The SDGs are facing criticism
The SDGs have been criticized from the start, and for a multitude of reasons. When they were being created, some people thought there were too many SDGs, and others that there were too few. Some criticized the aspirational spirit of the goals that lacks real enforcement mechanisms. A recent Nature study, for instance, argued that governments ‘talk the talk’ about the SDGs but don’t ‘walk the walk’, as there is no sign that they intend to change their legal frameworks or resource allocation to pursue them.1
And then there is the critique that the SDGs are inconsistent, overlapping, and even run counter to each other. Some SDGs do have negative impacts on other goals, making it difficult to attain all of them without cost. For example, SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) cannot be realistically achieved without coming into conflict with SDG 13 (climate action), SDG 14 (life below water) and SDG 15 (life on land).
Progress is too slow
Another big issue is that progress in achieving the SDGs has been far too slow. No country is on track to achieve them by 2030, partly due to Covid-19, which led to progress stalling or even reversing in pursuing some of the goals. SDG 3 (good health and well-being) is one of the goals that went backwards when the world faced a global pandemic with its obvious detrimental effects.
Beyond the pandemic, what is now particularly worrying are the negative trends on environmentally focused SDGs. If we do not address climate change and halt the loss of biodiversity embodied in three of the goals, it is unlikely that we will achieve any of the other SDGs, given that all social systems depend on the natural environment.
So, if we are not going to achieve the SDGs, wouldn’t it make sense to just abandon them? Some leading lights of sustainability actually think so. Hans Stegeman, Chief Investment Strategist of Triodos Bank, which specializes in sustainability, said in a Dutch FD newspaper article that we should dump pursuit of the goals.2 And in a letter to the UN, 100 scientists said: “People will suffer more if professionals delude themselves about sustainable development.3
The SDGs are still highly relevant
These criticisms highlight real problems with the SDGs, but they do not render their underlying premise invalid. Global goal-setting remains a profound way of shaping sustainability.4 The world has, for the first time in history, a shared plan for creating a better world, based on tangible targets.
So, what to make of these critiques? The fact that progress on the SDGs is too slow is not a good reason to abandon these goals, and as scientists earlier argued in Nature: “Great feats are rarely a product of lowered ambitions.”5
And in a world in which billions of people lack access to basic needs, and whose natural environment is rapidly deteriorating through climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, creating a better world is not a pipe dream.
It does though necessarily mean attending to numerous issues at the same time, and finding an optimum balance between them and put more weight behind them. Governments, companies, and investors need to make a serious effort to actually work towards achieving them, instead of just talking about them. In my research, I identified three priorities for making progress: improving macro-level governance for the SDGs; acting on the interactions between the individual goas; and further involving the private sector.6
Investing in – and engaging for - the SDGs
In the end, the SDGs require the support of investors as well. In general, investors have two levers to pull: capital allocation and active ownership.
First, investors can support the SDGs by allocating financing to companies that positively contribute to the SDGs and away from those that deteriorate progress. Since this requires knowing how each of the companies in our investment universe impact these goals, Robeco created its own SDG Framework in 2017. With this SDG Framework we can score companies’ positive and negative contributions to the global goals to assess their suitability for investments.
Second, as active owners, investors can engage with the companies they invest in and use their voting power to support (or reject) corporate behavior regarding the SDGs. This approach combines active management with active ownership, which can be a powerful force, particularly with companies whose activities are harming achievement of some of the goals.
Let’s keep going
All in all, I believe that while many of these critiques about the SDGs and investing in them are valid, the conclusion should not be that we abandon the goals. Instead, we should re-assess whether the actions that we take are having a positive impact, and how we can improve that.
Climate change, biodiversity loss, poverty, inequality and the need for health care are real problems. The SDGs are a global initiative to draw support from all parts of society – governments, business, and civil society – to tackle these challenges. Removing the SDGs is not going to solve these real problems; keeping them can be one impetus for working on these challenges.
So, let’s start treating the SDGs as more than just a wish list. Let’s appreciate their complexity, build better policies to implement them… and keep going!
当資料は情報提供を目的として、Robeco Institutional Asset Management B.V.が作成した英文資料、もしくはその英文資料をロベコ・ジャパン株式会社が翻訳したものです。資料中の個別の金融商品の売買の勧誘や推奨等を目的とするものではありません。記載された情報は十分信頼できるものであると考えておりますが、その正確性、完全性を保証するものではありません。意見や見通しはあくまで作成日における弊社の判断に基づくものであり、今後予告なしに変更されることがあります。運用状況、市場動向、意見等は、過去の一時点あるいは過去の一定期間についてのものであり、過去の実績は将来の運用成果を保証または示唆するものではありません。また、記載された投資方針・戦略等は全ての投資家の皆様に適合するとは限りません。当資料は法律、税務、会計面での助言の提供を意図するものではありません。 ご契約に際しては、必要に応じ専門家にご相談の上、最終的なご判断はお客様ご自身でなさるようお願い致します。 運用を行う資産の評価額は、組入有価証券等の価格、金融市場の相場や金利等の変動、及び組入有価証券の発行体の財務状況による信用力等の影響を受けて変動します。また、外貨建資産に投資する場合は為替変動の影響も受けます。運用によって生じた損益は、全て投資家の皆様に帰属します。したがって投資元本や一定の運用成果が保証されているものではなく、投資元本を上回る損失を被ることがあります。弊社が行う金融商品取引業に係る手数料または報酬は、締結される契約の種類や契約資産額により異なるため、当資料において記載せず別途ご提示させて頂く場合があります。具体的な手数料または報酬の金額・計算方法につきましては弊社担当者へお問合せください。 当資料及び記載されている情報、商品に関する権利は弊社に帰属します。したがって、弊社の書面による同意なくしてその全部もしくは一部を複製またはその他の方法で配布することはご遠慮ください。 商号等： ロベコ・ジャパン株式会社 金融商品取引業者 関東財務局長（金商）第２７８０号 加入協会： 一般社団法人 日本投資顧問業協会