singaporeen
The SDGs at half-time – we need to score (with) more goals

The SDGs at half-time – we need to score (with) more goals

23-08-2022 | Insight
It has been seven and a half years since the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals were launched to great fanfare in 2015. A deadline of the end of 2030 was set for achieving all 17 goals. As the SDGs reach half-time, Robeco’s SDG Strategist Jan Anton van Zanten takes stock of how far we have come, and what we still need to do.
  • Jan Anton van Zanten
    Jan Anton
    van Zanten
    SDG Strategist

Speed read

  • The SDGs target issues from poverty and inequality to climate change
  • They face criticisms, and progress in achieving them has been slow
  • The world needs to beef up investment and start taking them seriously

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).

Stay informed on our latest insights with monthly mail updates
Stay informed on our latest insights with monthly mail updates
Subscribe

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!

1https://www.nature.com/articles/s41893-022-00909-5
2https://fd.nl/opinie/1441657/weg-met-die-duurzame-doelen-swf2cayrBrE0
3http://iflas.blogspot.com/2022/05/people-will-suffer-more-if.html
4https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1877343517300209
5https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02375
6https://link.springer.com/article/10.1057/s42214-020-00076-4

Important information

This information is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an offer to sell or an invitation to buy any securities or products, nor as investment advice or recommendation.
The contents of this document have not been reviewed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”). Robeco Singapore Private Limited holds a capital markets services license for fund management issued by the MAS and is subject to certain clientele restrictions under such license.
An investment will involve a high degree of risk, and you should consider carefully whether an investment is suitable for you.

Subjects related to this article are:
Logo

Important Information

Warning/Important note: This website contains information which is only available to qualified investors as defined below. If you are not a qualified investor, please click “I Disagree” to leave the website.

By clicking on "I agree", I declare that: 

  • I am a qualified investor as defined under 1
  • I have read and understood the Terms and Conditions and Disclaimers as described under 2

1 - This website may only be accessed directly or indirectly by the following persons in Singapore:

1) “institutional investor” under section 304 of the Securities and Futures Act (Cap.289)(“SFA”), which means:
(i) the Government; (ii) a statutory board as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (iii) an entity that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by a central government of a country and whose principal activity is (A) to manage its own funds; (B) to manage the funds of the central government of that country (which may include the reserves of that central government and any pension or provident fund of that country); or (C) to manage the funds (which may include the reserves of that central government and any pension or provident fund of that country) of another entity that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by the central government of that country; (iv) any entity (A) that is wholly and beneficially owned, whether directly or indirectly, by the central government of a country; and (B) whose funds are managed by an entity mentioned in sub-paragraph (iii); (v) a central bank in a jurisdiction other than Singapore; (vi) a central government in a country other than Singapore; (vii) an agency (of a central government in a country other than Singapore) that is incorporated or established in a country other than Singapore; (viii) a multilateral agency, international organisation or supranational agency as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (ix) a bank that is licensed under the Banking Act (Cap.19); (x) a merchant bank that is approved as a financial institution under section 28 of the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act (Cap.186); (xi) a finance company that is licensed under the Finance Companies Act (Cap.108); (xii) a company or co-operative society that is licensed under the Insurance Act (Cap.142) to carry on insurance business in Singapore; (xiii) a company licensed under the Trust Companies Act (Cap.336); (xiv) a holder of a capital markets services licence; (xv) an approved exchange; (xvi) a recognised market operator; (xvii) an approved clearing house; (xviii) a recognised clearing house; (xix) a licensed trade repository; (xx) a licensed foreign trade repository; (xxi) an approved holding company; (xxii) a Depository as defined in section 81SF of the SFA; (xxiii) an entity or a trust formed or incorporated in a jurisdiction other than Singapore, which is regulated for the carrying on of any financial activity in that jurisdiction by a public authority of that jurisdiction that exercises a function that corresponds to a regulatory function of the Authority under this Act, the Banking Act (Cap.19), the Finance Companies Act (Cap.108), the Monetary Authority of Singapore Act (Cap.186), the Insurance Act (Cap.142), the Trust Companies Act (Cap.336) or such other Act as may be prescribed by regulations made under section 341 of the SFA; (xxiv) a pension fund, or collective investment scheme, whether constituted in Singapore or elsewhere; (xxv) a person (other than an individual) who carries on the business of dealing in bonds with accredited investors or expert investors; (xxvi) the trustee of such trust as the Authority may prescribe, when acting in that capacity; or; (xxvii) such other person as the Authority may prescribe.

2) “relevant person” under section 305(1) of the SFA, which means:
(i) An accredited investor; (ii) a corporation the sole business of which is to hold investments and the entire share capital of which is owned by one or more individuals, each of whom is an accredited investor; (iii) a trustee of a trust the sole purpose of which is to hold investments and each beneficiary of which is an individual who is an accredited investor; (iv) an officer or equivalent person of the person making the offer (such person being an entity) or a spouse, parent, brother, sister, son or daughter of that officer or equivalent person; or (v) a spouse, parent, brother, sister, son or daughter of the person making the offer (such person being an individual).

3) any person who acquires the units [in a collective investment scheme] as principal if the offer is on terms that the units may only be required at a consideration of not less than $200,000 (or its equivalent in a foreign currency) for each transaction, whether such amount is to be paid for in cash or by exchange of units in a collective investment scheme, securities, securities-based derivatives contracts or other assets, and if the following condition is satisfied: (i) the offer is not accompanied by an advertisement making an offer or calling attention to the offer or intended offer; (ii) no selling or promotional expenses are paid or incurred in connection with the offer other than those incurred for administrative or professional services, or by way of commission or fee for services rendered by any of the persons specified in section 302B(1)(d)(i) to (vi) of the SFA; and (iii) no prospectus in respect of the offer has been registered by the Authority or, where a prospectus has been registered (A) the prospectus has eAccxpired pursuant to section 299 of the SFA; or (B) the person making the offer has before making the offer 1. informed the Authority by notice in writing of its intent to make the offer in reliance on the exemption under this subsection; and 2. taken reasonable steps to inform in writing the person to whom the offer is made that the offer is made in reliance on the exemption under this subsection.

