Benefits, opportunities and costs for Australia
Australia adopted the 2030 Agenda in 2015 along with the other UN
This chapter first summarises the evidence received about how the SDGs align
with Australian values and then presents the evidence on the potential benefits
of fully implementing the SDGs in Australia, including ensuring no one would be
'left behind' or miss out on social, environmental and economic developments. The
committee heard that other possible benefits include greater scope for domestic
policy planning, coherence, accountability and cross-sector collaboration.
Submissions also identified that domestic implementation could enhance
Australia's international reputation, and create a range of business
opportunities. Some suggested that the possible costs may include the financial
costs of implementation, risks to unsustainable businesses, increased reporting
requirements and concerns regarding Australia's sovereignty.
Alignment with Australian values
The Australian Government and civil society contributed to the
development of the SDGs, including supporting the inclusion of gender equality
as a separate goal.
Submissions agreed that the SDGs are aligned with Australian values and overlap
with activities that are already being undertaken domestically. For example,
the International Women's Development Agency (IWDA) suggested that the 'core
message of the SDGs aligns with established values of the Australian community'
including cooperation, a fair go, being a good neighbour and gender equality.
The United Nations Association of Australia (UNAA) stated that Australia's
commitment to achieving the SDGs:
...is a demonstration of our true national values. Only the
branding name of the SDGs is new for Australia. All 17 SDGs, and many of their
169 targets, relate to issues on which Australian governments and organisations
are already working.
In a 2018 speech, Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, then
Minister for International Development and the Pacific, reiterated that
'because the SDGs are so consistent with our national values, many of the
priorities we are pursuing form part and parcel of the Australian Government's
agenda both here and abroad'.
Mr Chris Tinning, First Assistant Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and
Trade (DFAT), said that 'the SDGs are not new in terms of the substance: we
have done health, education and agriculture for a long time'.
These views were repeated in Australia's first voluntary national review (VNR),
The SDGs reflect things that Australians value highly and
seek to protect, like a clean and safe environment, access to opportunity and
services, human rights, strong and accessible institutions, inclusive
economies, diverse and supportive communities and our Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander cultures and heritage. Our support for political, economic,
social and religious freedoms is underpinned by our commitment to promote liberal
democracy, the rule of law and the rules-based international order.
It further stated that the SDGs:
...are consistent with Australian Government priorities and
long-standing efforts across a range of sectors such as health, education,
agriculture, water, the environment, the economy, and gender equality.
Likewise, the Addis Ababa Action Agenda's emphasis on issues like domestic
resource mobilisation, trade as an engine for growth, and the importance of
investment in infrastructure and public services are in line with Australia's
approach to driving growth and prosperity at home and abroad.
Some non-government submissions also noted examples of alignment, such
as Oxfam Australia, which stated:
There are a number of
areas where Australia's domestic policies and international aid program[s] are
already delivering great impact against the SDG, such as in promoting gender
equality (including reducing violence against woman and girls); disability
inclusion; disaster preparedness and resilience; leadership (including
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women), governance and accountability;
water and sanitation; and responding to humanitarian crises.
Some submissions also identified linkages between the 2030 Agenda and
issues of importance for Indigenous peoples.
The National Congress of Australia's First Peoples identified several examples
of Indigenous peoples contributing to the SDGs internationally and in
Australia, including the Kimberley Land Council, which is described as an
exciting example of first peoples' environmental protection.
No one left behind
A key aspect of the 2030 Agenda is the pledge 'that no one will be left
Many submissions agreed that a benefit of implementing the SDGs in Australia would
be an improvement in the understanding, inclusion and responses to people and
groups identified as disadvantaged in our community. For example, the
Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) stated:
The SDGs provide a significant opportunity for government,
business and civil society to align their efforts to achieve better human
rights outcomes for all Australians. This includes by focusing on measures to
address existing inequalities in Australia—be they on the basis of gender,
race, indigenous status, geographical location or other status.
The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) warned 'progress
on the SDGs is not uniform across Australian society, and without corrective
action we will fail on the SDGs' core principle of leaving no one behind'.
