Stretching for growth

October 5, 2017

Business, government and civil society must work together in radically new ways. Living within our global means is not about rationing ourselves... rather it is an opportunity for new business models that find new growth. Photo: © Aman Bhargava

As stretch targets for the world, the Sustainable Development Goals offer a game plan for harmonizing the demands of a fast-growing human population with a dwindling finite natural resource base. Business, government and civil society need to work together in radically new ways to meet them.

The Global Environment Facility is a model for how organizations can come together to mobilize expertise, share knowledge and pool resources to achieve these 17 Global Goals. Though goals 13 (climate action), 14 (life below water) and 15 (life on land) most clearly call for addressing environmental challenges, none can be achieved without securing the health of our water, land and air, and the future abundance of natural resources. Meanwhile, number 17 – Partnerships for the Goals – captures the essential collaboration required across sectors and borders, which is at the heart of the way the Facility operates.

Backed by the core membership of major multilateral agencies – including United Nations agencies and regional multilateral development banks – and working closely with industry, local government and civil society, the Facility collaborates to develop policies, fund initiatives, and advance programme planning, implementation and monitoring to achieve environmental objectives. As a former head of United Nations Development Programme, one of the three original Facility partners, I saw first-hand the extraordinary investments of the Facility’s small grants programme from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to Kirstenbosch, the botanical gardens at the foot of Cape Town’s Table Mountain. In the latter, precious biodiversity was protected, and in the Atlas Mountains, precious water distribution systems built.

Diverse partnerships drive the Facility's 2020 strategy, which takes on food security in sub-Saharan Africa, achieving sustainable cities, and protecting forests along commodity supply chains. The founding principles of protecting natural diversity, and managing the impact of human settlement on it, remain constant.

The Business Commission shares the Facility's commitment to partnerships for the Global Goals. Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer of Unilever, and I created the commission in 2016 with this ethos, because we believe that business is the key to accelerating the transition to an inclusive and sustainable world. It recruited 37 leaders from business, financial institutions, civil society and academia to inspire companies to seize the opportunities presented by the Global Goals. These, our research shows, could be worth $12 trillion across four key economic areas by 2030. But business must work in lock step with government and civil society to achieve them and so unlock this economic windfall.

Private sector partnerships are critical to securing environmental sustainability, and thus, for saving lives and livelihoods. The Facility’s work with the shipping industry to curtail the little-known threat of the spread of alien species through ballast water is a good example of its innovative approach. Invasive species released when ballast water is discharged cause $100 billion per year in economic damage, particularly in communities that depend on the oceans for their livelihoods. A programme funded by the Facility engages experts across the public and private sectors, bringing together technology providers, researchers, and policymakers with industry leaders to devise and implement science-backed solutions.

The Business Commission also mobilizes multiple stakeholders to achieve a sustainable food system. A key recommendation from its flagship report, Better Business, Better World, is that companies should work together to develop sectoral roadmaps, charting the way toward achieving the Global Goals by 2030. The Food and Land Use Economy initiative brings together more than 30 stakeholders representing academia, government, civil society, business, and finance to protect and regenerate the planet’s resources, provide the world’s population with nutritious food, and offer 500 million smallholder farmers and their families a decent and reliable standard of living by 2050. The commission is co-leading the initiative along with the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the EAT Foundation, the World Business Council on Sustainable Development, and the New Climate Economy.

This is a two-year initiative that will close its doors in January 2018. We believe we have made our point: living within our global means is not about rationing ourselves or curbing private sector growth – rather it is an opportunity for new business models that find new growth through smart resource and environmental husbandry.

Since its founding in 1992, the Facility has supported more than 3,300 protected areas covering 860 million hectares, and 790 climate change mitigation projects, contributing to a reduction of 2.7 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, among other notable achievements. With 13 years to go until 2030, there is still much work to be done. The Global Goals need the Global Environmental Facility as a vital partner that will help us get there

by Mark Malloch Brown, Chair, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission

This article originally appeared in "The Global Environment Facility: Delivering solutions for a sustainable future," the September 2017 issue of UN Environment's "Our Planet" magazine. The magazine was launched at the GEF-7 2nd replenishment meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.