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Investing in the Sustainable Development Goals

By Raouane Arfaoui

The Sustainable Development Goals represent an investment agenda still achievable by the global society, as we should not surrender to already present shortfalls in achieving these goals. It is crucial to shift the current investment patterns of the global society and increase the overall investment flow to build a more sustainable future. It is necessary to devote an increased portion of current output to building up sustainable capital assets for the future and effectively deploy them to meet the related goals of economic well-being (SDG 3), social justice (SDG 16), and environmental sustainability (SDG 11).

According to the Sustainable Development Report published in 2023, Development practitioners have identified eight major kinds of capital assets, which are complementary, working together in a mutually supportive manner:

  1. Human capital: the skills and health of a productive citizenry, supported by universal health access and coverage, quality education, shared data and knowledge, promotion of a culture of peace and non-violence, global citizenship, and the appreciation of cultural diversity.

  2. Infrastructure: energy production and distribution, land and sea transport, telecommunications, digital information services, public buildings (e.g., schools and hospitals), and safe water and sanitation.

  3. Natural capital: the capacity and healthy functioning of ecosystems to be protected by ending human-induced climate change, protecting biodiversity, sustainably managing freshwater resources, and eliminating toxic pollutants.

  4. Innovation capital: the stock of intellectual property and data resulting from public and private research and development, creative cultural works, and responsibly governed and managed emerging technologies.

  5. Business capital: goods and services of true social value derived from utilizing the machinery, buildings, information resources, and other capital assets that underpin business productivity.

  6. Social capital: social trust and pro-social values, good governance and justice, freedom of speech and the press trusted scientific capabilities, and international cooperation.

  7. Urban capital: spatial human settlements, notably in urban areas, that drive and support productive and creative interactions across the other seven capital

  8. Cultural capital: appreciation of the diversity of cultures, value systems, languages, the traditional knowledge systems of Indigenous peoples, and artistic expressions.

To achieve the SDGs, society needs to invest amply and consistently in all eight kinds of capita: these investments must involve both governments and corporations. For example, while business capital is mainly the purview of the private sector, human capital is primarily public. Governments should also take the initiative to protect natural capital, while civil society, in particular, promotes social and cultural capital, including mutuality between cultures and nations. Infrastructure capital and innovation capital tend to be funded in roughly equal shares by the public and private sectors. Governments finance power transmission grids, while the private sector finances power generation; governments generally finance basic scientific research, while businesses focus on applied R&D.

Furthermore, it is necessary to refrain from investing in activities that threaten planetary boundaries, deplete human and natural capital, and harm social cohesion, while also investing in the SDGs. Reducing the extraction and use of fossil fuels is of paramount importance: limiting harmful investments and adopting regulatory measures, including sustainable taxation and dismantling unsustainable subsidies, should be an integral element of the SDGs investment agenda.

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