reflect on the essential role played by this global body, which emerged from the ashes of World War 2, and will mark its 75th anniversary of its founding on Oct 24 next year.
Beyond its contributions to the prevention of subsequent world wars, the organisation’s work to promote truly sustainable development in recent decades may prove equally important in the long term.
In Sept 2015, and following up on the historic success of the world’s Millennium Development Goals (pursued between 2000 and 2015), all 193 UN members unanimously adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 goals (SDGs) that detailed a way forward for the planet, peace and prosperity through a partnership between government, private sector and civil society.
The 2030 Agenda is the most transformative and ambitious plan ever crafted by the global community, with 169 targets within the 17 goals and 232 indicators of progress, all the while balancing the economic, social and environmental pillars of development.
Fully implemented, its work will help avert the twin catastrophes of climate change and biodiversity loss, two of the most obvious global consequences of unsustainable human activities.
The SDGs don’t have the force of official treaties, but represent a form of soft law aimed at eliminating extreme poverty, building partnerships and spurring economic growth around the world.
Now entering the fifth year of implementation, almost all governments, the private sector, civil society and academia are waist-deep in action to achieve the SDGs. Malaysia is no exception.
At the recent Malaysia Sustainable Development Summit, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad reiterated our nation’s commitment, stating that sustainability will remain central to the government’s policies and strategies.
He said Malaysia had consistently considered economic, social and environmental aspects in its development plans and it has experienced good growth and development since.
He said the SDGs, aligned with the government’s new Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 (SPV 2030), aimed to bridge the gap in income and wealth between economic classes, ethnic groups and geographical territories.
Dr Mahathir also underlined that digital technology will play a critical role in achieving the SDGs and Malaysians must be prepared to take advantage of these new opportunities.
Certainly not an easy task, as new technologies are usually unavailable to marginalised populations. A key challenge will be “leaving no one behind”, as innovations often exacerbate existing divides in society.
Here is where the private sector can play a role. Its role is crucial, as pointed out by Dr Mahathir when he said that achieving the SDGs required substantial funding. The financial burden, he said, “is beyond the capacity of the government”.
At the Addis Ababa Financing for Development conference in 2015, it became clear that it would take trillions of dollars to finance the goal of achieving the SDGs.
Private sector participation, which provides nine of 10 jobs in developing countries, is critical to strengthening those economies. Without its participation, meeting the 17 goals over the next 10 years is impossible.
Economic Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Azmin Ali had said studies showed that an estimated RM12.42 trillion a year would be required to achieve the SDGs. He said there were efforts to devise creative fiscal incentives to draw greater participation from the private sector. For instance, the Malaysia Development Bank has established the Sustainable Development Financing Fund (SDFF) worth RM1 billion in March to encourage more companies to adopt sustainable practices in their business strategies, plans and programmes.
And in the recent 2020 Budget, the allocation for SDFF had doubled to RM2 billion to support sustainable and green initiatives directly linked to the 17 SDGs.
“Two months ago, on the sidelines of the 74th UN General Assembly, Malaysia launched the “One WASH Fund” — a joint financing initiative by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB),” said Azmin.
IsDB is one of the world’s largest multilateral development banks and a leading proponent of the SDGs. In 2018, it launched the “Transform Fund”, a new US$500 million (RM2.07 billion) fund to support science, technology and innovation initiatives.
The Transform Fund will work in line with the SDGs, accelerating progress towards achieving greater food security, healthier lives, inclusive and equitable
education, sustainable management of water and sanitation, access to affordable and clean energy, and sustainable industrialisation across the developing world.
The writer is a recipient of the UN Malaysia Awards 2019 and a member of the Scientific Advisory Board to the President of the Islamic Development Bank