To achieve the SDGs' vision of ending poverty and injustice
for all, we need to accelerate efforts to reach those who are hardest to reach
– such as people with disabilities or indigenous populations, for example – and
those with intersecting forms of disadvantage.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Australia's first VNR stated that though 'there is no SDG specific to
indigenous peoples, all 17 SDGs are significant for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander peoples'.
The City of Melbourne identified that 'Indigenous peoples globally are most
affected by lack of progress on the SDGs'.
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) Youth Australia/Pacific suggested
that implementing the SDGs relating to good health and well-being, quality
education, reducing inequalities and peace, justice and strong institutions
could be of particular importance for young Indigenous Australians.
People with disability
Some submissions highlighted that people with disability can also
benefit from the implementation of the SDGs. For example, Children and Young
People with Disability Australia and Disabled People's Organisations Australia
People with disability are explicitly referred to in the targets
of seven of the SDGs and all 17 goals are of relevance. For the majority of the
SDGs, people with disability are disproportionately affected by the
disadvantage that the goals aim to eliminate including poverty, poor health
outcomes and less access to education.
CBM Australia stated:
Although Australia's political leadership has shifted over
the past decade, its political commitment to disability-inclusive development
has been unwavering....This legacy should continue to spur action in solidarity
with people with disabilities over the life of the SDGs.
A number of submissions also emphasised that implementing the SDGs could
have particular benefits for young people. SDSN Youth Australia/Pacific
identified how implementation of the SDGs can benefit young people by
addressing issues including:
poverty, hunger and employment (Goals 1, 2, 8)
access to quality education (Goal 4)
gender and social inequalities (Goals 5 and 10)
energy affordability and economic growth (Goals 7 and 8).
Mr Clinton Moore, former Local Pathways Fellow and current Vice-President,
Eastern Regional Organisation for Planning and Human Settlements (EAROPH) Australia,
explained that the domestic implementation of the SDGs can empower 'young
people to develop a greater sense of ownership and change within their
communities and across the country'.
This aligns with the 2030 Agenda, which described children and young people as
'critical agents of change' who 'will find in the new Goals a platform to
channel their infinite capacities for activism into the creation of a better
The 2030 Agenda sets out a vision of sustainable development that
includes an end to 'poverty, hunger, disease and want'; 'universal respect for
human rights and human dignity'; and 'sustained, inclusive and sustainable
economic growth and decent work for all'.
Forrest Primary School student Miles Maguire reflected:
The SDGs are hope. They are a shining beacon for a world with
more equality, less poverty and a healthier environment. The SDGs have made us
realise we are not helpless.
The majority of submissions agreed that implementing the SDGs in
Australia would bring broad benefits. World Vision Australia stated it will
make Australia 'more prosperous, fair and sustainable'.
Realising the SDGs by developing and implementing policies
and programs to tackle inequality, injustice, climate change and boosting
resilience to natural disasters contributes to Australia's economic prosperity,
stability, accountability and sustainability...In addition to providing
sustainable solutions for the future, the SDGs also address climactic threats...
The Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society agreed:
Benefits around participating in a global response to the SDGs
in mitigating and avoiding dangerous levels of climate change to reduce
Australia's vulnerability to higher possible increases in extreme weather in
the future would be of extreme benefit to Australia.
Sustainability consultants One Stone Advisors also argued that
implementing the SDGs would have direct benefits for Australians 'in the form
of costs avoided, wellbeing and prosperity', and suggested:
Investing in the goals is investing in prosperity, wellbeing,
and sustainability for all Australians—it is about putting the long-term common
good above short-term gains and vocal interest groups in return for social
cohesion (e.g. reduced inequalities), intergenerational equity, future economic
growth, and better management of issues (e.g. in line with UN Sendai agreement [for
Disaster Risk Reduction]) that can undermine these.
Some submissions estimated how achieving particular goals and targets
could benefit Australia more specifically, such as target 3.6 in relation to
Achieving the SDG target in Australia by 2020 would have
saved more than 600 lives a year, reduce more than 20,000 personal injuries
that include brain injury, quadriplegia and limb fractures and save an
estimated $15 billion annually in financial and economic costs to the health,
social welfare, corporate and insurance sectors on top of the personal impact
to families and friends.
