The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals: Challenges and Opportunities for Business

Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 14. June 2016 - 14:02
Dahl, Arthur Lyon

The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals:
Challenges and Opportunities for Business

Arthur Lyon Dahl Ph.D.
International Environment Forum (IEF)
ebbf - Ethical Business Building the Future

Presented at the
Vision Gulf Business Conference
Kuwait, 31 May 2016

The nations of the world agreed in 2015 to an ambitious agenda for the next 15 years to 2030. This paper explores the challenges and opportunities that this new agenda presents for business. The world is changing ever more rapidly, requiring adaptive management from business not to be left behind. The new agenda provides a useful vision of where society and the world economy need to go that businesses can use to innovate in response to societal needs.

The 2030 Agenda was negotiated through a very participatory process at the request of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The preparatory process was summarized by the UN Secretary-General in his Synthesis Report On the Post-2015 Agenda "The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet (UN 2014).

He stated that a fundamental transformation is needed in society and the economy. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the heart of the new agenda define a paradigm shift for people and the planet that is inclusive and people-centred, leaving no one behind. The new agenda integrates the economic, social and environmental dimensions of development in a spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability, with the participation of governments and all stakeholders.

The agenda calls for transformative partnerships built upon:
• principles and values
• a shared vision
• shared goals
• the participation of all relevant stakeholders
• mobilizing the power of culture
• with mutual accountability at the center.

The Secretary-General said that "young people will be the torch bearers... the first truly globalized, interconnected, and highly mobilized civil society, ready and able to serve as a participant, joint steward, and powerful engine of change and transformation."

World leaders assembled at the UN General Assembly Summit for the adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda in New York, 25-27 September 2015. The outcome document was called "Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UN 2015).

In it, world leaders said "This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity. It also seeks to strengthen universal peace in larger freedom. We recognize that eradicating poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable requirement for sustainable development."

"All countries and all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, will implement this plan. We are resolved to free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet. We are determined to take the bold and transformative steps which are urgently needed to shift the world onto a sustainable and resilient path. As we embark on this collective journey, we pledge that no one will be left behind."

The 2030 Agenda can be summarized as focusing on people, planet, prosperity, peace and partnerships.


We are determined to end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.


We are determined to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.


We are determined to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.


We are determined to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.


We are determined to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

"This is an Agenda of unprecedented scope and significance. It is accepted by all countries and is applicable to all, taking into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respecting national policies and priorities. These are universal goals and targets which involve the entire world, developed and developing countries alike. They are integrated and indivisible and balance the three dimensions of sustainable development.

"It is 'We the Peoples' who are embarking today on the road to 2030. Our journey will involve Governments as well as Parliaments, the UN system and other international institutions, local authorities, indigenous peoples, civil society, business and the private sector, the scientific and academic community – and all people.... It is an Agenda of the people, by the people, and for the people – and this, we believe, will ensure its success."

As indicated in this last paragraph, this agenda is addressed to business and the private sector, and this is a challenge for business. The United Nations seems far removed from the realities of business. Yet the 2030 Agenda is a call for transformation addressed to everyone. We should try looking at the global goals and aspirations as a call to business. What are the new opportunities that will open up?

The 2030 Agenda is more than just a declaration without substance. It includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are action oriented, global in nature and universally applicable. The goals can be grouped by their orientation into four categories:
• goals that place humans at the centre, addressing poverty, human health and well-being;
• goals for environmental resources, processes and boundaries defining planetary health on which human well-being and development depend;
• goals about transitioning to a green economy that builds rather than undermines planetary sustainability; and
• the final two goals on institutional and governance issues and the means of implementation.

Supporting the 17 goals are 169 quantified targets to be achieved by 2030, and the UN Statistical Commission has defined 230 global indicators to measure progress towards the targets. Governments are now expected to adapt the goals and targets to their own national priorities and reality, to determine their share of responsibility for the global goals, and they will be reporting regularly on their progress.

What then is the role of business in meeting these goals? The intergovernmental committee of experts on sustainable development financing has calculated that the cost of a social safety net to eradicate extreme poverty would be US$66 billion a year. Annual investments in improving infrastructure for water, agriculture, transport and power will need to reach $7 trillion globally. Public finance and aid will be central to support the implementation of the SDGs, but insufficient. Money will also need to be generated from the private sector, and through tax reforms, as well as through a crackdown on illicit financial flows and corruption (Ford 2015).

A recent Brookings Institution paper on how to change the world suggested:
• Use market forces to drive business towards scalable investments that simultaneously generate sustainable solutions to development challenges;
• Create more data from more sources with more disaggregation, and make these more easily transparent and accessible, to drive towards evidence-based reforms and accountability;
• Encourage innovations (technical, organizational, and in business-models) to drive the world away from business-as-usual (Kharas 2016).

