Into the Decade of Action

Into the Decade of Action

Not on track to meet the 2030 deadline

As we were launching into the UN Decade of Action, it was with the acute awareness that we were not on track to meet the 2030 deadline to transform our world. Progress had been made in some areas: Extreme poverty and child mortality had been reduced by half[1]; access to electricity in the least developed countries had doubled[2]. Economies had bounced back to the levels recorded before the 2008 financial crisis, with increased labour productivity and employment rates[3]. The underlying trend was worrying though. Because social inequalities were widening for more than 70 per cent of the global population[4], exacerbating the risks of divisions and hampering economic and social development. Growth and rising employment were largely carried by low-paid, low quality and low security jobs[5], with more than half the world’s population – 4 billion people – not covered by any social safety net[6]. Worst impacted were women: According to the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Gender Gap Report[7], it would take 257 years to achieve economic gender parity – or ten generations of women.

At the same time, global warming and overconsumption continued to test the limits of the Earth’s natural resources, threatening the health, wellbeing and livelihoods for millions of people. The World Health Organization called out that air pollution alone already caused 7 million deaths annually[8] and global hunger was on the rise again due to climate change[9].  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a special report warning of the implications of global warming beyond 1.5 °C over pre-industrial levels, cautioning that the difference between 2 °C and 1.5 °C could be a matter of life and death for millions of people[10].

COVID-19 exposed the fragile nature of progress towards the SDGs

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic. As the coronavirus is sweeping across the world, the fragile nature of our progress has been exposed. The hard truth is that our failure to create a more socially just world before COVID-19 has significantly worsened the current crisis and will hamper our ability to recover faster as a global community.

The virus has sent shockwaves through the global economy, deteriorating already serious inequalities. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the ‘Great Lock-Down’ recession could shrink the global economy by more than 3 per cent[11], and according to the World Bank, the pandemic could push about 49 million people into extreme poverty in 2020[12], reversing two decades of poverty reduction. At the end of the second quarter of 2020, the equivalent of 305 million full time jobs had been lost, with ILO warning that about 1.6 billion people in the informal sector could be at high risk of losing their jobs due to COVID-19[13]. Many of them will be women living at the brink of extreme poverty without any rights or social protection.

As we come together to rebuild our economies from this unprecedented crisis, we must draw from the most important lessons from COVID-19: That the human community is completely interconnected and interdependent; that without solidarity, especially with those most vulnerable among us, we all lose; and that cross-border challenges such as COVID-19 call for a coordinated multilateral response that unites all sectors – public and private – around a shared set of values and principles.

Recovery starts by rebuilding trust in business

The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer[14] showed that a growing sense of unfairness in the system was driving distrust across institutions. And in May, a special COVID-19 update of the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer[15] showed that 67 percent of respondents believed that COVID-19 exacerbated these inequalities. However, while trust in institutions grew during the pandemic, wide-held disappointment was voiced in business and its leaders: Half of all people felt that business failed at putting people before profits; and more than 60% felt that business failed at protecting their employees’ financial wellbeing and safeguarding their jobs, as well as helping their smaller suppliers or business costumers stay financially afloat.  Fewer than one in three respondents believed CEOs did a good job in responding to demands on them placed by the pandemic.

Despite the twin health and economic crises, people are, however, strikingly optimistic that long-term, positive change will emerge. More than two-thirds of respondents say they believe the pandemic will result in valuable innovations and improvements in how we work, live, and treat each other, and they are calling for partnerships between Government and business to pave the way forward.

The road to socio-economic recovery is sustainable

Boston Consulting Group recently conducted a survey showing that 92% of mainstream investors, in the COVID-19 crisis, would put companies’ economic recovery before Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) commitments[16]. But that’s an entirely flawed logic – economic recovery and sustainable development are not opposites. Indeed, companies with higher ESG scores fared financially better during the COVID-19 crisis[17], and will continue to do so as we set out to recover better.

Right now trillions of dollars are being infused into the recovery of some the world’s largest economies and to support developing economies in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Simultaneously, business across sectors, sizes and geographies are revisiting their strategies and business plans to recover lost territory and adapt to a new normal. There has never been a better time to jumpstart a worldwide transformation towards a more inclusive and sustainable net-zero economy that will enable us to recover better and more resilient.