Long term national planning
A number of submissions highlighted how Australia can improve decision-making
by adopting the SDGs as a framework for long-term planning. For example, Mr Cameron
Allen, Professor Graciela Metternicht and Associate Professor Thomas Wiedmann
argued that 'there is very little long-term planning for the implementation of
sustainable development in Australia', and Australia:
...lacks a national vision or long-term strategy document, as
is the case in many other countries. Limited effort has been made to stimulate
a cross-sectoral, national dialogue on where Australia is heading, and where we
want to be as a country by 2030 or 2050...Regular coverage and analysis of
Australia's progress is dominated by discourse on a small set of economic
indicators such as growth in gross domestic product and unemployment and
inflation figures, and the daily movement of financial markets, rather than the
quality of life, wellbeing and living standards of Australians.
They suggested that the SDGs could address some of these issues and 'present
a considerable opportunity for advancing Australia's agenda for sustainable
growth at the domestic level'. Mr Allen added that the
...really about focusing resources where they're most needed to
address the real priorities that are there for Australia—they could be
economic, environmental or social. It's really a framework about allocating
resources more effectively in areas that are a greater priority for the
country, or the world, rather than becoming a burden.
The Monash Sustainable Development Institute (MSDI) similarly suggested
that the SDGs:
...provide a process for decision-making that explicitly
references economic, social, environmental and governance factors. This can
help improve the decision making process by broadening the scope of issues that
decision makers reference and expanding the range of options that they
consider. They can also assist policy makers to focus on longer-term issues
that go beyond short term political and business cycles.
Professor John Thwaites, Chair of MSDI, told the committee that the
...are a great opportunity for government, business and
Australia to set some midterm goals and to have a common vision that we can
work towards across the country and across the political divide, because both
parties have committed to this.
Domestic policy coherence
Many submissions shared the view that adopting the SDGs as a planning tool
would be useful for ensuring policy consistency not only over time but also
between different policy domains.
For example, SDSN Australia/Pacific described the SDGs as a framework for 'helping
us understand and address the interlinkages between the social, environmental
and economic dimensions of the challenges facing us'.
CSIRO agreed that a major purpose of the SDGs is 'to obtain better policy
coherence among the achievement of the many diverse aspects of global
sustainability and human wellbeing'.
It outlined how the SDGs are interconnected, stating:
Interactions among the SDGs are likely to be non-linear but
may be positive (i.e. synergies) or negative (i.e. trade-offs) (e.g. Schmidt et
al. 2017). How to assess and manage these cumulative impacts, within and
between industry sectors, remains a major gap, both technically and also from a
governance perspective. In essence, understanding synergies holds out the
prospect of accelerating delivery and achieving global outcomes at a significantly
lower cost through thoughtful coordination of otherwise fragmented action, and
identifying trade-offs potentially enables conflicts among goals to be managed
before they become institutionalised.
ACFID noted that:
Governance mechanisms for the SDGs should be carefully
designed to enable greater policy coherence across different departments and
levels of government. Given the interconnected nature of the 17 goals, lack of
progress in one area has the potential to undermine the whole. Implementing the
2030 Agenda will entail breaking down traditional silos for more cross-sectoral
decision-making solutions. The adoption of the 2030 Agenda can be a catalyst
for a renewed effort to promote policy coherence. The SDGs provide a common
framework against which to test policies from different areas of government, to
ensure efforts made in one area are not undermined by another.
It identified examples of current policy inconsistency, asserting that:
...the Australian Government's new defence export strategy
demonstrates the potential for disconnect between policies from different areas
of government. The strategy starkly contradicts the Foreign Minister's and
Defence Minister's declarations of support for the Women, Peace and Security
agenda, which urge international actors to consider the gendered differences
inherent in conflict when developing peacebuilding solutions.
Fairtrade Australia and New Zealand raised the issue of policy coherence
across trade agreements and anti-poverty efforts, suggesting that:
Australia should approach and negotiate all regional trade
agreements in line with the SDGs framework to achieve policy coherence, and
enable proposed agreements to achieve maximum benefit and minimum harm for
developing country producers.
The recent Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)
review of Australian aid found a lack of convergence between the 2030
Agenda and Australia's development objectives and 'a range of policy
positions related to finance, environment and security'. The review
identified examples of policy coherence issues, including the high cost of
sending remittances, 'tax breaks to the coal industry', coal exports, and the
commitment to increase weapons exports.
