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At World Economic Forum, environment, equality is $12 trillion opportunity

As responsible behaviour takes centerstage at Davos, political and business leadership is under pressure to activate lofty ideals through various agreements and frameworks.

From climate change to sustainability to equal rights, accountability for action is being debated.

In September 2015, under the leadership of United Nations, countries adopted a set of sustainable development goals (SDGs) to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as part of a new sustainable development agenda”. Each goal has specific targets to be achieved over the next 15 years. The goals include quality education, clean energy, sustainable cities, responsible consumption, clean water & sanitation, and gender equality. All these issues are critically relevant for India and are reflected in some of the policies.

However, more than a year later, most countries are still debating how best to action the agenda with clear impact. The focus for 2030 remains but the implementation is lagging. A key part of responsive and responsible leadership involves making business, government and civil society collaborate at global and national level. About one-third of the 3,000 participants at Davos this year represent stakeholder groups outside government and business.

The agenda is to highlight the best examples of collaborations across the world and assess if these can be replicated at national level. A few initiatives by business leaders are creating a case for industry to boost action for SDGs. The Business and Sustainable Development Commission (BSDC) has released a fresh report that says that investing in SDGs will create new demand and growth for the world. At a time when the global economy is struggling, this report is helping give a new direction to growth.

“Achieving the Global Goals opens up $12 trillion of market opportunities in the four economic systems examined by the Commission. These are food and agriculture, cities, energy and materials, and health and well-being. They represent around 60% of the real economy and are critical to delivering the Global Goals. To capture these opportunities in full, businesses need to pursue social and environmental sustainability as avidly as they pursue market share and shareholder value. If a critical mass of companies joins us in doing this now, together we will become an unstoppable force. If they don’t, the costs and uncertainty of unsustainable development could swell until there is no viable world in which to do business,” the report says.

BSDC was launched in Davos last year with representatives of business, academia and civil society. The report says that SDGs could create 380 million new jobs across the developing world. These include 85 million in Africa and 225 million in developing Asia.

At Davos, the debates on SDGs have India participation from the government. Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu will speak at a session on the country-led action on SDGs. Roads and highways minister Nitin Gadkari will speak at a session on future of mobility with a specific focus on reducing congestion, carbon emissions and pollution.

For India, creating and adopting successful models on SDG implementation will work with collaboration between industry and government. On this front, enough effort has not been put so far.