According to a recent Oxfam report, just eight men have the same wealth as half the world’s population. In many places, inequality is growing and widening the gap between the richest and the poorest. Environmental degradation and natural resource depletion continue unabated, and man-made climate change is driving the world to the brink of catastrophe.
The challenges humanity is now facing are huge, but fortunately we don’t have to start from scratch. With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, governments have adopted a compelling vision with ambitious goals. Leadership and long term vision from every sector is needed if we are to successfully achieve our ambitions, and business has a key role to play in the response to these serious challenges. I would like to share my thoughts on how we can put to work the great resources at our disposal to create positive change in the world.
First, we have to make sure that business does not forget the poorest. As far-sighted corporations have long understood, this is neither about altruism nor charity. Doing good is good for business. By raising incomes and removing the barriers which trap people in poverty you are building the consumer base for your products and services tomorrow.
Second, we have to build alliances and partnerships to increase equitable growth and opportunity for all. Successful public-private partnerships need to be expanded and replicated across sectors. Smart corporate leaders are already embracing new technologies to deliver wider goals of sustainable development. They are building partnerships to create vital employment opportunities, particularly for youth and women.
Third, businesses need to ensure the decisions they make will deliver sustainable and ethical development. I urge businesses of all sizes to embed sustainable development in their marketing strategies, production processes and value chains. I am convinced that we are entering an era in which companies that are doing business responsibly and innovate around the SDGs and principles of the UN Global Compact will be the market leaders of tomorrow.
In no area is business action more needed than climate change. Millions of people suffer from air pollution, contaminated drinking water, degraded crop lands, and rising sea levels. As a Climate Champion for the World Bank, I keep emphasizing that climate change is not just a serious challenge, but also a huge opportunity for all industries to transition to a green economy. Let us be clear, there is no trade-off between economic growth on the one side and zero emissions strategies on the other side. They are compatible. An increasing number of companies are embracing renewable energy in a big way and are improving energy efficiency through technological innovations.
But more needs to be done.
I encourage companies and entrepreneurs to partner with universities and research institutes to develop energy-efficient buildings, smart transportation systems, and climate-friendly waste management solutions. Investors must assess the social and environmental impact of their investments to make the right and critical choices. The advertising and marketing sectors also have an important role to play given their significant influence over consumer choices.
I recognize that this is an ambitious agenda. There are many challenges to overcome, but I am confident that through leadership, partnership, and vision, positive change is possible. With the full engagement of the private sector, globalization can be harnessed into a process which ensures prosperity for all, while protecting our planet. So let us all start living up to this responsibility today and lay the foundation for a brighter tomorrow.
Kofi Annan | Former UN Secretary-General, Chair of the Kofi Annan Foundation
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