Ambitious climate action could unleash an economic upside of $26 trillion and create 65 million climate resilient jobs towards 2030[18]. And according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), a decarbonisation path could creative massive socio-economic gains, generating savings of between US$ 50 trillion to US$ 142 trillion by 2050, quadrupling renewable energy jobs to 42 million and add tens of millions more jobs in related sectors, while at the same time producing a 13.5% rise in global welfare indicators such as health and education[19].

The state of progress among UN Global Compact participants

The 2020 UN Global Compact annual survey provides a baseline for how business across all sectors can ramp up efforts towards a new sustainable normal.

While 84% of UNGC business participants take some form of action on the SDGs, goal setting and impact are not ambitious enough: Only 39% of businesses are setting goals that are sufficiently ambitious, science based and aligned with societal needs, and only 46% have aligned the Goals with their core business.

And while 90% of companies have policies covering all of the Ten Principles of the UN Global Compact, only 26% assess their risks against the Principles, and even fewer – 18% – assess their impact. Among the companies that conduct impact assessments, the social areas are trailing behind, with only 18% conducting impact assessments within Human Rights, and 29% within Labour.

Companies have become better at tracking progress from their SDG actions (45% up from 40% in 2019), with a majority of companies covering SDGs targeting health (SDG 3), gender (SDG 5), decent work (SDG 8), responsible consumption (SDG 12), and climate action (SDG 13). Companies have also become better at integrating the SDGs into their operations (57% vs 41% in 2019), with 61% aligning their products and services with the Goals. However, it is also true that the vast majority of businesses maintain a narrow focus on – mainly the positive – impacts of their own operations on the SDGs. Only 31% are actively assessing their negative impacts on the SDGs, and only 13% of companies act through their suppliers, while even fewer – 10% – consider the use of their products as a SDG responsibility.

According to the UNGC annual survey, fewer companies drive advocacy for the Goals – 35% in 2020 vs 53% in 2019, and fewer work through partnerships – 52% in 2020 vs 64% in 2019.

COVID-19 calls for a new normal

Many businesses right now are fighting for their survival, and a looming global recession is forcing companies and governments to think very short-term. It can be tempting to turn the focus inwards and deal with COVID-19 now, while returning to a focus on sustainable development ‘when we can’. But as we set out to recover from COVID-19 the world needs more, not less sustainability.

The COVID-19 pandemic starkly exposed the vulnerability of workers around the world, and the sustainable recovery must necessarily start by business stepping up their ambition to ensure access decent work, living wages and social protection – also in the global supply chain.

The pandemic also called out the interconnectedness of issues across health, social and economic development. In a post-COVID-19 world, business must deal decisively and transparently with those issues that make us all unnecessarily vulnerable to this and future crises, carefully assessing and accounting for every business touch-point across the value chain and in the supply chain, and how it may impact the health of planet and people – positively and negatively. A recent Harvard study, for example, found that long-term exposure to air pollution may significantly increase the risk factor from dying of COVID-19[20]. Efforts to reduce air pollution, is therefore essential to decrease vulnerability in the population to the virus as well as climate change.

Some of the most forward-looking businesses are setting the pace for a new climate ambition. Within the past year, 185 UN Global Compact companies[21] – collectively representing over 5.9 million employees, spanning 36 sectors and with headquarters in 37 countries – have responded to the UN Secretary-General’s call to climate action committing to set science-based targets aligned with a 1.5 °C future. With a combined market capitalization of over US$ 3.8 trillion, and representing annual direct emissions equivalent to the annual total CO2 emissions of France, we are approaching a real tipping point for a net-zero economy.

It is clear that no business, no sector, no nation will be able to exit this crisis on their own. The business voice is critical for a recovery that builds on multilateral cooperation and solidary, and UN Global Compact invites all businesses to join the growing number of corporate activists for a new more sustainable normal. In May 2020, UN Global Compact, together with its partners in the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTI), mobilized the largest ever UN-backed CEO-led advocacy effort, urging world leaders to build net-zero climate targets into COVID-19 recovery plans and stimulus packages. Behind the statement were more than 160 CEOs of the world’s leading businesses, representing more than US$ 2.4 trillion in market capitalization. Even in the face of economic shock from the coronavirus, their commitment is unwavering.

Now it is time for SDG Ambition

With less than 4,000 days remaining until the 2030 target, business leaders are not content with current progress and are calling for their sectors and peers to step-up and turn commitment into action. As we set out to recover better, now it is time for all companies to raise their SDG Ambition for people, planet and prosperity. Across all the SDGs and at a scale that can create the tipping points for the world we want.

