Insights: In Depth: What is going on with the SDGs?

Though we have made some progress, we are nowhere on track to meet the sustainable development goals (SDGs) by the 2030 deadline. How serious is this and what are the consequences on the world?

Pedro Pereira, Head of Climate Action and Responsible Innovation, SAP EMEA South, talked to Monaem Ben Lellahoum, Founding Partner and Group CEO, Sustainable Square, about the way forward and how integrating SDGs can provide business opportunities and societal impact.

    • Based on the latest 2020 Social Progress Index projections compiled by the non-profit Social Progress Imperative, if current global trends continue, we are unlikely to achieve the SDGs until at least 2082. The report also warns that when the coronavirus pandemic and its accompanying economic and social impacts are factored into the equation, SDG progress could be pushed back by another decade until 2092. This means that we are on track to miss the original 2030 target by an astonishing 62 years.[1]
    • The commitment to the sustainable development goals (SDGs) 2030 was made by 150 countries in 2015, as a collective agenda, with both big corporates and SMEs playing a critical role. After the complete failure of the millennium development goals (MDGs), the shift was made to move away from a CSR and philanthropic to a business and investment approach. These 17 goals are not to be just supported but seen and integrated as business opportunities that can generate financial returns as well as drive impact. The world is at an inflection point and it is critical that each goal is taken seriously as if they are 17 separate pandemics.
    • The COVID 19 pandemic has derailed the focus and progress of many of the SDGs, much of which was already behind target is now even further delayed. “The pandemic has halted, or reversed, years, or even decades of development progress,” said UN Under-Secretary-General Liu Zhenmin.[2]
    • The transition to a greener economy is delayed, there are more extremely poor people now estimated at 150 million in 2021, more domestic violence… and so we are almost back to start on some SDGs. “Global extreme poverty is expected to rise in 2020 for the first time in over 20 years as the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic compounds the forces of conflict and climate change, which were already slowing poverty reduction progress,” the World Bank said.[3]
    • However, the pandemic also revealed that we can be resilient, accelerate processes, and can catch up and move forward. We need unity and collaborations, shared data, analysis and information between governments and all stakeholders, and resolve to find solutions together. We will fail again if we don’t take stock and move quickly. We have a roadmap and structure to move forward. We need to accelerate the speed of the uptake of SDGs through a solid investment approach, no more support campaigns, but push to invest and deploy capital for solutions.
    • SMEs can better strategise on the products and services they provide to the big corporates that can contribute to an economic growth like we have never seen before. There is a shifting business model towards ‘social enterprises’ that is profitable by integrating SDGs. Impact investors need to support these more.
    • Today, SMEs need to adapt to a changing society where more long-term strategies are required, needs of larger corporates and consumers better understood, and become educated and aware that investors expect ROIs to reflect more than financial gains. Those that integrate SDGs will eventually be more competitive and resilient.
    • When larger corporates start seeing the value of collaborating and engaging the services of SMEs that are creating solutions through their supply chain and procurement, it will alleviate the entire business ecosystem.
    • In essence, business exists to solve problems, and if they don’t address this reality and expectation from consumers, then in the medium to long term, they will lose their license to operate. Today, no business can survive in isolation, and there is an interconnectedness that can’t be ignored anymore. Everyone is under pressure to make themselves relevant and must aim to solve societal problems which indirectly connect them to the SDGs, resulting towards a shared value approach.
    • Many multinationals have invested in SDGs, not just supporting, but profiting from their integration into their business strategies. They need to now help SMEs to do the same by helping them build capacity, share resources, technology, and know-how.
    • Governments around the world are coming up with new regulations that will force companies to rethink their supply chain, procurement and how they deliver their products. The circular economy pathway will become part of the legislation to help the economy to grow in a sustainable manner and create more accountability as well as business opportunities.
    • Investors now are doing more due diligence with a 360-degree reviews to determine the non-financial health of companies, pushing for ESG metrics to be integrated into business accountability. All industries are beginning to see a clear business case in implementing ESG and SDGs for long term survival, growth and acceptability by investors and consumers.  Oil resource countries will also need to have a clear path to renewable energy transition with increasing investor and global legislation pressures.
    • The prospect of less inclusive growth is a clear reversal from previous trends. Shared prosperity increased in 74 of 91 economies for which data was available in the period 2012-2017, meaning that growth was inclusive and the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of the population grew. In 53 of those countries, growth benefited the poorest more than the entire population. Average global shared prosperity (growth in the incomes of the bottom 40 percent) was 2.3 percent for 2012-2017. This suggests that without policy actions, the COVID-19 crisis may trigger cycles of higher income inequality, lower social mobility among the vulnerable, and lower resilience to future shocks.[4]
    • Reigniting the global goals demands a concerted public-private commitment. We have a roadmap and many great incentives that had begun before the pandemic, need to be accelerated. “The COVID-19 crisis demonstrated inspiring community resilience, highlighted the Herculean work by essential workers in myriad fields and facilitated the rapid expansion of social protection, the acceleration of digital transformation and unprecedented worldwide collaboration on the development of vaccines,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.[5]A brighter future is possible. We must use the crisis to transform our world, deliver on the 2030 Agenda and keep our promise to current and future generations.[6]
    • The Capital Club Dubai is launching the Sustainability Action Society (SAS), a platform where business finds and implements innovative solutions to sustainability issues. It aims to be a collaborative and informative community who will share experiences and exchange knowledge; and attract, engage, and connect people in the business community who are working in sustainability related issues.

[1] Global Goals 60 Year Delay: SDGs Won’t Be Achieved Until 2092, New Index Predicts (

The index represents the world’s most comprehensive measure of countries’ social and environmental performance independent of economic factors, capturing the outcomes related to all 17 Global Goals by aggregating 50 indicators from 163 countries.[1]

[2] UN SDGs under threat as poverty and inequality rise | World Economic Forum (

[3] COVID-19 to Add as Many as 150 Million Extreme Poor by 2021 (

[4] Ibid.

[5] UN SDGs under threat as poverty and inequality rise | World Economic Forum (

[6] Ibid.