01 November 2016

Opinion: Building bridges for sustainable development

Options Magazine Winter 2016: Pascal Lamy was European Commissioner for Trade from 1999 to 2004, and Director General of the World Trade Organization from 2005 to 2013. He currently serves as a president emeritus of the Notre Europe - Jacques Delors Institute. He is a member of the Alpbach-Laxenburg Group.

© Delors Institute

© Delors Institute

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) encompass a very long and vast set of issues. So when you ask, “What do we need to do to achieve them?” it’s not a single thing. It’s what you have to do on inequality, on education, on oceans, on poverty—it’s a lot of different things.

I come into this debate from the perspective of trade and international businesses. The good news, I believe, is that the private sector is already on the right track. In order to foster this process, businesses need to keep doing what private businesses have been doing increasingly, which is integrating this sustainable development focus into their global strategies. Most big businesses now have a set of principles, a set of values that include sustainability. What’s happening for instance around the push towards green finance, notably since the COP21 in Paris, is a good example of how some businesses can be on the front line of a larger coalition.

I believe that this sort of effort will grow, as businesses realize that it matters for their consumers, for their staff, and for their shareholders, or their finance providers more generally. This is the frame within which they have to optimize what they do—clients, consumers, their people, and where they get their financial resources from. And if these various sides of the triangle push in that direction, inevitably businesses will push in this direction. They’ll have to.

What we need more of today is dialogue between the private sector and other constituencies such as science and non-governmental organizations, which are all working on the SDGs. The reality is today that the communities working on trade and environmental issues are rather poorly connected. You belong either to one or to the other. There are not that many people who have feet on both sides, which does not help because the issue is complex.  

The Alpbach-Laxenburg Group is one such bridge, which brings together a group of people from across multiple sectors. We need more coalitions like this to bind public authorities at the national, regional, and city levels to civil society organizations focused on sustainability, climate, environment, biodiversity, and development, and businesses, whether big or small. 

There is something which tends to come out of this sort of environment, which is innovation. People exchanging ideas, not just theoretically, “What should we do?” “Where are we?” “Where are we going?” but, “This is what I suggest to do,” “This is what I tried and it worked,” and “This is what I tried and it didn’t work.” It’s more about experiences on the ground, which may then inspire more general conclusions.

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Last edited: 14 November 2016

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