Some submissions, such as the City of Sydney, also suggested that the
SDGs can improve consistency between the policies of federal, state, territory
and local governments.
It identified 'an extraordinary opportunity arising from the framework provided
by the SDG to ensure policy alignment across all levels of government,
particularly when it includes the adoption of ambitious but yet achievable
Some submissions identified international examples, for example:
Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands have successfully
established institutional mechanisms to ensure policy coherence for
development. In Sweden, the government produces a regular report on policy
coherence which is scrutinised by a civil society platform. The experience
suggests that regular government reporting, combined with strong civil society
accountability mechanisms are crucial for effective policy coherence.
The committee heard that the SDGs 'provide a powerful tool for assessing
Australia's progress across a comprehensive range of objectives and benchmarks
that are important for a modern, sustainable society'.
Despite the many goals, targets and indicators associated with the SDGs, the
Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE) noted that the 2030 Agenda
provides 'a much simpler framework to track and benchmark national performance
against core sustainable development issues' compared to some previous
Other submissions agreed that the SDGs and associated targets and
indicators provide a framework for 'focussing action by providing a transparent
and accountable way to track progress and identify and highlight areas [where] we
are not performing well'.
The City of Sydney reiterated that 'the setting of ambitious yet attainable
targets is crucial to achieving outcomes', and noted that '[c]omparative
performance assessment also becomes possible between cities and countries when
an internationally agreed framework is in place', such as the
Cross-sectoral approach to
According to Monash University, numerous studies have suggested that 'Australia
performs very poorly on measures of collaboration between the business,
community, academia and government sectors'.
The committee heard that the SDGs were developed through 'a very consultative
process, including business' and 'have incredible buy-in around the world'.
Many submissions shared the view that implementing the SDGs domestically
would have the benefit of mobilising different sectors to contribute to
sustainable development consistently and collaboratively. The University of
The SDGs provide a unique opportunity to take an
interdisciplinary, cross-sector approach to solving big complex challenges,
such as poverty eradication, gender inequality, food and nutrition insecurity,
disease outbreaks, natural resources management and environmental degradation.
SDSN Australia/Pacific described the SDGs as:
...a huge opportunity to mobilise new attention, partnerships
and actions to address these often intractable issues...the SDGs provide a common
vision that is supported by all world governments and also resonates with and
inspires people across different countries and sectors.
Australia's first VNR observed that the SDGs 'present a new lens through
which organisations can approach their strategic planning, projects, programs
and a recognisable global platform to guide collaboration with others'.
The Global Compact Network Australia (GCNA) similarly stated that the SDGs:
...provide a simple, yet comprehensive framework to communicate
significant global issues that must be addressed, and they provide a catalyst
for society and business to start to evaluate the costs and benefits associated
with their implementation.
Mr Moore, former Local Pathways Fellow and current Vice-President of EAROPH
Australia, also highlighted the value of the SDGs in 'developing a common
language, framework, and understanding of sustainable development across tiers
of government, civil society, business, and the broader community'.
International relations and reputational
The internationally-agreed SDGs will be 'a global reference point from
here till 2030'.
Professor Rod Glover noted that Australia's performance against the SDGs is
going to be the subject of international conversations throughout this period.
The committee heard implementing the SDGs in Australia could improve its
relationships with other nations. For example, UnitingCare Australia argued
that in honouring its commitment to the SDGs, Australia 'strengthens its
credentials as an international citizen, and models behaviour that produces
global benefits—respect for an international, rules-based system'.
One Stone Advisors similarly noted '[b]eing an SDG leader and role model has
positive geopolitical knock-on effects for stability and cooperation in the
The Institute for Human Security and Social Change at La Trobe
University suggested that another benefit of domestic implementation is that it
encourages regional consistency and consideration of how Australia's 'domestic
policies impact on the ability of other countries to achieve the SDGs, and
...how issues of
immigration, refugee and indigenous rights, trade treaties and climate change
are treated domestically effect in important ways the soft power, legitimacy
and influence Australia takes into its international relations and its voice in
fora such as ASEAN and the United Nations.
