Last week, the United Nations convened the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development under the Auspices of the General Assembly, or SDG Summit. The SDG Summit was organized as the mid-point of the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and as an important opportunity to accelerate global efforts.
The SDG Summit centered around the adoption of a political declaration, which focused on a call to action of 34 global commitments to support achieving the SDGs by 2030. The political declaration, as reflected in the tone of the SDG Summit itself, expressed optimism about the prospect of achieving the SDGs on the 2030 timeline. At the same time, frustration with the lack of progress to date was a frequent theme of speakers’ remarks. High-profile speakers repeatedly cited the fact that only 15% of SDG targets are currently on track to be achieved.
The Political Declaration
Among the 34 commitments, several jump out as particularly relevant to IFAC and our global priorities. Gender equality, access to education, climate action and digitalization all feature in the call to action. The issues of “SDG data” and anti-corruption, however, warrant particular attention.
Commitment 38(r) on ESG Data
We pledge to take action to strengthen international, national and local data systems efforts to collect high quality, timely, relevant, disaggregated and reliable data on SDG progress and to intensify efforts to strengthen data and statistical capacities in developing countries. We will continue to strengthen our efforts to collect, analyse and disseminate relevant, reliable and disaggregated data for better monitoring and policymaking to accelerate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda. We commit to increasing the availability of SDG data and closing SDG data gaps at all levels, increasing financing for data and statistics, and enhancing capacity building support to developing countries.
Commitment 38(vi) on Fighting Corruption and Economic Crime
We recommit to preventing and combating illicit financial flows and strengthening international cooperation and good practices on assets return and recovery. We reaffirm our commitment to strive to eliminate safe havens that create incentives for the transfer abroad of stolen assets and illicit financial flows. We will implement our obligations to prevent and combat corruption, bribery and money laundering in all their forms enshrined in the existing international architecture, in particular in those prescribed in the United Nations Convention Against Corruption and the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime.
These two commitments align with IFAC’s extensive policy work in the sustainability reporting and assurance space, as well as our work under the Anti-Corruption Action Plan, discussed in greater detail below.
The SDG Summit
The SDG Summit featured a long list of highest-level global leaders reflecting on the political declaration, the current state of progress in SDG implementation, and thoughts for the way forward.
The opening speakers, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and Paula Narvaez, Vice President of UN Economic and Social Council of NGOs, began by setting the theme of optimism vs. disappointment, with Narvaez warning that, “this week should serve as a turning point for rescuing the SDGs. We cannot let this opportunity slip away.” (translated from Spanish)
Further interventions frequently referenced the poly-crisis of the global pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the climate emergency, as the context of the political declaration. SDG financing, and particularly international public and private finance, emerged as a clear priority, with the leaders of the World Bank, African Union, CARICOM, and the European Union all highlighting its importance in SDG implementation.
Specifically, speakers promoted access to finance for developing countries on longer timeframes, with more amenable terms, for sustainable development-related projects. World Bank President Ajay Banga, reflecting on his first 100 days in office, spoke extensively on the need to reconfigure the global approach to development financing to have a sustainability focus.
Looking forward, there are key next steps for the United Nations in the coming months. In November and December 2023, the UN will host the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties 28 (COP28) and the United Nations Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) Conference of States Parties 10 (CoSP10). Both will serve as opportunities to advance the global commitments on climate change, improving ESG data, fighting corruption and illicit financial flows.
IFAC and the SDGs
IFAC has supported the UN 2030 Agenda since its inception in 2015, and has been a strong advocate for the accountancy profession’s role in enabling the SDGs. Starting in 2016 with The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: A Snapshot of the Accountancy Profession's Contribution, which provided an initial snapshot of the accountancy profession’s contribution to achieving the SDGs, IFAC’s engagement with the 2030 Agenda has continued to grow.
In the years since, IFAC began directly integrating the UN SDGs into our Strategic Plan. In its current version, IFAC’s Strategic Plan connects the IFAC IMPACT Approach with the profession’s contributions to eight of the 17 SDGs. This is reflected in IFAC’s recent activities in a number of areas.
- Climate Action—IFAC continues to lead the global accountancy profession on the profession’s role in climate action, with recent work on Enhancing Greenhouse Gas Reporting and our engagement in New York Climate Week. IFAC has also been accepted as an official observer at the UNFCCC CoP28 in Dubai. At the same time, IFAC has begun reviewing our carbon footprint and proposed a 2030 science-based emissions reductions target.
- Sustainability—IFAC continues our advocacy in support of a global system for how companies report high-quality sustainability information that builds on the International Sustainability Standards Board’s (ISSB) comprehensive global baseline of disclosure requirements and for bringing trust and confidence to this information through high-quality, independent assurance. Our recently released The State of Play Beyond the G20: Sustainability Disclosure and Assurance in 20 More Jurisdictions expands IFAC’s flagship benchmarking research to include a more globally representative sample of jurisdictions. In addition, the public sector’s importance in driving action on sustainability issues cannot be overstated, and governments need ways to measure and report how they are addressing sustainability challenges. This is reflected in IFAC’s support for the IPSASB initiative to develop high-quality, global sustainability reporting standards for the public sector.
- Anti-Corruption and Economic Crime—IFAC continues to implement its Action Plan for Fighting Corruption and Economic Crime, which looks to lead the global accountancy profession as a key partner in the fight against corruption. IFAC’s recently published Global Fight, Local Actions: Anti-Corruption Advocacy Workbook for PAOs encourages PAOs to be leaders in their jurisdictions on anti-corruption issues, and the 2023 Public Trust in Tax survey provides new data on the relationship between corruption and public attitudes towards tax. IFAC also looks to build off its participation in UNCAC CoSP9 in 2021 as an official observer at UNCAC CoSP10 later this year. IFAC has also expressed its support for the “Zero Corruption” 18th SDG Campaign, led by the Business at OECD Anti-Corruption Committee.
- Education—IFAC continues to expand our activities under the new approach to accountancy education since its launch in 2019. The IFAC International Panel on Accountancy Education works with IFAC staff to maintain and update the International Education Standards, which provide a global baseline for accountancy qualifications and continuing professional development. This includes ongoing consideration of the need for standards revision in response to sustainability reporting and assurance. IFAC regularly convenes accountancy education stakeholders for knowledge sharing events (including its upcoming EdExchange Summit "Integrity in a Transforming World") and publishes much of the content from these events on its EdExchange web page. Outside of the profession, IFAC continues to advance our activities in financial literacy, including support of IOSCO’s World Investor Week.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I)— IFAC is leading the global profession on gender diversity with our third female president currently chairing a diverse, majority female IFAC Board. To further champion this issue throughout 2023, IFAC has been running a series of interviews under the banner Women Take the Lead: Get to Know Accounting's Changemakers, featuring inspirational women with diverse roles and backgrounds. Activities like these reaffirm IFAC’s positions from our point of view, Embracing a People-Centered Profession, where we express our support for SDG 5 to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls.
The activities listed above represent only a small sample of IFAC’s recent work in support of the SDGs and the 2030 Agenda. IFAC supports the United Nations raising its ambition to achieve the SDGs and is committed to leading the global accountancy profession to continually accelerate its contributions. We look forward to working with our member bodies, the Forum of Firms, and global, regional and local stakeholders, as a key partner and enabler of the SDGs.