'We are watching you': Activists demand faster progress on UN Sustainable Development Goals

clock • 4 min read

An open letter to world leaders calling for bolder progress on the SDGs has been signed by 20 leading activists and backed by 2,000 high-profile supporters, as a new online toolkit aims to help businesses develop SDG strategies

"We are watching you." That's the dramatic message sent to world leaders from 20 high profile climate, environmental, justice, and human rights campaigners, in a letter calling on governments to "act faster" to tackle the interlocking crises facing the human and natural worlds.

Ranging from ages 10 to 94, the activists cite the UN Sustainable Development Goals agreed in 2015 as a key framework for driving progress, calling them "a historic plan to end extreme poverty, conquer inequality and fix the climate crisis".

The activists' cry for bolder action comes just a week after UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on the international community to make the 2020s a "decade of action" and 2020 "the year of urgency," as he outlined his priorities for the year to the UN General Assembly.

"Governments across the world are simply not acting quickly enough or with enough intention to meet the 2030 deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals," said Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili, co-founder of campaign group Bring Back Our Girls and one of the 20 signatories of the new declaration.

"We need our leaders to find innovative financial solutions and show us how they will commit to this next decade of action. I am proud to join with 19 other climate campaigners, gender activists, human rights defenders and anti-poverty advocates in signing this letter. These Goals are all our Goals and can only be achieved together."

The letter, which calls a state of "emergency" for people and planet, has been backed by a wider network of more than 2,000 high-profile supporters.

"We are in an emergency for people and planet - the solution to which is the Global Goals - the historic plan to defeat poverty, fix inequality and combat the climate crisis," said screenwriter Richard Curtis, who also directed a campaign film to accompany the letter.

"These 20 activists and 2,000 supporters represent the universal and indivisible nature of the Goals - and the passion from all sides that 2020 must be a transformative, radical year for change and progress and new finance - for people and planet."

The campaigners behind the original letter are: Nobel peace Prize laureates Malala Yousafzai and Nadia Murad, anti-apartheid campaigner Andrew Mlangeni; co-founder of Bring Back our Girls Dr. Obiageli Ezekwesili; environmental campaigners Dr. Jane Goodall DBE and Yann Arthus-Bertrand; social justice and human rights campaigners Emi Mahmoud, Kumi Naidoo, Kennedy Odede, Sophie Cruz and Raull Santiago; youth climate activists Melati Wijsen and Alexandria Villaseñor; gender equality campaigners Lydia Cacho, Jaha Dukureh, Dr. Alaa Murabit and Trisha Shetty; and disability rights advocate Edward Ndopu.

The move came just a day after the UN Global Compact and B Lab, the non-profit that has pioneered B Corp certification, launched a new online toolkit to help businesses develop more effective SDG strategies. Available in five languages, the SDG Action Manager aims to empower "companies of all sizes, anywhere in the world, to take meaningful action and track their progress on the Global Goals". 

The free to access toolkit brings together B Lab's B Impact Assessment, the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact, and the SDGs to help businesses self-assess and benchmark their progress towards the SDGs and develop improvement strategies. 

"Shifting the role of business in society has always been at the heart of B Lab's vision," said Andrew Kassoy, cofounder and CEO at B Lab Global. "And now, with just 10 years left in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the role of business is not just to participate in delivering the Global Goals, but to lead - to use the power of business to solve the world's most urgent problems, and inspire others to do the same. The SDG Action Manager is a unique tool that helps businesses take action and continuously improve on that action, and ultimately use their business as a force for good."

Lise Kingo, CEO and executive director, United Nations Global Compact said it was clear businesses needed to step up efforts to deliver on the global goals. "Despite real progress being made by the business community, there is clear recognition that action is not measuring up to the size of the challenge," she said. "The business community has an important role to play delivering on the promise of a shared, durable prosperity for all.  Grounded in our principles-based approach, the SDG Action Manager was developed to mobilize the private sector to take meaningful action and get us back on track to achieve the 2030 Agenda."

Established in 2015 the SDGs incorporate 17 global development goals covering a host of different areas, such as climate action, poverty eradication, biodiversity protection, and equality and justice. However, with a decade to go until the 2030 target date for meeting the goals the UN has warned the world is off track against the vast majority of goals.

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