Private sector key to sustainable development goals

Hong Kong office workers
Copyright: Panos

Speed read

  • US$ 1 trillion needed annually to meet the 17 SDGs by 2030
  • Transformative power of science and technology can be unleashed with financing
  • Governments must also invest and ensure sharing of technology’s benefits

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[HONG KONG] The world needs to mobilise the private sector in order to achieve the agreed Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the annual meeting of the multi-stakeholder Asia Pacific Business Forum (ABPF) heard.

Shamshad Akhtar, undersecretary-general of the UN and executive secretary of the UN think tank Economic and Social Commission for the Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), told the APBF, held 10—11 April in Hong Kong, that the world requires over US$1 trillion annually to meet the 17 SDGs by 2030. The private sector, according to her, has a key role to play in mobilising resources.

“For instance, one goal is poverty eradication (SDG 1). To lift some 350 million people out of poverty takes money, and some targets require actual capitalisation or trade and investments,” Akhtar said. The same is true for the other goals like zero hunger (SDG 2), good health for people (SDG 3), sustainable cities (SDG 11), and climate action (SDG 13), particularly in terms of financing climate infrastructure, she added.  

“Innovation and technology are the most powerful drivers of the global economy”

Paul Chan Mo-po

Lee George Lam, chairman of the HK Cyberport Management Company and vice-president of the ESCAP sustainable business network’s executive council, said the business community is one with ESCAP and are working out financing solutions to support the SDGs and help make growth inclusive and reduce inequalities.

Lee said one crucial aspect of the strategy is the need to harness the transformative power of science and technology and innovation in the implementation of the SDGs.

Paul Chan Mo-po, financial secretary of the Hong Kong special administrative region, said “innovation and technology are the most powerful drivers of the global economy”, citing biotech, fintech (financial technology), artificial intelligence and smart cities as keys to the global economy.

“Innovation and technology is the new model of development and creation of wealth,” Chan said, pointing to the success of Hong Kong in nurturing creative digital industries which are empowering a new generation of young entrepreneurs.

Akhtar emphasised, “By strengthening and deepening partnerships between the public and private sectors, the region will be better positioned to leverage the rich potential of emerging technologies.”

N.R. Narayana Murthy, founder of the tech firm Infosys, emphasised improving STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) streams through robust higher education. “This is very important for governments to meet grand challenges like cleaner water and air, healthcare, and improving traffic conditions,” Murthy said.

Murthy said businesses need to spend a certain percentage of revenues on R&D and innovation to stay relevant.

The APBF meet, jointly organised by ESCAP and Cyberport, a leading digital incubation hub in the Asia Pacific region, was held to identify ways to strengthen private sector participation to meet the SDGs by 2030.On Friday (13 April), the UN released a report on development financing aimed at the G20 and the World Bank/IMF spring meetings (18—22 April) in Washington.

The report warned that the transformative power of technology raises complex ethical, socio-economic, and human rights challenges and risks. It called on governments to make complementary investments (rather than rely on the private sector) to strengthen social protection and develop regulatory frameworks that ensure sharing of the benefits of technology and management of risks.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.