Financing the Sustainable Development Goals

Starting off Climate Week NYC, we sat in on the Third Plenary Session of the conference at the United Nations, listening to leaders on sustainable development and of the worlds major development investment firms.

The Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s Jeffrey Sachs sees the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in terms of the six major transformations that require massive investment.

  1. Development of human capital and skills, through education, research and development
  2. Universal health coverage
  3. Clean energy and industry: a transformation from fossil fuels to zero carbon energy, like wind & solar, hydro, geothermal and other forms of primary energy that will also bring us in line with a circular economy.
  4. Sustainable Land Use: Setting boundaries to stop continued encroachment of farm activity in rainforests, other conservation measures to protect biodiversity
  5. Sustainable Cities: We are dominantly an urban global society, 55% by UN measures, by some measures up to 70%, and this will only accelerate. The cities need to invest in updated infrastructure.
  6. Digitalization of the world. Like the steam or electric ages, digitalization is changing how we live. Especially with COVID-19, we need upgraded and more accessible digital technology.

The investment for this will be massive, but it comes from different places:

Development of human capital will come largely public sector investments, government budgets and taxes, as is universal healthcare. The energy industry is a mix f public and private investment as is land use. Sustainable cities need heavy local financing of infrastructure, which will mostly come from taxes. As for digitalization, up to now investment has been largely private, but we don’t have full accessibility on a global scale.

Amadou Thierno Diallo, Director of Global Practices, Economic and Social Infrastructure, Islamic Development Bank Group (IsDBG) spoke of how Economic activity should meet its own need, and good of community. Economy should show stability – equitable distribution of income. Noting that it is “possible to trace themes of the Koran in the SDgs,” he continued to say that Islamic financing is to reaching the SDGs, especially in Middle East and Africa. The IsDBG has multiple products for investors but wants to become the “bank for developers as well as development, empowering people” as well as corporations.

In 2019, the IsDBG and UNICEF The Global Muslim Philanthropy Fund for Children (GMPFC) is the first fund focused on Muslim giving to be launched by a United Nations organization together with a Multilateral Development Bank (MDB). According to the website, “he fund will enable multiple forms of Muslim philanthropy, including obligatory giving such as Zakat and voluntary giving such as Sadaqah donations and Waqf endowments, to contribute to emergency response and development programmes.

It is estimated that global annual Zakat contributions alone may reach up to US$600 billion, making this a significant potential source of sustainable funding to help achieve the SDGs. Seeking to raise US$250 million, the Fund will be administered by the IsDB and unite giving from private and public foundations, Zakat agencies and individuals.”

Chief Nathaniel Ebo Nsarko is Executive Director of Millennium Promise, which has launched multiple projects in Ghana, Uganda, towards school meal programs, telemedicine that is ready to be scaled up, free senior high school and working for gender equality to end the Period Poverty to keep girls in school.  Chief Nsarko felt the biggest trick to achieving the SDG’s is “convincing countries to incorporate SDGs into their national development plans and financing them through national budgets – with political commitment.

Bernard Woods from the Asian Development Bank agreed that we are not on track to reach the SDGs, especially after COVID-19, and the majority of the investment needed will have to come from domestic public and private sources in each country. Mr. Woods said we need to “accelerate progress of SDGs as part of recovery & ensure alignment with Paris Agreement on climate change. We need to reduce vulnerabilities, improve preparedness for future crises, and help countries make transition to low carbon & resilient development, as well as innovating how we work and promote digital technologies to deliver development results.”

Mr. Sachs went on to say there has been chronic underinvestment in some or all of these “transformations”.  A question from the audience: are we therefore on track to meet the SDGs by 2030?  He said “The key is, we need to avoid simply fitting a line or curve and saying this is our trajectory, so this is where we will be. We are in a period where we can do things faster than ever before when we put out mind and resources to them. Technologies are truly universal – if we had the backing of rich! if we said every child could have online education or telemedicine withing a year it is actually already possible. Action and motivation. Problem is wasting time with politics. IF we took the goals and actually followed through, there’s no limit that what we could do by 2030!”

Moderator Phoebe Summarizes: “We have the tech, we have the money, WE NEED THE POLITICAL WILL!!!”

Multilateral Financing of the SDGs: African & Asian Experiences


  • Phoebe Koundouri, Professor, School of Economics, Athens University of Economics & Business (Moderator)
  • Jeffrey Sachs, President, SDSN
  • Amadou Thierno Diallo, Director of Global Practices, Economic and Social Infrastructure, Islamic Development Bank Group (IsDBG)
  • Chief Nathaniel Ebo Nsarko, Executive Director, Millennium Promise
  • Bernard Woods, Director, Results Management and Aid Effectiveness Division (SPRA), Strategy, Policy and Review Department (SPD), Asian Development Bank

About Climate Week NYC:

Climate Week NYC coincides with the United Nations 75th Meeting of the General Assembly – both of which are online. Due to COVID 19, this is the first time in the UN’s history that the GA met online. Experts from the global scientific, indigenous, political, activist and corporate communities will address topics ranging from the green energy transition and the potential impacts it could have on global health, including zoonotic diseases, climate justice through a green recovery in BIPOC communities, food security, building green cities, and how to finance it all now and through a circular economy. The festival will also look at decarbonization, deforestation, the impacts of mega fires and permafrost melt, alternative fuels and power, and clean tech as well as US and international policy, the incredible youth movement, and sustainable tourism.

Sally Barr