Concerted effort needed to meet SDGs, panel says

01 December 2020

All countries must work together in order to meet the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), speakers agreed during today's plenary session of the Global Impact Conference - Energy for Impact. However, progress on meeting those goals is said to have been put back by up to 15 years by the COVID-19 pandemic.

OECD-NEA Director-General William Magwood speaking in today's plenary

Speaking during the plenary session - titled Sustainable Development: where are we now? - Paul Polman, co-founder and chair of social venture IMAGINE, noted the SDGs were developed in 2015 as a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs focused on halving the number of people living in poverty. "And lo and behold, we actually achieved that," he said. "The SDGs are here to finish the job."

Polman added, "If anything, the COVID pandemic has reaffirmed the SDGs and their relevance. It has become the most important agenda ... COVID has certainly shown us some lessons. First and foremost it is the biggest crisis we have ever seen and many call it the 'Great Reverser', with growth going down 4.0-4.5% this year, putting us back on the SDGs probably by 10-15 years." If we are to meet any of the goals, we must address all of them, and this requires that all parts of society work together,he said. "Multinationalism is vital. Pandemics and climate change are global issues that know no borders."

OECD Nuclear Energy Agency Director-General William Magwood said the future is about electricity. "My view is that the SDGs can be achieved if we provide for expanded use of electric energy around the world." Electricity, he said, is important in meeting many of the goals. "As our societies progress together, the availability of reliable, cost-effective electricity will be key. We have to find a way to provide that electricity without harming the environment. I do believe that electricity from nuclear power, as well as from renewables, can be the source of that electricity."

Alexey Likhachov, director general of Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom, one of the partners in the conference, said the challenges the world faces today "set new and much higher demands on state institutions, international organisations and companies. Business is vital in shaping our world and our legacy for future generations".

He highlighted the three most relevant challenges the world faces. First, environment and climate change, with the need to decrease greenhouse gas emissions now important for all spheres of human life - manufacturing, transport and especially power generation. Second, the rapid advancement of technology. "The industrial and agricultural revolutions took two centuries from technology development to global adoption. But the digital era changed the world in only a couple of decades. The pandemic has also showcased its role." He said the third challenge is quarterly capitalism, based on short-term use or financial profit or loss. "The trend of consumers waiting with their wallets is creating new ethical business models, forcing companies to improve their impact on the environment and society."

He added: "We understand what our responses to these challenges should be. They are largely reflected in the UN SDGs, adopted five years ago. Promoting these goals is part-and-parcel of Rosatom's strategy, the essential prerequisite of our work." Rosatom's businesses - from nuclear power generation to wind power generation, digital and environmental protection products - focus on "substantial improvement in quality of life and the creation of sustainable cities and communities, supporting peace, justice and strong institutions".

A further "often under-estimated" challenge is the skills gap, which is "comparable with the climate change emergency in its scale", he said. The response to this challenge, he said, requires shared action from the global community.

The two-day Global Impact Conference is being held as part of the celebration of the United Nations 75th anniversary and the 75th anniversary of the Russian nuclear industry.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News