That’s why the UN Global Compact has launched SDG Ambition. Together with our partners and pioneering businesses we are proposing a set of ambitions that all companies should align their goals and targets with, including:

  • Gender balance at all levels of management
  • Greenhouse gas emissions reduction in line with a 1.5° C pathway
  • Net-positive water impact in water-stressed basins and regions
  • Zero deforestation across supply chains
  • Zero waste to landfill and incineration
  • Zero incidence of bribery
  • 100% resource recovery, with all materials and products recovered and recycled or re-used at end of life
  • 100% of employees and contractors earn wages that meet the cost of living


The change we need to see will not happen through incremental improvements and adjustments to ‘business-as-usual’. We need companies to become much more strategic and transformational in how they run their businesses to deliver on the 2030 Agenda. It starts by deepening the integration of the Ten UN Global Compact Principles and the SDGs across strategy, operations and stakeholder engagement. The UN Global Compact has developed an SDG Implementation Framework complemented by tools and resources that guides the integration, including minimum thresholds for target setting across sectors.

Deep integration means that SDG Ambition is an integral part of the company’s purpose, values and governance. Importantly, SDG Ambition is a senior management oversight, anchored at the board and c-suite level. It is embedded in the company’s corporate strategy and business unit strategies, fully integrated into the company’s performance management system, connected to key business processes and existing technology platforms, allowing senior management to monitor progress and make strategic decisions across its operations. It allows the company to be fully transparent about its risks and opportunities, and communicate on progress towards its goals and targets to all of its stakeholders. It allows the company to use the SDGs as a framework for forming alliances with stakeholders to accelerate impact and ensure social license to operate.

Sustainability is leadership

To truly succeed in driving sustainability outcomes, organizations need to focus on making sustainability sustainable. This is so much more than a matter of strategy, policy and process – it is fundamentally about leadership and people. If organizations are a collection of individuals working together on a common purpose, and corporate culture is a manifestation of their shared beliefs and behaviours, then embedding and identifying employees and leaders across the organization who are motivated to drive sustainability and have the skills and experience to do so is the surest path to long-term success.

To lead a transformation of this scale and nature requires a high degree of legitimacy, personal impact and authenticity that all stems from the personal commitment to making the world a better place.

Leaders on boards and in the c-suite have a huge opportunity to make sustainability central to their organization’s culture of leadership. How companies develop and select the leaders of tomorrow will have a lasting impact on our collective progress against sustainability goals.

[1] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) Special Edition: Progress towards Sustainable Development Goals Report of the Secretary-General, New York 2019

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid

[4] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA) World Social Report 2020

[5] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Compendium of Productivity Indicators 2019

[6] International Labour Organization (ILO) World Social Protection Report 2017-2019: Universal social protection to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals

[7] World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report 2020: Mind the 100 Year Gap

[8] World Health Organization (WHO) Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, Issue 63, March 2014

[9] Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO

[10] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Global Warming of 1.5 °C – a special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty, June 2019

[11] The International Monetary Fund (IMF) 2020 World Economic Outlook, April 2020

[12] The World Bank Blogs – The impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) on global poverty, and why sub-Saharan Africa might be the region hardest hit, April 20, 2020

[13] International Labour Organization (ILO) – press release 29 April 2020: ILO: As job losses escalate, nearly half of global workforce at risk of losing livelihoods

[14] 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer, 19 January 2020

[15] 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer Spring Update: Trust and the COVID-19 Pandemic, 5 May 2020

[16] Financial Times (FT) 7 May 2020 – Investors row back on ethical principles, research shows / Boston Consulting Group (BCG) COVID-19 Investor Pulse Check #4, May 1-May 3, 2020

[17] HSBC – ESG stocks did best in COVID-19 slump, 27 March 2020

[18] Global Commission on the Economy and Climate – The New Climate Economy, 2018

[19] International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) Global Renewables Outlook: Energy Transformation 2050, April 2020

[20] Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health – Air pollution linked with higher COVID-19 death rates, updated article 5 May 2020

[21] UN Global Compact Business Ambition for 1.5 °C – Our only future

20 Years of Uniting Business for a Better World

20 Years of Uniting Business for a Better World

Dear UN Global Compact Participant

Welcome to the Decade of Action: As we enter into 2020, allow me to share with you some reflections about my fears, hopes and great expectations for an important year – at the threshold to a critically important new decade. A decade UN Secretary-General António Guterres has named ”The Decade of Action”.