4) Or otherwise pursuant to, and in accordance with the conditions of, any other applicable provision of the SFA.

If you are not any of the types of persons described above, you are not authorized to enter this website and you should leave this website immediately.

2 Terms and Conditions
You acknowledge that you have read these Terms and Conditions (“Terms”) prior to accessing the website located at www.robeco.com/sg (“Website”) and you agree to be bound by the Terms.  If you do not agree to all of the Terms, you are not an authorised user and you should not use the Website. The Website is owned by Robeco Singapore Private Limited (company registration number: UEN. 201541306Z), which is licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (“MAS”) pursuant to the Securities and Futures Act (Cap.289) (“SFA”) of Singapore, and is managed by Robeco Singapore Private Limited and/or its affiliates (collectively, as “Robeco”). The Website is intended for and should be accessed by institutional investors or accredited investors (as defined under Section 4A of the SFA) of Singapore.  The Website is not directed to, or intended for distribution to or use by, any person or entity who is a citizen or resident of or located in any locality, state, country or other jurisdiction where such distribution, publication, availability or use would be contrary to law or regulation or which would subject the Robeco to any registration or licensing requirement within such jurisdiction.  It is your responsibility to observe all applicable laws, rules and regulations of any relevant jurisdiction. The content contained in the Website is owned by Robeco and/or its information providers and is protected by applicable copyrights, trademarks, service marks, and/or other intellectual property rights.  You may not copy, distribute, modify, post, frame or link the Website, including any text, graphics, video, audio, software code, user interface, design or logos.  You may not distribute, modify, transmit, reuse, repost, or use the content of the Website for public or commercial use, including all text, images, audio and/or video.  Robeco may terminate your access to the Website for any reason, without prior notice. Neither Robeco, nor any of its associates, nor any director, officer or employee accepts any liability whatsoever for any loss arising directly or indirectly from the access of the Website.  You agree to indemnity and hold Robeco, its associates, directors, officers or employees harmless against any and all claims, losses, liability, costs and expenses arising from your use of the Website due to violation of the Terms. Robeco reserves the right to change, modify, add or remove any parts of the Terms at any time and for any reason.  The Terms shall deemed to be effective immediately upon posting. The Terms shall be governed by, and shall be construed in accordance with, the law of Singapore.

Disclaimers
The Website has not been reviewed by the MAS. Accordingly, the Website may not be accessed directly or indirectly to persons in Singapore other than (i) to an institutional investor under Section 304 of the SFA, (ii) to a relevant person pursuant to Section 305(1), or any person pursuant to Section 305(2), and in accordance with the conditions specified in Section 305, of the SFA, or (iii) otherwise pursuant to, and in accordance with the conditions of, any other applicable provision of the SFA. 

Nothing in the Website constitutes tax, accounting, regulatory, legal or investment advice.  The Website is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as an offer to sell or an invitation to buy any securities or products, nor as investment advice or recommendation or for the purpose of soliciting any action in relation to Robeco’s businesses, or solicitation by anyone in any jurisdiction in which such an offer or solicitation is not authorised or to any person to whom it is unlawful to make such an offer and solicitation. Any reproduction or distribution of information from the Website, in whole or in part, or the disclosure of its contents, without the prior written consent of Robeco, is prohibited.  By accessing to the Website, you agree to the foregoing.  

The funds referred to in the Website are for information only.  It is not a recommendation or investment advice, nor does it mean the funds is suitable for all investors.  The contents of the website is not reviewed by the MAS.  Any decision to participate in the funds should be made only after reviewing the sections regarding investment considerations, conflicts of interest, risk factors and the relevant Singapore selling restrictions.  You should consult your professional adviser if you are in doubt about the stringent restrictions applicable to the use of the Website, regulatory status of the funds, applicable regulatory protection, associated risks and suitability of the funds to your objectives.

Any decisions made based on the information contained in the Website are the sole responsibility of yours.  Any investments made or to be made shall be with your independent analyses based on your financial situation and objectives.  The investments and strategies contained in the Website may not be suitable for all investors and are not guaranteed by Robeco.  

Investment involves risks and may lose value.  Historical returns are provided for illustrative purposes only and do not necessarily reflect Robeco’s expectations for the future.  The value of your investments may fluctuate.  Past performance is no indication of current or future performance.  The Website may contain projections or other forward looking statements regarding future events or future financial performance of countries, markets or companies and such projection or forecast is not indicative of the future.  The information contained in the Website, including any data, projections and underlying assumptions are based upon certain assumptions, management forecasts and analysis of information available on an “as is” basis and without warranties of any kind, whether express or implied, and reflects prevailing conditions and Robeco’s views as of the date published or indicated, and maybe superseded by subsequent events or for other reasons.  The information contained in the Website are accordingly subject to change at any time without notice and Robeco are under no obligation to notify you of any of these changes.  Robeco expressly disclaims all liability for errors and omissions in the information presented in the Website and for the use or interpretation by others of information contained in the Website.

Robeco Singapore Private Limited holds a capital markets services licence for fund management issued by the MAS and is subject to certain clientele restrictions under such licence.  An investment will involve a high degree of risk, and you should consider carefully whether an investment is suitable for you.

I Disagree