UN high-level panel sees sustainability reporting as critical component of future development agenda

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03 Jun 2013

The United Nations High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda has released its report on the recommended goals to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), including wider sustainability reporting for both business and governments, and better information for governments and people.

The Panel was convened in July 2012 by United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon to advise on the global development framework beyond 2015 when the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are targeted to be completed. The MGGs were themselves established following the UN Millennium Summit in 2000 and target eight goals, including alleviating poverty, education, gender equality, environmental sustainability and building a global partnership for development.

The Panel's report, A New Global Partnership - Eradicate Poverty and Transform Economies Through Sustainable Development, recommends twelve universal goals. The ninth goal, relating to managing natural resource assets sustainably, includes a call to "publish and use economic, social and environmental accounts in all governments and major companies", noting:

We embrace the positive contribution to sustainable development that business must make. But this contribution must include a willingness, on the part of all large corporations as well as governments, to report on their social and environmental impact, in addition to releasing financial accounts. Already about one quarter of all large corporations do so. We suggest that a mandatory ‘comply or explain’ regime be phased in for all companies with a market capitalization above $100 million equivalent.

The report notes that the measures of Gross Domestic Product or profit are not themselves sufficient to measure progress and achieve the wider sustainable development goals. It states:

This leaves out the value of natural assets. It does not count the exploitation of natural resources or the creation of pollution, though they clearly effect growth and well-being. Some work is already being done to make sure governments and companies do begin to account for this: the UN System of Environmental-Economic Accounting, the Wealth Accounting and Valuation of Ecosystem Services and corporate sustainability accounting have been piloted and should be rolled out by 2030. More rapid and concerted movement in this direction is encouraged

In noting that similar principles should also apply to governments, the report states in its tenth goal around governance and effective institutions, that publishing of accounts, including sustainability accounts, "brings ownership and accountability" and "encourages societies to measure more than money". This links to commentary around the ninth goal:

National accounting for social and environmental effects should be mainstreamed by 2030. Governments, especially in developed countries, should explore policy options for green growth as one of the important tools available to promote sustainable development. Besides protecting natural resources, these measures will support a movement towards sustainable consumption and production. And, if sustainable consumption is to be a part of everyday life, as it must, tomorrow’s consumers will need to be socially aware and environmentally conscious.

The report calls for any new goals to be accompanied by an independent and rigorous monitoring system, including a "data revolution for sustainable development" initiative which would improve the quality of statistics and information available to people and governments.

Click for press release (link to Panel website).

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