The UN's High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is a permanent fixture on the international agenda, but this year it has taken on even greater importance. This is in preparation for the SDG Summit, on 24 and 25 September and the preceding event, the Climate Action Summit on 23 September, which will also take place in New York. UN Secretary-General António Guterres felt that the summit was necessary in order to bring governments, the private sector and civil society together to add vital impetus to the fight against climate change.
The week of HLPF meetings is the UN's key annual event on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Each year, under the auspices of the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), it brings together government, private sector and civil society representatives to discuss progress on the 2030 Agenda and the obstacles which must be overcome. This is with the aim of sharing lessons learned and proposing new approaches to achieving the objectives. It was held at the UN Headquarters in New York from 9 to 18 July and addressed the theme of “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality.” It also conducted an in-depth review of the progress of six SDGs: SDG 4 (“Quality education”), SDG 8 (“Decent work and economic growth”), SDG 10 (“Reduced inequalities”), SDG 13 (“Climate action”), SDG 16 (“Peace, justice and strong institutions”), and SDG 17 (“Partnerships for the goals”).
The Sustainable Development Goals: at what point are we?
The “Sustainable Development Goals Report 2019” was presented during the summit, the objective of which was to establish whether the work done so far had been useful in terms of achieving the SDGs and how much work is still left to do. The document presented a mixed picture: while significant progress has been made in some areas, monumental challenges still remain. For example, the mortality rate for children under the age of five fell by 49% between 2000 and 2017, and the percentage of people living in extreme poverty fell to 8.6%, from 36% in 1990 and 10% in 2015. In spite these figures, continuing at this rate will result in the objective not being met: it's estimated that it will fall to 6% by 2030, as opposed to the original target of zero. Another negative result is provided by the number of undernourished people: following a long period of falling numbers, they are on the rise again; from 784 million people in 2015 to 821 million in 2017. Then there's the critical issue of increased inequality, both between countries in the same geographical area as well as within individual countries.
From an environmental perspective, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere further increased between 2015 and 2017, reaching 146% of pre-industrial levels. The effects of climate change are becoming more evident: the last four years have been the hottest on record. With respect to the seas and oceans, on the one hand the number of marine protected areas has doubled since 2010, but on the other ocean acidification continues to worsen, putting marine ecosystems at risk and therefore threatening food security.
In the foreword António Guterres wrote: “It is abundantly clear that a far deeper, faster and more ambitious response is needed to unleash the social and economic transformation needed to achieve our 2030 goals,” and this report offers a road map.
Enel's involvement in the New York summit focused on the events dedicated to the private sector, primarily organised by UN Global Compact for which we have fulfilled the role of LEAD company since 2004, while our CEO Francesco Starace was re-nominated to the Board for a second term (2018-2021). In particular, we took part in a number of in-person Action Platform meetings on Peace, Justice & Strong Institutions, on Reporting on the SDGs and, above all, on Sustainable Finance. We are a patron supporter of the latter, and we are consolidating our leadership role both in this and in innovative solutions for funding the SDGs.
Climate change and workers' rights: Enel's pledges to the UN
In recent days, we have signed two formal explicit pledges to the United Nations, reinforcing our Group's sustainability commitment to the UN. The first (Business Ambition for 1.5°C) is on the subject of climate change: we are the only Italian company among the 28 signatories that are committed to limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5 °C with respect to pre-industrial levels, and to achieving zero emissions by 2050. This initiative is in response to a call to action launched by the United Nations ahead of September's Climate Action Summit, in which our CEO will also be taking part.
The second (Just transition & green, decent jobs) is the commitment to a just transition, to respecting the four international standards for our Group's employees and to ensuring the Group employs suppliers that comply with those standards:
- social dialogue with workers and their unions;
- respecting workers' rights (including those regarding safety) on the basis of the indications set out by the International Labour Organization (ILO);
- social protection, including pensions and health care;
- wage guarantees, also in line with the ILO directives.
Sustainable development, the September summit
From a UN perspective, what's going to happen in the coming months with regards to sustainable development? All eyes will be on the September summit in New York. The 2030 Agenda provides for an event to take place at country leader level every four years, and this edition of the HLPF has laid the groundwork for that. Indeed, on 24 and 25 September, four years after the launch of the SDGs, the first SDG Summit will be held under the auspices of the United Nations General Assembly. This will be preceded, the day before, by the much awaited Climate Action Summit, which Guterres hopes will be “an opportunity to get the world back on track.” Stay tuned.