I fear that we are running out of time: At the startline for the Decade of Action, the world is falling badly behind the race to avert climate disaster as a result of runaway warming. 2019 was the hottest year on record, concluding the hottest decade on record. And the trend is set to continue. In November, 11,000 scientists spoke up declaring that Earth is ”clearly and unequivocally” facing a climate emergency, warning that we are running out of time to reverse the trend. We are all impacted by climate change today. Heat waves, wildfires, storms, droughts, floods and rising sea levels are threatening the livelihoods and safety of billions of people. For some, survival relies on global leadership and action NOW. In May the UN Secretary-General visited Tuvalu that together with other islands in the Pacific Ocean face sea level rise that is 4 times greater than the global average. And yet, despite hard scientific data and living proof, we all left disappointed from the Climate Summit, COP25 in Madrid, and its urgent call to Governments to ramp up ambition to transition away from the world’s dependence on fossil fuels. In fact, rather than falling, CO2 emissions continue to rise.

With the adoption of the 2030 Agenda in 2015, we pledged that no one should be left behind. But the reality is that five years in, inequalities are rising between rich and poor, men and women, young and old, Global North and South. And our failure to deliver tipping points to stop runaway climate change will leave those most vulnerable even further behind. A concern that was also voiced in our 2019 CEO Study conducted together with Accenture, where 88% of CEOs believe we need to refocus our global economic systems to become more inclusive.

I put my hope on the next generation and business leadership: 2019 also became the year where the world woke up to the climate emergency. Armed with scientific facts, young activist Greta Thunberg spurred millions of young people to demand climate action of the world’s leaders. They took to the streets every Friday, growing in numbers by the week. Their concerns are legitimate and their voices much needed in the debate that is essentially about their future. In fact, according to an Amnesty International poll released on Human Rights Day 2019, including 10,000 young people in the age 18-25 from 22 countries across 6 continents, young people are most concerned about climate change (41%). They have no patience for declarations that are not followed through by bold and transformational action. As students and future employees, entrepreneurs, consumers, investors and voters they are set to change the world.  Also at the UN Global Compact, we decided to capture the energy, imagination and impatience of young professionals working with our participating companies. We launched an accelerator programme for “Young Innovators”, activating future business leaders and changemakers to develop and drive innovative solutions and business models to deliver on their company’s sustainability objectives. In the spirit of giving young people a seat at the table, in September 2019 at our Leaders Summit, we also celebrated 15 young SDG Pioneers, who through their work embody a new era for sustainable business. The next generation fills me with hope.


2019 was also the year where business leaders stepped up to the plate and took a visible stand for a 1.5 C future – because it is our only future. At COP25, 177 companies had committed to set highly ambitious emissions reduction targets aligned with a 1.5 C future. Collectively these companies represent over 5.8 million employees, spanning 36 sectors and with headquarters in 36 countries. With a combined market capitalization of over US$2.8 trillion, and representing annual direct emissions equivalent to the annual total CO2 emissions of France, their commitments offer a real tipping point. I am confident that we are just witnessing the tip of the iceberg and that a new carbon neutral economy is finally set to take off.

I have great expectations for a year of unity: 2020 marks the beginning of the “Decade of Action”: A decade of opportunity to realise the bold vision set out by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – to create a better future for all on a healthy planet.

2020 marks the 75th Anniversary of the United Nations. Built on the cinders of two World Wars and unimaginable crimes against humanity, the United Nations was formed on the understanding that nations must work together in unity towards common ends and in the service of humanity. In the coming decade, we will all be defined by how we unite to tackle the world’s challenges across all that we do – as individuals and through the public and private leadership platforms that we have been entrusted.

2020 also marks the 20th Anniversary of the UN Global Compact. As we launch into the Decade of Action to deliver the SDGs, what better moment to commemorate the vision of our founding father, the late UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who in 2000 had the foresight to initiate a global compact of shared values and principles between the United Nations and business to give the global market a human face. His vision will shine a light as we bring more than 1,500 leaders together from across the world for our 2020 Leaders Summit in New York on 15-16 June to reimagine, reset and redefine ambition, leadership and action to deliver the world we want.

This event will also mark the occasion where I will pass the baton to next CEO and Executive Director of UN Global Compact. It has been my honour and pleasure to lead the Initiative during the last five years. Next, I will focus on stepping up responsible business strategy at company board level.

