The pandemic raises the stakes for the success of the SDGs – with the private sector crucial


During this Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), we hear a lot about how organizations, countries and individuals are stepping up their efforts to achieve Agenda 2030. Despite this, the reality is. that the pace of action has not been fast enough and that we are already far behind in achieving the global goals.

The countless tragic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic provide an additional layer of urgency. Yet true to human nature, attention has already been drawn to how, as a global community, we can chart a new course forward – with the ‘rebuild better’ mantra being very relevant from the perspective of progress on the SDGs.

Against this background and as Global Goals Week is underway, GRI analyzed the Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) presented by countries at this year’s UN High Level Political Forum. Every year since 2016, the GRI has been examining how Member States engage the private sector in SDG implementation, in particular to assess progress on SDG 12.6: to encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices and to integrate sustainable development reports. With each year a different set of countries submitting their VNRs, the analysis varies in terms of sample of political systems, economies and geographic representation, providing information over time on global trends.

Mixed messages on private sector engagement

A total of 42 countries achieved VNRs in 2021. Countries with informal and less regulated economies tended to find that they faced challenges tracking SDG progress, which were exacerbated by the pandemic.

Overall, 86% of reports analyzed recognize the need for private sector investment, which is more than double the level reached in 2020, possibly triggered by COVID-19, and 85% refer to private sector contributions to the SDGs. Even less encouraging, the number of countries consulting the private sector under the VNS has fallen to its lowest level since 2016, to 76% (from 87% last year).

There are, however, positive signs that governments and the private sector are collaborating more on the SDGs, with 83% referring to public-private partnerships (up from 54% in 2020). This harmonizes well with the rebuild together notion, something that GRI discussed at length during our HLPF event – The key role of innovative partnerships and transparency for the SDGs – which we co-hosted with Enel and the UNDP Business Call to Action.

Improve alignment of SDG priorities

What our findings show is that there is a clear understanding of the important role the private sector plays in achieving the 2030 Agenda. However, it is not enough that only three out of four countries engage the private sector in the process. of ENV. If we are to achieve the SDGs, we need open collaboration that brings together all parties – from analyzing problems to defining solutions, to implementation and reporting progress.

The interests of government and business are of course not always perfectly aligned. The role of the private sector for SDG 4 – Quality education, SDG 5 – Gender equality and SDG 7 – Affordable and clean energy, was most often mentioned in the NRVs. Yet, as the KPMG 2020 Sustainability Reporting Survey revealed, the highest priority SDGs by the private sector are SDG 8 – Decent work and economic growth, SDG 13 – Climate action and SDG 12 – Responsible consumption and production. This indicates that there may be a mismatch between SDG priorities and ownership, illustrating how important it is for all stakeholders to engage and align, in order to achieve impact and progress.

Examples to learn

We see a number of innovative digital initiatives in this space, identified by NRVs, which can serve as inspiration for others. For example, the success of the SDG Corporate Tracker in Colombia, a platform now used by 480 companies in the country that standardizes the collection of SDG-related data on the role of the private sector. The Initiative 2030 platform, aligned with GRI standards, makes it easier for companies to assess their contribution to the SDGs, fostering participation in the SDGs within Cypriot society through the involvement of all stakeholders.

At the same time, the analysis revealed new or strengthened regulations for the disclosure of non-financial information – as adopted in Indonesia and Sweden, as well as in stock exchanges in Malaysia, Thailand and Zimbabwe – resulting in an increase private sector sustainability reports.

Emerging importance of tax transparency

As a new element of the analysis, in 2021 we saw that 29% of NRVs referred to corporate taxation and tax reporting. Strong and efficient tax systems are needed to generate the resources needed to achieve the SDGs and promote inclusive economic growth, but, as noted in the opening episode of our new SDG podcast series: The Rising Tide, this remains a challenge. significant challenge.

A fair tax system is essential to achieving the 2030 agenda, and we look forward to monitoring progress on how this will be reflected in NRVs in the years to come. GRI 207: Tax 2019 – the first and only global standard for comprehensive tax reporting at country-by-country level – will play an important role in facilitating regional and global conversations on fair tax policies. After all, securing financing for sustainable development is the cornerstone of achieving the SDGs.

Accelerate the momentum

Through Agenda 2030, world leaders called on companies to apply their creativity and innovation to solve the challenges of sustainable development. Yet we also need companies to be transparent about how they are maximizing their positive impact on the SDGs. This is why governments must ensure that they bring businesses and other stakeholders into the operations room when it comes to developing and implementing their SDG plans as well as reviewing progress. .

Looking ahead, GRI will follow with keen interest the role the COVID-19 response plays in future NRVs. Will recognition of the challenges of sustainability see the number of country reports – and private sector engagement – increase? And can we, years from now, say that the pandemic has sparked increased action and collaboration on the SDGs? On both counts, there are opportunities in adversity that can and should be seized.

When you view the SDGs as the roadmap to a better world – a world free from poverty and hunger, with gender equality achieved, equitable economic growth and the environment protected – participating in their success shouldn’t be difficult. sell for anyone, be it governments, businesses or citizens. Inclusion and partnerships, at all levels, will be the key to their success. Let us remain positive that together we can achieve this sustainable future.



Tina Nybo Jensen is Head of International Policy at GRI. She leads the development, management and implementation of GRI’s sustainable development agenda, with a particular focus on the SDGs and engagement with multilateral organizations. She joined GRI in 2014 and previously worked with the GRI community, reporting services and governance relations.

Prior to GRI, Tina worked for the Danish Youth Red Cross in Jordan and the West Bank, as well as the Danish Embassy in Thailand. She holds a master’s degree in development and international relations (Aalborg University, Denmark) and in political science with specialization in environmental governance and international relations (Vrije University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands).


Global reporting initiative (GRI) is the independent international organization that helps businesses and other organizations take responsibility for their impacts, providing the global common language for reporting those impacts. GRI standards are developed through a multi-stakeholder process and provided as a free public good.


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