Strategic Sustainability Consultants cautioned that not adhering to the
SDGs 'may damage our reputation internationally and strain our relationships
with both our neighbours and our allies'.
If Australia wishes to remain prosperous, advance the
rules-based international order and maintain its soft power as a good
international citizen, we will need to demonstrate a more serious commitment to
the SDGs than at present.
...Australia's commitment and leadership will not be taken
seriously if it cannot demonstrate its international commitments domestically.
In recent years Australia has been criticised for its failure to adhere
domestically to some international norms, and Australia's decline since 2015 in
meeting the SDGs brings into question its commitment to achievement
Geoscience Australia also indicated that engagement with the SDGs as a
shared global approach can ensure that Australia's data collection and
reporting methods remain technically in-step with international approaches and
This section has outlined evidence received on the possible benefits of
the SDGs, including sustainable development, policy coherence and reputational
benefits. The committee also received a substantial amount of evidence on the
possible benefits of the SDGs to business, summarised in the following section.
Potential business opportunities
Australia's first VNR stated that achieving the SDGs 'is in Australia's
interests: it will contribute to lasting regional and global prosperity,
productivity and stability'.
Many submissions identified economic benefits and possible business opportunities
related to the SDGs, such as the Australian Council of Superannuation
Investors, which considered that:
The implementation of the SDGs represents an opportunity to
create long-term value by encouraging sustainable economic growth, and provides
Australian investors with a framework for assessing investment risk and
The 2015 SDG Compass is an international, 'step-by-step guide for
businesses to align their strategies with the SDGs and measure and manage their
The following sections list possible benefits to businesses as identified in
the SDG Compass report and submissions to this inquiry.
Identifying future business
The SDG Compass report stated:
The SDGs aim to redirect global public and private investment
flows towards the challenges they represent. In doing so they define growing
markets for companies that can deliver innovative solutions and transformative
A number of submissions also argued that the SDGs open up new market
opportunities, domestic and international collaboration and trade.
Professor Glover suggested that the SDGs promote a different way of thinking
and encourage entities to take a broader view 'that is helping businesses and
organisations in their strategy planning'.
He noted that the 'longer term perspective of the Sustainable Development Goals
enables businesses and organisations to see possibilities that might not be
there from a shorter term lens'.
The Centre for Policy Development (CPD) described potential opportunities
related to the SDGs:
The massive investment gaps that need to be filled to deliver
the SDGs are well known, and the funds being mobilised in this effort—while
well short of what is needed to achieve the goals—are already creating
significant momentum and opportunities...The SDGs have a vital role to play in
this context, for example by helping to provide market clarity on
sustainability standards and by underpinning specific innovations like
Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA) described the SDGs
as a 'compass pointing to new market opportunities worth trillions of dollars'.
Many submissions cited the Business and Sustainable Development Commission
report's estimation that achieving the SDGs opens up $12 trillion of
opportunity from food, cities, energy and health sectors. That report
The total economic prize from implementing the Global Goals
could be 2–3 times bigger, assuming that the benefits are captured across the
whole economy and accompanied by much higher labour and resource productivity.
Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand reasoned that 'contributing
towards the SDGs represents real opportunities for business develop[ment]
solutions and if only some of that $12 trillion of market opportunities is in
Australia, this is still significant'.
RIAA also cited the report, and highlighted that 'these market opportunities,
if realised, also promise significant job creation'.
Referring to the same report, CSIRO stated:
...the SDGs are, and will continue to be, the principal driver
and framework for development and international investment (in the order of
US$4 trillion per year) by government, industry and non-government
organisations over their 15-year implementation time frame.
Mr Andrew Petersen, Chief Executive Officer of the Business Council for
Sustainable Development Australia (BCSDA), explained that the goals 'have the
potential to unleash innovation, economic growth and development at an
unprecedented scale', including generating up to 380 million jobs by 2030.
PwC also noted '[g]rowth opportunities which are significant in products and
services that address the SDG challenges'.
Enhancing the value of sustainable
Another benefit identified in the SDG Compass report is that:
Whilst the business case for corporate sustainability is
already well established, the SDGs may for example strengthen the economic
incentives for companies to use resources more efficiently, or to switch to
more sustainable alternatives, as externalities become increasingly
RIAA similarly predicted:
A significant proportion of currently external costs such as
environmental damage or social upheaval might at some point in the future be
forced into companies' accounts. The SDGs provide a clear risk framework for
both companies and investors.
