WEF Paper Summary

Core requirements needed to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals

22. Jan 2019

There is a growing, broad-based recognition of the importance of sustainability. It is reflected both by the buying choices of consumers – 69% are willing to pay more for products with strong ethical origins1 - as well as the acknowledgment of business leaders that sustainable business practices are now an obligation, not an option, if they are to meet their customer needs. And in the workplace, the significance of sustainability is not lost. Many entrepreneurs see it as a crucial part of company culture if they want to attract and retain the top talent.

Despite this shift in attitudes, those projects which tackle the world's greatest sustainability challenges, as measured by the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), remain woefully underfunded. Estimates from the UN-sponsored Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) place the annual SDG investment needs in the order of USD 5 – 7 trillion. Their research suggests developing economies should be devoting USD 3-5 trillion of that sum just to filling gaps in critical infrastructure. Yet developing nations face an annual investment shortfall of USD 2.5 trillion – government and official development assistance (ODA) monies can only finance some USD 1 trillion of annual investment, leaving a sizeable sustainability role for the private sector to play.

UBS has made a clear promise to mobilize the private sector towards filling that gap in SDG funding. In 2017, UBS's white paper for the World Economic Forum set out our commitments to Sustainable and Impact Investing and in 2018, we presented our commitment to partnership for the Goals. And we have executed on those commitments. For example, by partnering with the World Bank to offer development bank bond solutions for private clients; by collaborating to fill gaps in the sustainable investing landscape with innovative new solutions, including sustainable investment benchmarks and the mainstreaming of impact investment via multiple fund raises.

This year, in our white paper for the World Economic Forum, UBS argues that if the goals of the SDGs are to be met, then we need greater widespread awareness, simplification and contribution in order to move sustainability into the mainstream. The paper explores practical solutions for mobilizing greater levels of capital into sustainable investing, giving and consumption, as well as highlighting what we regard as the key factors at root of the problem: ongoing complexity, inconsistency, and a lack of understanding about the major sustainability challenges the world faces. It asks:

  • Why is awareness of the SDGs lacking and how can that be remedied? 
  • What can be done to simplify sustainable investing?
  • Who can contribute in which specific ways to advancing the SDGs?

In answer to those challenges, UBS outlines eight potential solutions for meeting the SDGs, based on awareness, simplification, and finally, contribution.

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