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Lise Kingo

CEO & Executive Director, United Nations Global Compact

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The Sustainable Development Goals and why they matter for the Arctic

Ladies and gentlemen – Thank you for inviting me to join you this morning to talk about the Sustainable Development Goals in the Arctic context.

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An agenda for a better world

Let me start with the Sustainable Development Goals, and why they matter to the Arctic. Two years ago, member states of the United Nations unanimously agreed to take steps to transform our world and deliver on 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Behind me you see the UN Building in New York lighted up with the Global Goals marking the occasion.

This was a significant moment in history. For the first time, the world had a shared set of KPIs for a future we all want.

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The Sustainable Development Goals and their 169 targets have been created to spark action towards 2030 in areas that are of critical importance for humanity and the planet that we inhabit.

All countries must take action to address their own sustainability challenges. At the same time, they need to consider the impact they have on the rest of the world. From taking climate action to promoting gender equality – every nation is on a journey to close the gaps.

The Goals are founded on the principle that no one must be left behind. Through this principle, the Goals are deliberately intertwined and connected.

For example, we will only be able to feed the world’s growing populations if we take decisive climate action and protect life on land and below water. And we will only be able to promote just and peaceful societies if we succeed in making growth and economic development inclusive.

Currently, many western countries consume and produce as if we had 4 planets to our use. Increasingly, however, it is clear that the most vulnerable areas of the world, and the people living there, pay the price.

That’s why cooperation – between nations, within and across sectors - is the only way we can deliver on the Goals. Nowhere is that more true than when we consider the Arctic and its unique challenges and opportunities.

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Partnerships for Arctic Development

For the people, animals and fish that live in the Arctic's unique environment, climate change is not a debate; it's a daily reality. For them, the ever faster melting of the inland ice has grave consequences. On top of that, it is threatening low-lying coastal cities all over the world.

We cannot talk about the Artic without also talking Oceans. A large part of the high seas is common territory, and to put it bluntly: Nobody owns it and nobody protects it. But oceans are fluid – a problem in one place can end up in another and threaten biodiversity. By 2050, we could face a situation where there is more plastic in the ocean than fish! Global ocean biodiversity is under threat due to pollution. This is a grave concern considering that three billion people today depend on protein from fish.

These are risks that the Arctic nations and the global community will need to deal with – in partnership – and urgently.

If the Artic is to be developed in sustainable manner, we need responsible companies to play a role in turning risks into opportunities and support the economic and sustainable development of the region.

Opportunities are ripe. The retreat of Arctic ice provides new opportunities for the maritime economy within transport and fishing. It creates opportunities for generating hydropower; it provides new access to minerals. It also requires innovation and new solutions for regenerative and circular economies. We need to develop new ways to use the oceans that support biodiversity, create resilience and long-term value for society and business.

To ensure that opportunities of the Arctic are pursued in a responsible, sustainable fashion, we need a new type of partnerships: Partnerships that put the people first, not least those who are living in the frontlines of the climatic changes. Many of them are indigenous people – their voices must be heard.

We need cooperation and dialogue among the Arctic states, industry and civil society. The mission must be to serve people, planet and profit in a balanced way. Done right, there is the opportunity for creating a unique business model for sustainable business in the Arctic.

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The UN Global Compact - a united platform for sustainable business

UN Global Compact offers a collaborative platform for businesses, governments and civil society organisations to come together in a global movement of sustainable companies and stakeholders to create the world we want.

Today we are more than 13,000 signatories that collectively represent more than 60 million employees in close to 170 countries. And we are growing day by day. More and more businesses realise that sustainable development is not just a moral imperative. It is their license to operate and innovate. UN Global Compact is uniquely positioned to be the global and national convener and make the Global Goals Local Business.

Many of our businesses have a presence in the Arctic, and together with our Local Networks, we would be happy to convene a dialogue with these businesses to discuss partnerships for Arctic development.

Our starting point is to ensure that all businesses integrate the Ten UN Global Compact Principles in their strategies and operations. These are universal principles, which cover Human Rights, Labour Rights, Environmental Protection and Anti-corruption.

Let’s be the change

To conclude, although the SDGs are interconnected, I would emphasize the importance of SDG 17 – Partnerships for the Goals. We are all part of the problem and we can all be part of the solution. Business has a very clear role to play, but it has to happen through partnerships. To accelerate our ability to drive sustainable change, we need to join forces with a shared mission to address the Arctic challenges and opportunities to deliver on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

In this context, I would encourage us to include the views and voices of the next generation. We owe it to them to ensure that we are not mortgaging their future through the actions we take today. Let’s make the future of the Arctic the test bed for a new way of cooperating across all sectors for the future of people and planet.

As Mahatma Gandhi said: Be the change that you wish to see in the world.