RIAA suggested that '[r]esponsible investment is increasingly being
considered part of investors' fiduciary duty to their beneficiaries and clients'.
CPD agreed that businesses are increasingly expected to manage
sustainability-related risks, citing the example of recent legal opinions
concluding that company directors who fail to consider climate-related risks
and opportunities could be exposed to personal liability for breach of duty.
CPD indicated this could extend 'to other sustainability-related risks and
opportunities, to the extent that they have foreseeable, material impacts on a
...the SDGs can assist by providing organisations with a
framework for improving sustainability-related risk assessment, target setting
and disclosure. This can help them meet public, investor and regulator
expectations for more sophisticated sustainability risk management and
governance. Increasingly, these risks are seen as core business issues rather
than separate environmental, social or governance concerns.
The CPD detailed that 'the SDGs are beginning to inform best-practice
approaches to understanding climate-related risks and their connections to other
sustainability issues—particularly in the area of scenario analysis'.
It noted that aspects of the SDGs are being incorporated into climate-related
scenarios used by private sector actors and regulators, such as the Sustainable
Development Scenario published by the International Energy Agency.
Strengthening stakeholder relations
and keeping the pace with policy developments
A third benefit identified in the SDG Compass report is that businesses
'that align their priorities with the SDGs can strengthen engagement of
customers, employees and other stakeholders'.
RIAA stated that '[c]onsumers are becoming more active in demanding their money
be invested ethically and responsibly'.
It also identified that 'a chorus [is emerging] within big business for
companies to embrace a social purpose that extends beyond financial profits'.
For example, several submissions highlighted that the Chairman of investment
management firm BlackRock wrote to 1000 CEOs stating:
Society is demanding that companies, both public and private,
serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only
deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive
contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders,
including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they
BCSDA, the national peak body for support and advocacy for sustainable
business activities, outlined how this results in reputational benefits and
risks for businesses:
Companies that align themselves with the SDGs and are able to
communicate clearly around how their business helps individual governments to
achieve their goals, are likely to be able to consolidate a strong licence to
operate and to differentiate themselves from competitors. Likewise, those that
do not will be exposed to growing legal and reputational risks.
CPD noted that 'the SDGs provide a ready-made framework for scanning for
and responding to wider sustainability-related risks—including risks to social
It suggested that the SDGs:
...can help inform organisations about where they are
vulnerable to misalignment, and where they might be well placed—or even
uniquely placed—to make a positive contribution. In this way they can help
businesses develop, and communicate, a strategy for shoring up their social
license and demonstrating their social value.
Professor of Accounting Carol Adams agreed that businesses that 'set out
to contribute to the SDGs through their mission and strategy stand to gain a
competitive advantage in developing products, services and processes fit for
PwC also noted that the SDGs could facilitate businesses maintaining 'positive
licence to operate by setting strategy that is in alignment with government
Stabilizing societies and markets
The SDG Compass report cautioned that:
Business cannot succeed in societies that fail. Investing
in the achievement of the SDGs supports pillars of business success,
including the existence of rules-based markets, transparent financial systems,
and non-corrupt and well-governed institutions.
BCSDA also emphasised businesses' reliance on stable societies and
...investing in the achievement of the SDGs supports stable
societies and markets – the pillars upon which business success is built. As
noted by Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, 'It is not possible to have a strong,
functioning business in a world of increasing inequality, poverty and climate
change'. Business has an inherent self-interest in the realization of the goals
and stands to unlock trillions of dollars through new markets if they are
Using a common language and shared
The SDG Compass report described the SDGs as:
...a common framework of action and language that will help
companies communicate more consistently and effectively with stakeholders about
their impact and performance. The goals will help bring together synergistic
partners to address the world's most urgent social challenges.
The Shared Value Project concurred that:
The SDG provide the mechanism to focus and coordinate their
shared value activities towards a set of common and collective goals. A unified
reference point for strategy, implementation and communications ensures a
meaningful impact, while providing the backdrop against which our Members can
Superannuation funds highlighted the communication benefits of the SDGs,
such as the industry fund HESTA, which viewed the SDGs as 'a universal language
and framework for engagement with different stakeholders about how we impact
the environment and society through our investments and operations'.