Let’s make 2020 the year when we make good on our promises to employees, to families, to communities, to stakeholders, and not least to the young generation to embrace the SDGs — always guided by our Ten Principles.




Lise Kingo

CEO and Executive Director

United Nations Global Compact

Giving a Human Face to the Global Market

Giving a Human Face to the Global Market

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan created the UN Global Compact nearly two decades ago with the purpose to “give a human face to the global market”. Today, our founding mission is more important than ever.

The world is facing a complicated web of multi-dimensional, interconnected, systemic challenges, while the gap between rich and poor as well as protectionism is rising. The past has clearly shown that economic integration is crucial for advancing peace, sustainable development and human rights. And from a business perspective, modern-day success is built on the pillars of global cooperation and interdependence. Consequently, globalization must become a much more inclusive, human, respectful force that leaves no one behind.

The good news is that we have never had a more clear and compelling path forward for our world. With the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement in force, we have a powerful common agenda for achieving peace and prosperity on a healthy planet by 2030 – with an essential role spelled out for business in this transformation to a sustainable future. The SDGs provide a blueprint for how to address the complex challenges the world faces. But time is passing fast, with only 14 years to go!

Strong Leadership in Demand

Fulfilling the ambitious SDGs will require true leadership. We will need strategic, creative and pioneering corporate leaders and entrepreneurs who can build the sustainable world of tomorrow: CEOs who personify the kind of integrity that makes them role models for the new era. Through responsible and innovative leadership, we can help turn the threats of globalization into opportunities by giving a human face to the global markets.

Thanks to the commitment of more than 9,000 CEOs – like yourself – located in nearly every country, huge strides have been made in placing values and principles into the heart of many companies. Increasingly, principled business is simply good business. But there is a long way to go, and we rely on you to help ensure that business is a positive force for the world.

To jumpstart awareness and action on the SDGs, in 2016 we kicked off our Making Global Goals Local Business campaign. Here in New York and through our 80 Local Networks, we are seeing companies respond to the SDG vision, telling us that the global goals provide a guiding star for a world in constant change. The sustainable development agenda is the next frontier for responsible practices, building new markets and developing solutions – and companies are ready to take action.

Launching our 2030 Vision and Global Strategy

At the UN Global Compact, we will be a leading catalyst of the transformations ahead and are devoting our capacities and global network to make it happen – based on the Ten Principles that the UN Global Compact is built upon. We are updating our organization, business model and offerings, so that we are in the best position to help companies of all sizes and at all stages of sustainability.

In the past year, we have articulated a 2030 Vision – to mobilize a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders to create the world we want – and developed a global strategy that positions the UN Global Compact to deliver impact at scale. To prepare our strategy, we consulted over 1,500 stakeholders – across business, civil society, Local Networks, UN partners and governments – on our unique role.

We heard a clear desire for the UN Global Compact to leverage our core strengths – as a normative, principle-based and inclusive UN entity – in order to bring the full weight of the private sector to the new SDGs. This means amplifying existing work to promote UN principles and values to the business community, focusing more on impact to better show the effects of corporate sustainability, and facilitating UN-business partnerships. Strengthening the role of our Local Networks on the ground will be a top priority across the board.

The strategy also points in new, exciting directions, including a pivot towards the SDGs to enable a powerful global business contribution to UN goals, as well as becoming a “Platform of Platforms” curating the best practices, tools and initiatives of like-minded organizations to reduce duplication and increase impact.

In 2017, we are delighted to roll out activities to help companies advance the Ten Principles and the SDGs. This includes new Action Platforms – for example on breakthrough innovation, impact reporting, low-carbon development, and inclusion—as well as sharing and learning opportunities. Our flagship events—Making Global Goals Local Business – India (New Delhi, 26-27 April) and the UN Private Sector Forum / Global Compact Leaders Summit (New York, week of 18 Sept)—provide dynamic settings for participants to connect and shape the future, as will local gatherings through our Local Networks.

Please see our UN Global Compact 2017 Toolbox for more detail on the year ahead.

As you can see, taking shared responsibility for our world’s challenges is the hallmark of our organization and what makes the UN Global Compact unique in an ever-growing corporate sustainability arena. To deliver on this agenda, we must update our business model. Beginning in January 2018, we will ask all companies with annual revenues over USD $50 million to make a required annual contribution, while preserving the voluntary nature for smaller enterprises. Details on the new business model will be introduced during the year in collaboration with your Local Network.

