15 June 2021

‘Embrace Transformational Change’ to Recover from Pandemic, Achieve Sustainable Development, Secretary-General Urges Business Leaders at Summit

Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks to the United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit, held today: 

I am pleased to greet the 2021 United Nations Global Compact Leaders Summit.  This is a unique opportunity for business leaders and their partners in Government, civil society and here at the United Nations to engage in a crucial global conversation at a crucial time. 

The impressive agenda focuses on how all of us can work together to build more inclusive economies and societies.  Making that vision a reality will require an unprecedented degree of ambition and collective action, because we face unprecedented challenges. 

Our world has changed profoundly in the past year.  COVID-19 has taken a tragic toll in human lives and suffering.  Despite almost miraculous achievements in vaccine development, the pandemic is far from over.  To date, vaccine distribution has been grossly inequitable.  And the economic impact of the COVID19 crisis has been brutal. 

Because of this crisis, much of the world’s progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals is at grave risk.  But, even before the pandemic, we were not moving at the speed or scale required to achieve our Sustainable Development Goals targets by 2030. 

Consider where the world stood at the beginning of last year:  Some 700 million people still living in extreme poverty.  The gender pay gap closing at a glacial pace.  Workers’ rights and decent working conditions a distant dream in vast segments of global industry.  Corruption undermining public trust and economic and social development.  And the planet hurtling towards climate catastrophe — as it still is. 

COVID-19 did not cause these problems.  But, it has exposed them for all to see, highlighting the fragility of our systems and the inequality in our societies. 

Only through global cooperation at an unprecedented level can we build back from the pandemic, get on track to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and avert the worst impacts of climate change. 

Business has a central role to play.  Your efforts and leadership can lift the entire world.  But, you need to embrace transformational change.  In every sector, a much deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic changes demanded by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement on climate change. 

The Ten Principles of the United Nations Global Compact are a blueprint for such a response in support of human rights, labour, the environment and the fight against corruption.  And the Global Compact’s new strategy through to 2023 provides a bold, actionable plan for business transformation. 

Our strategy outlines key actions to scale up your impact on the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris climate agreement.  It calls for enhanced corporate accountability, including accountability for cutting carbon emissions in line with a pathway to net-zero by mid-century.  Every country, city, business and financial institution needs to be fully aligned with the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. 

The strategy also envisions regionally balanced growth of the Global Compact network.  It enables greater flexibility for business action at the local level, with companies adapting to each country’s unique context.  It seeks to harness the energy of small and medium-sized enterprises, the foundation of our economies.  And it promotes stronger business engagement with United Nations partners, including partnerships to finance the 2030 Agenda. 

Financing is an indispensable ingredient for success in matching our ambition with real-world outcomes.  And yet, a wide gap persists between investments and the amount of capital needed to achieve the global goals. 

To help bridge the gap, the United Nations Global Compact has issued a set of Principles for Integrated Sustainable Development Goals Finance and Investment, developed in partnership with chief financial officers from major corporations.  After all, investors and financial institutions have a stake in a sustainable, stable future, too. 

Taken together, all these strategic shifts provide critical opportunities for the Global Compact and the international business community at a decisive time.  As we consider a post-pandemic future, there are two roads before us.  One leads back to business as usual and an uncertain fate for people and the planet.  The other leads forwards to an inclusive, green recovery.  Let us choose wisely at this Leaders Summit and move forward, united in ambition and collective action for a world where no one is left behind. 

For information media. Not an official record.