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