New goals, new targets

HBLF discussion in Budapest sheds light on newly adopted SDGs

October 21, 2014

HBLF1The Hungarian Business Leaders Forum (HBLF) organised a forum in Budapest to raise awareness of and promote discussion about the United Nations' new set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) and post-2015 agenda. The event took place during the afternoon of October 14, 2014 at the Budapest headquarters of KPMG, a world-leading tax and advisory services company.

HBLF board member Marta Szigeti Bonifert, also Executive Director of the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Easter Europe (REC), welcomed participants and introduced the following speakers and panelists: Anita Orban, Ambassador at Large for Security and Trade and the Hungarian Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade; Gabor Baranyai, Ministerial Commissioner for the Sustainable Use of Transboundary Natural Resources at the Hungarian Ministry of Justice; Janos Zlinszky, Senior Advisor to the Co-Chair of the Open Working Group, and Director of the REC-established Sustainable Development Academy; Istvan Szabo, Business Services Advisor, KPMG; Beata Stadler, Head of Delivery, Tata Consultancy Services, Analytics and Insights; and, Andrea Nagy, Communications manager, Nestle.

The two ministry representatives spoke first about the difficulties and challenges of achieving global consensus in climate negotiations, and also talked about Hungary's role in UN Open Working Group negotiations. Mr Zlinszky followed with a brief but detailed overview of the new SDGs, how they compare with earlier Millennium Develop Goals (MDGs), and how best to inspire shareholders to help achieve these goals. Mr Szabo led a concluding panel discussion with Ms Stadler and Ms Nagy on what how their respective companies are rising to meet the challenge of helping to meet global SDGs.

Gabor Baranyai, speaking first, provided some historical background to the UN negotiations and explained the role that Hungary played as co-chair during the difficult negotiations. "Given the different political groups and aspirations involved, you have to keep control of the proceedings in order to avoid a blow-up on day one. The first rule of diplomacy is that you have to wait until every can agree on something," he explained. Hungary, he continued, is to be commended for the peaceful manner in which it was able to facilitate discussion and help to deliver a tangible outcome-17 goals and a set of separate sub-targets. Baranjai also emphasised the role Hungary played in organising and hosting a major international event held in 2013-the Budapest Water Summit.

Anita Orban added to the preceding remarks by focusing mainly on SDGs as they relate to energy policy and use. "Surprisingly, the Millennium Development Goals had zero goals related to energy. And while the SDGs pertaining to energy are not legally binding, we hope that countries will be sufficiently motivated to achieve or even exceed them," she said. Orban pointed out that developed countries are also taking on greater levels of responsibility than in the past-that is, placing less of an onus on developing countries-while all countries are encouraged to utilise domestic resources as much as possible. She also spoke briefly on 'Sustainability for All', a Vienna-based initiative involving 70 member countries. Countries participating in the initiative are operating with clear targets and indicators, and work together to develop ways to make each target achievable and financeable, Orban concluded.

HBLF2During a presentation that included graphics to illustrate the human burden on Earth's regenerative capacity, Janos Zlinszky spelled out the key differences between the earlier MDGs and current SDGs. He then surveyed the role of stakeholders in SDG development before concluding with an outline of conditions necessary for SDG implementation. Zlinszky explained that the MDGs comprised a mostly social agenda, with the goal of "ensuring a sustainable environment" thrown in for good measure, though without any clear goals related to the global economy. One particular diagram, the so-called Oxfam Doughnut, was used to illustrate the disturbing fact that not a single country in the world exists fully within parameters that provide both a 'safe and just space for humanity' and demonstrate 'inclusive and sustainable economic development'. "Every country is either in the pit or over the cliff," said Zlinszky.

Zlinszky then pointed to the CEE region as an example for stakeholders of a region that has undergone thorough social and economic transformation within two-and-half decades. He added that targets can be better reached by first established criteria that are both evidence based and realistic. "There is reason for optimism," he said. "After 31 hours of deliberation, the Working Group was able to achieve consensus and produce a report with 31 themes, 21 focus areas and 16-plus-1 goals. The 16 goals pertain to the 'what', while the plus-1 pertains to the 'how'." The speaker included some other figures to argue, in essence, that "what big business wants, the world wants."

Istvan Szabo (KPMG) moderated the concluding panel discussion, which provided panellists Beata Stadler (Tata) and Andrea Nagy (Nestle) with an opportunity to demonstrate the levels of commitment and interest that their companies have in helping to meet the UN SDGs. Stadler claimed that Tata puts more than 60 percent of its profits into a charitable trust, promotes gender equality for its employees, and fully complies with India's new environmental and social regulatory regime. Nestle's Nagy explained how her company has three primary areas of focus where sustainability is concerned-namely water, nutrition and employment. Szabo added that KPMG offers a wide range of pro bono services in its 150 countries of operation, and highlighted its work in the Junior Achievement programme, which assists young entrepreneurs.

During the final question-and-answer period, some concern was expressed that the SDGs are overly general and simplistic. "Of course, what we've shown here represents just the tip of the iceberg of existing international obligations," Zlinszky summed up, "but we have to start somewhere, and this is best way. You can, however, get a much more detailed picture of these commitments by reading the entire text of the 'Report of the Open Working Group'."