‘We Can Transform the World’, Secretary-General Tells Business Leaders at Panama Summit

10 April 2015

‘We Can Transform the World’, Secretary-General Tells Business Leaders at Panama Summit

Following are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon´s remarks at the CEO Summit of the Americas under the theme, “Working Together:  Public-Private Partnership for Sustainable Development”, in Panama City today:

I am pleased to be with you at a meeting of this stature.  It is fitting that we meet in a country that acts as a bridge between two continents and provides a passage between two oceans.  For this is the year when we hope to see the completion of a bridge to a life of prosperity, equity and dignity for all, where the needs of people and planet are balanced.

Last month, I was in Sendai, Japan, for the United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction.  In July, the United Nations will host the third International Conference on Financing for Development, in Addis Ababa.  In September, the UN will celebrate the seventieth anniversary of its founding.  UN Headquarters will host a special summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda.  And, in December, the world should finalize a meaningful universal climate change agreement in Paris.

Business has a key role in the success of all these forums and the implementation of their outcomes.  The new global development agenda and the battle against climate change will need resources, technology and capacity.  Private sources and partnerships will be crucial.

At the dawn of this century, when the Millennium Development Goals were instituted, the United Nations introduced the notion of a global compact between business and society.  Over 15 years, the Global Compact has shown that when you engage business and all key players on issues of common importance, progress can be made.

Across the United Nations, our Organization is now increasingly working in partnership with business on a daily basis.  For example, there are the Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate and Caring for Climate initiatives, launched voluntarily by business leaders.  At last year’s Climate Summit, leaders from business and finance announced commitments to reduce emissions and promote green growth.

The United Nations’ Global Pulse initiative has already created successful partnerships with mobile network operators and social media companies to leverage big data to improve humanitarian response in Mexico, gain insights on public concerns about policy changes in El Salvador, and measure HIV and AIDS awareness in Brazil.  And public-private partnerships are helping support my Zero Hunger challenge.

Many of you here today are our active partners and I appreciate your strong leadership and support to United Nations initiatives.  Around the world, business and investors are growing to recognize that business health and the health of societies is intertwined.

We see corporate responsibility initiatives and standards increasing nationally and globally.  We see major investors moving away from fossil fuels.  We see multinationals raising their minimum wage.  Social and environmental responsibility is becoming mainstream, and is increasingly a standard part of strategic corporate practice.  This is changing markets from within — and for the better.

We have to build on this momentum, and bring on board those companies still doing business that puts profit before progress.  This is the year to do it.  This is a year of global action.  For, as the subject of this Summit implies, inequality is far too pronounced in this world.  Prosperity and equity are out of reach for far too many people.  And our environment is suffering.

But it need not be this way.  With business support for implementing the sustainable development goals, we can transform our world.  Our Global Compact now has over 8,000 companies and 4,000 non-business organizations participating, with local networks in 86 countries — including many in Latin America.  We have global action platforms on many of the issues on the agenda today.

Business is proving the enormous power of collaboration.  It is increasingly showing a willingness to be part of the solution to tackling global challenges — from women’s and children’s health to sustainable energy and climate change; from gender equality to peaceful, accountable societies.

In preparing for a new set of sustainable development goals, the Global Compact has marshalled the viewpoints of responsible business.  Over 1,000 companies gave us input on global challenges and solutions.  They made it clear that they are energized by the prospect of a new set of world priorities and by efforts to engage the private sector in implementing the SDGs [sustainable development goals].

Many of these business consultations were held here in Latin America with companies in Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Nicaragua leading the way.  We have seen that the bottom-up approach to building national consensus on the SDGs is especially strong in this region.

I thank all the business leaders here today who are already working hard within your companies to be socially and environmentally responsible and collaborating with others to realize a more sustainable future.  I ask for your help in making 2015 a historic year.

Four steps are crucially important.  First, we need companies to help communicate and support the sustainable development goals.  Your outreach and advocacy machinery can have a powerful multiplying effect.  The sustainable development goals will be a universal blueprint for the future we want, to which we can all subscribe.

Second is implementation.  The call is out for scalable partnership models.  But the most significant progress will come when companies integrate the goals into business strategies, research and development and new product development.

Third, we need to mobilize financing.  I appeal to investors to participate in the Addis Conference on Financing for Development, which will showcase a wealth of opportunities.  Participate and invest in a sustainable future.

Fourth, we need business help to reach a meaningful universal agreement on climate action in Paris.  Private sector advocacy can make a real difference in advancing well-functioning carbon markets.  Business can steer Governments to support smart regulatory policies and emissions reduction targets that are in line with science.

The world needs companies and investors everywhere to do their part in meeting the needs of people today while transforming our prospects for tomorrow.  Let us be ambitious and let us work together.  I look to each of you to help us make 2015 the year of global action.

For information media. Not an official record.