There is also a new Business & Sustainable Development Commission (, launched at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on 21 January 2016. It is chaired by former UN Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch-Brown, and includes global leaders from business and civil society. It aims to explore disruptive models that can lead to new and expanding market opportunities while making communities more sustainable. It will conduct foundational research and engage in dialogue with a diverse cross-section of key stakeholders and experts. The Commission will be preparing a comprehensive report outlining market opportunities that could flow to companies that achieve sustainable development.

Business now needs to appropriate the SDGs for itself. The United Nations process is essentially top-down, building a global consensus among governments as a starting point. The SDGs provide a framework to identify new opportunities for investment and innovation. We should not wait for governments to act, as they always do too little, too late.

To help in this process, the following list gives the SDG targets with a business dimension, either an opportunity to be developed or a responsibility to be shouldered to control some damaging or unsustainable activity. It can be a useful check list for things businesses can take on in the years ahead as part of the transformation called for in the 2030 Agenda.

Sustainable Development Goals and targets relevant to business

Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
1.1 By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere...
1.2 By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions...
1.4 By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources,... natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including micro finance

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
2.1 By 2030, end hunger and ensure access by all people, in particular the poor and people in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious and sufficient food all year round
2.3 By 2030, double the agricultural productivity and incomes of small-scale food producers, in particular women, indigenous peoples, family farmers, pastoralists and fishers, including through secure and equal access to land, other productive resources and inputs, knowledge, financial services, markets and opportunities for value addition and non-farm employment
2.4 By 2030, ensure sustainable food production systems and implement resilient agricultural practices that increase productivity and production, that help maintain ecosystems, that strengthen capacity for adaptation to climate change, extreme weather, drought, flooding and other disasters and that progressively improve land and soil quality
2.a Increase investment, including through enhanced international cooperation, in rural infrastructure, agricultural research and extension services, technology development and plant and livestock gene banks...
2.b Correct and prevent trade restrictions and distortions in world agricultural markets...
2.c Adopt measures to ensure the proper functioning of food commodity markets... and facilitate timely access to market information, including on food reserves, in order to help limit extreme food price volatility

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
3.4 By 2030, reduce by one third premature mortality from non-communicable diseases through prevention and treatment and promote mental health and well-being
3.8 Achieve universal health coverage, including financial risk protection, access to quality essential health-care services and access to safe, effective, quality and affordable essential medicines and vaccines for all
3.9 By 2030, substantially reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from hazardous chemicals and air, water and soil pollution and contamination
3.b Support the research and development of vaccines and medicines for the communicable and noncommunicable diseases that primarily affect developing countries, provide access to affordable essential medicines and vaccines,... and... provide access to medicines for all

Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
4.3 By 2030, ensure equal access for all women and men to affordable and quality technical, vocational and tertiary education, including university
4.4 By 2030, substantially increase the number of youth and adults who have relevant skills, including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship
4.5 By 2030, eliminate gender disparities in education and ensure equal access to all levels of education and vocational training for the vulnerable...
4.7 By 2030, ensure that all learners acquire the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including, among others, through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship and appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture's contribution to sustainable development

Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
5.1 End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere
5.5 Ensure women's full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life
S.b Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women

Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
6.3 By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
6.4 By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity...
6.a By 2030, expand international cooperation and capacity-building support to developing countries in water- and sanitation-related activities and programmes, including water harvesting, desalination, water efficiency, wastewater treatment, recycling and reuse technologies

Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
7.1 By 2030, ensure universal access to affordable, reliable and modern energy services
7.2 By 2030, increase substantially the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix
7.3 By 2030, double the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency
7.a By 2030, enhance international cooperation to facilitate access to clean energy research and technology, including renewable energy, energy efficiency and advanced and cleaner fossil-fuel technology, and promote investment in energy infrastructure and clean energy technology

Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
8.2 Achieve higher levels of economic productivity through diversification, technological upgrading and innovation, including through a focus on high-value added and labour-intensive sectors
8.3 Promote development-oriented policies that support productive activities, decent job creation, entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation, and encourage the formalization and growth of micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises, including through access to financial services
8.4 Improve progressively. through 2030, global resource efficiency in consumption and production and endeavour to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation...
8.5 By 2030, achieve full and productive employment and decent work for all women and men, including for young people and persons with disabilities, and equal pay for work of equal value
8.6 By 2020, substantially reduce the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training
8.8 Protect labour rights and promote safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment 8.9 By 2030. devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products
8.10 Strengthen the capacity of domestic financial institutions to encourage and expand access to banking, insurance and financial services for all

Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
9.2 Promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and, by 2030, significantly raise industry's share of employment and gross domestic product...
9.3 Increase the access of small-scale industrial and other enterprises, in particular in developing countries, to financial services, including affordable credit, and their integration into value chains and markets
9.4 By 2030, upgrade infrastructure and retrofit industries to make them sustainable, with increased resource-use efficiency and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes...
9.5 Enhance scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors in all countries...
9.b Support domestic technology development, research and innovation in developing countries, including by ensuring a conducive policy environment for, inter alia, industrial diversification and value addition to commodities
9.c Significantly increase access to information and communications technology and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020

Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
10.1 By 2030, progressively achieve and sustain income growth of the bottom 40 per cent of the population at a rate higher than the national average
10.2 By 2030, empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status
10.3 Ensure equal opportunity and reduce inequalities of outcome...
10.5 Improve the regulation and monitoring of global financial markets and institutions and strengthen the implementation of such regulations
10.7 Facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies

Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
11.1 By 2030, ensure access for all to adequate, safe and affordable housing and basic services and upgrade slums
11.2 By 2030, provide access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems for all, improving road safety, notably by expanding public transport, with special attention to the needs of those in vulnerable situations, women, children, persons with disabilities and older persons
11.3 By 2030, enhance inclusive and sustainable urbanization and capacity for participatory, integrated and sustainable human settlement planning and management...
11.4 Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage
11.6 By 2030, reduce the adverse per capita environmental impact of cities, including by paying special attention to air quality and municipal and other waste management
11.7 By 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces...

Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
12.1 Implement the 10-year framework of programmes on sustainable consumption and production...
12.2 By 2030, achieve the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources
12.3 By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses
12.4 By 2020, achieve the environmentally sound management of chemicals and all wastes throughout their life cycle..., and significantly reduce their release to air, water and soil...
12.5 By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling and reuse
12.6 Encourage companies, especially large and transnational companies, to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle
12.8 By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature
12.b Develop and implement tools to monitor sustainable development impacts for sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products
12.c Rationalize inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption by removing market distortions,... including by restructuring taxation and phasing out those harmful subsidies, where they exist...

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
13.3 Improve education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning

Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
14.1 By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
14.4 By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices...
14.6 By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies...

Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
15.1 By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services, in particular forests, wetlands, mountains and drylands...
15.2 By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally
15.3 By 2030, combat desertification, restore degraded land and soil, including land affected by desertification, drought and floods...
15.4 By 2030, ensure the conservation of mountain ecosystems, including their biodiversity...
15.5 Take urgent and significant action to reduce the degradation of natural habitats, halt the loss of biodiversity and, by 2020, protect and prevent the extinction of threatened species
15.6 Promote fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources and promote appropriate access to such resources...

Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
16.5 Substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms
16.6 Develop effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels
16.10 Ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms...

Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development
17.3 Mobilize additional financial resources for developing countries from multiple sources
17.5 Adopt and implement investment promotion regimes for least developed countries
17.6 Enhance North-South, South-South and triangular regional and international cooperation on and access to science, technology and innovation and enhance knowledge sharing...
17.7 Promote the development, transfer, dissemination and diffusion of environmentally sound technologies to developing countries on favourable terms, including on concessional and preferential terms...
17.9 Enhance international support for implementing effective and targeted capacity-building in developing countries to support national plans to implement all the sustainable development goals, including through North-South, South-South and triangular cooperation
17.10 Promote a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system under the World Trade Organization
Systemic issues
Policy and institutional coherence
17.13 Enhance global macroeconomic stability, including through policy coordination and policy coherence
Multi-stakeholder partnerships
17.16 Enhance the global partnership for sustainable development, complemented by multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technology and financial resources...
17.17 Encourage and promote effective public, public-private and civil society partnerships, building on the experience and resourcing strategies of partnerships
Data, monitoring and accountability
17.18 By 2020, enhance capacity-building support to developing countries... to increase significantly the availability of high-quality, timely and reliable data disaggregated by income, gender, age, race, ethnicity, migratory status, disability, geographic location and other characteristics relevant in national contexts
17.19 By 2030, build on existing initiatives to develop measurements of progress on sustainable development that complement gross domestic product...


The 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals are the new framework for a just and sustainable world. While governments have a leading role, business can do many things to implement the SDGs. This set of positive goals can drive innovation, and businesses can partner with governments and civil society in meeting the goals. The unity of purpose represented by the 2030 Agenda can help to build unity in the whole community.


Ford, Liz. 2015. Sustainable development goals: all you need to know. The Guardian, 19 Jan 2015.…

Kharas, Homi. 2016. Changing views of how to change the world. Brookings Institution blog 10 March 2016.…

UN. 2014. "The Road to Dignity by 2030: Ending Poverty, Transforming All Lives and Protecting the Planet", Synthesis Report of the Secretary-General on the Post-2015 Agenda. Document A/69/700, 4 December 2014. New York: United Nations.

UN. 2015. Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Outcome document of the Summit for the adoption of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, New York, 25-27 September 2015. A/70/L.1. New York: United Nations.

Last updated 12 June 2016