The bottom line is that with greater financial support globally and in our Local Networks, we can provide the best value to you and fully advance our shared vision of a better world.

Roadmap for Success in 2017

2017 marks the beginning of a new era of action and impact for the UN Global Compact.

We will take the first steps of our new strategy under new leadership. For the past 10 years, we have thrived under UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who has been a true champion of our initiative. We are delighted that the new UN Secretary-General, H.E. António Guterres, has shared his support for our work and will serve as Chair of the UN Global Compact Board, continuing an important legacy and providing a huge source of inspiration for us all.

It is indeed an exciting year ahead. The SDGs open up enormous opportunity for business to be a force for good. We are ready to roll up our sleeves and work with companies everywhere to turn risks into opportunities, make global goals local business, and accelerate momentum towards the SDGs.

Thank you for your commitment to this mission and for being part of our global movement of responsible companies. Together, we can create the world we want – now and for the coming generations.

Posted by Lise Kingo, CEO & Executive Director, UN Global Compact on 13 January 2017

COVID-19 is a firedrill

COVID-19 is a firedrill

The coronavirus pandemic is “just a fire drill” for what is likely to follow from the climate crisis, and the protests over racial injustice around the world show the need to tie together social equality, environmental sustainability and health, the UN’s sustainable business chief has said.

“The overall problem is that we are not sustainable in the ways we are living and producing on the planet today,” said Lise Kingo, the executive director of the UN Global Compact, under which businesses sign up to principles of environmental protection and social justice. “The only way forward is to create a world that leaves no one behind.”

She said there were “very, very clear connections” between the Covid-19 and climate crises, and the Black Lives Matter protests around the world, which she said had helped to reveal deep-seated inequalities and “endemic and structural racism”.

“We have seen illustrated to everyone that social inequality issues are part of the sustainable development agenda,” Kingo said.

Human rights were “inseparable” from dealing with climate breakdown, she told the Guardian in an interview. “This horrible racism [seen in the killing of George Floyd] is about human rights. We have to make sure that we give the social part of the agenda equal focus.”

She called on business leaders to take heed. “We want all chief executives to become social activists – to understand social equality,” she said. Not only was this the right thing to do, but “it creates stable markets for companies around the world” and reflects the desires of young people.

“Young people are so engaged, so dedicated to this agenda, they don’t want to work for companies that do not have a solid responsibility strategy,” she said.

The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said building a fairer society would be essential to the world’s health, as well as to saving the planet from climate breakdown and ecological destruction.

“Today, the fabric of society and the wellbeing of people hinge on our ability to build a fair globalisation,” he told the two-day UN Global Compact virtual conference of business leaders, which started on Monday.

“Where once ‘do no harm’ was a common approach for the business community, today we are arriving at a new landscape of elevated expectations and responsibilities. But despite progress, serious threats would undermine our future, including climate change, poverty, loss of biodiversity and widening social inequalities. The pandemic has underscored the world’s fragilities, which extend far beyond the realm of global health.”

Mark Carney, the former governor of the Bank of England, told the conference that the Covid-19 crisis had shown how urgent it was to tackle global heating. “This is a crisis that will involve the whole world and from which no one can self-isolate,” he said.

He called for all companies to provide clear information to customers, the public and investors about how they plan to move to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

More than 10,000 companies are signed up to the UN Global Compact, and they are being urged to strengthen their commitments to cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Many have pledged to cut carbon in line with the Paris agreement goal of holding global temperature rises to no more than 2C.

But scientific studies show that this may not be enough to stave off disaster, and that the consequences of even 1.5C of global heating will be severe. Kingo wants companies to revise their business plans in order to reduce carbon in line with a 1.5C goal. “We need to see leadership to drive this,” she said.

A report by the UN for the 20th anniversary of the Global Compact found that only four in 10 companies had targets that would enable them to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals by the 2030 deadline, and fewer than a third thought their industry was moving fast enough.

While 84% of companies participating in the UN Global Compact were taking action on the goals, fewer than half were “embedding” those targets into their core business activities, and only 37% were designing their business models to meet the goals.

“The human community is completely interconnected and interdependent,” Kingo said. “Without solidarity, especially with those most vulnerable among us, we all lose. We are paying the price for turning a blind eye to obvious injustices in the world.”


Fiona Harvey Environment correspondent – The Guardian