By Adnan Amin, Manish Bapna, Alicia Barcena, Céline Charveriat, Connie Hedegaard, Yolanda Kakabadse Navarro, Johan Kuylenstierna, Pascal Lamy, Julia Marton-Lefèvre, Valli Moosa, Aromar Revi, Teresa Ribera, Juan Somavia, Nicholas Stern, Laurence Tubiana, Klaus Töpfer, Veerle Vandeweerd and Michael Zammit Cutajar

Source: Originally published in Le Monde (in French). Translation by SEI.

With the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in New York and the Paris Agreement on climate change, 2015 saw remarkable progress in multilateral cooperation for sustainable development, and this despite a geopolitical context marked by distrust between major world powers; slow progress by the international community, particularly in negotiations on trade; open or latent conflicts in many regions; the migration crisis; and terrorism. This development, on the face of it paradoxical, is in fact not surprising: after the economic and financial crisis of 2008, the return to previous levels of growth is far from certain. In this volatile environment, sustainable development is a strategic opportunity to reinvigorate the global economy and strengthen international cooperation.

To build on this exceptional momentum, we must make the move quickly from commitments to implementation: time is running out. This requires defining how, collectively and individually, to decarbonize our economies, to transform our food systems, to protect the essential services provided by nature, and to ensure decent work and social protection for all.

There are three major challenges that must be tackled: reallocating investment and changing our consumption patterns in order to reorient our economies; making reduction of inequalities a central objective; and translating international commitments into strategies and political action at national level. We have made these three challenges the starting point of the “Sustainable Development Conference: It’s Time!” If it is primarily for national governments, this action plan also concerns local authorities, businesses and civil society.

Convergence and coordination, both crucial to reallocating investment

Finance has long been identified as one of the major challenges of the transition; for example, the transformation of energy systems requires about 5% of global investment capital. It is not only about mobilizing more resources but also redirecting financial flows to infrastructure, urban development, and sustainable services and innovation. For investors to see this reorientation as inevitable, new policy signals are essential; for example, in the area of climate, enhanced financial risk disclosure obligations, better coordination of carbon prices, and the rapid operationalization of the Green Climate Fund. Forums such as the G20 should commit to a timetable for achieving coherence in matters of sustainable finance.

Some of the most crucial developments are led by broad innovation coalitions between public and private actors (like Mission Innovation, the Breakthrough Energy Coalition and the Solar Alliance). These allow the channeling and concentration of resources, and must now go beyond this to promote convergence between governments on policy instruments, markets, and norms and rules of trade that will steer innovation trajectories.

Placing social issues and reducing inequalities at the heart of the transition

If the reallocation of investment likely will not pose major problems from a macroeconomic point of view, it might have impacts on regions, business and workers specialized in certain sectors that will need to transform, such as food and energy. These negative consequences should be carefully prepared for and managed, particularly through measures to support employment and other investment programmes in the regions affected. For example, in the wake of the Paris Agreement, the Low Emissions Development Strategies governments are developing should include a section identifying measures to guarantee an equitable transition and the involvement of all stakeholders in the local economy.

More generally, reducing economic and gender inequality is now a core priority of the Sustainable Development Goals, along with access for the poor to basic services (water, food, health, energy). It is simultaneously a new challenge and a prerequisite for success, without which the transition will fail. Building on accumulated experience, policy-makers must integrate the risk of negative impacts from environmental policies and develop instruments that ensure fair distribution of both the benefits and the costs of the transition. Equally, the time has come for a concerted international response to help those populations most vulnerable to environmental degradation.

Embed the 2015 commitments in national strategies and debates

It is up to governments to translate the commitments made in 2015 into national policies and communicate them to stakeholders and the citizens of each country. These commitments must be at the heart of political action, not only by environment or development ministers but by all those who have a direct influence on the economy and finance – as well as the heads of state and government – to ensure that policies are coherent. All national stakeholders must join the debate to define the sequence in which actions will be taken. Mobilizing the media, political parties and civil society will also be essential in order for leaders to keep their promises.

Monitoring of progress, led by the United Nations and other intergovernmental processes, but supplemented by the efforts of civil society and think tanks, will be critical to ensure that the governments and private actors are accountable for their commitments and that they share their experiences to generate mutual learning and reinforce ambitions.

Reallocation of investments, social justice and national translation of international commitments: these three challenges define the roadmap of the international community for the coming years. It’s time for action!