It suggested the SDGs will enable it to:
- improve how we communicate and report to our members, as
well as understanding and prioritising the issues they care about
- help us to better measure and track the impacts, both
positive and negative, that we have on society and help position our strategy
according to our values
- foster greater collaboration with peers and partners by
aligning our priorities and values.
Construction and Building Unions Superannuation (Cbus) similarly stated
that the SDGs 'can help inform our long-term investment strategy, support
investment returns and enable us to articulate the impact our investments will
have on the broader economy, environment and the society in which our members
work and retire'.
BCSDA noted that 'there has been no published national study of the
potential costs, benefits and opportunities for Australia [o]n the domestic implementation
of the SDGs'.
The inquiry did not receive many submissions considering the potential costs of
implementing the SDGs for Australia. The following statement reflects the attitude
towards the issue of costs expressed in many submissions:
The costs of not acting upon the SDGs will far outweigh the
costs of acting now. If sustainable development challenges are left to fester
unaddressed, Australia's social fabric, environment, and economy will suffer.
The following sections summarise the possible costs of SDGs investment,
risks to unsustainable businesses, additional reporting requirements, and
possible impact on Australia's sovereignty of the SDGs.
Mr Sam Hurley, Policy Director at the CPD, told the committee:
...even with the best will and commitment in the world from
government and even with really effective interventions from government to
target progress there will still be a very large gap in funding that we need to
close to meet the SDG[s] globally, which means by implication that the money is
an important contribution that we can make by leveraging investment from the
Submissions including RIAA and Cbus noted that the UN Commission on
Trade and Development has estimated that achieving the SDGs will require US$5–7 trillion
in investment each year from 2015–2030.
However, RIAA pointed out:
While this figure sounds significant, trillions of dollars
are turned over in financial markets every day, reinforcing the potential and
significant role that more responsible and strategic allocation of capital can
play in ending poverty, combatting climate change and promoting sustainable
The international Business and Sustainable Development Commission stated
in its 2017 report that:
The UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN)
values the total additional investment needed to achieve the Global Goals in
all countries at US$2.4 trillion a year, around 11 percent of annual global
savings, with the lion's share—around US$1.6 trillion—needed for
The World Economic Forum similarly estimated $4 trillion per annum of
investment is needed, however, existing investment stands at $1.4 trillion,
therefore there is a gap of $2.5 trillion. GCNA stated that the
funding gap 'will require innovative financial solutions, which can be
business-led but will require regulatory backing and incentives in some areas'.
Some submissions, such as AGL, identified investments that will be
required to achieve the SDGs, stating:
...progress on many of the SDGs will require substantial
investment in infrastructure in a range of sectors, including energy,
transport, agriculture and water. Moreover, other SDGs that are focused more on
social change will still require careful coordination with the private sector
to ensure substantial progress.
Most evidence about costs to the inquiry focused on the overall costs of
implementing the SDGs across the community. The committee also received some
evidence indicating that there may be some localised costs for businesses.
Implementing the SDGs
The Shared Value Project stated that while its membership largely
supported the SDGs, the 'main internal barriers to engagement were found to be
lack of dedicated financial resourcing which brings into question the incentives
and support required'.
Some other submissions echoed this, such as the Queensland Tourism Industry
Council, which stated:
The most prevalent challenges for businesses looking to
support the SDGs is the cost of implementation, making changes to their daily
operating practices and the resources required to train staff. [Survey
respondents] consider that implementing new technology to become more
environmentally responsible is too great of a burden for many of the SMEs in
Volunteering Tasmania also identified the following implementation
measures requiring expenditure:
Development of tools and resources to assist with the
application of SDGs at the domestic level; [e]ducation and training on how to
utilise the above-mentioned resources; and [a]wareness and promotion of the
importance of the SDGs.
Several witnesses explained to the committee that the SDGs should be
understood as an opportunity for businesses, rather than a cost. For example,
when asked about potential costs to businesses from implementing the SDGs, Mr
Cameron Cross, Chief Executive Officer of uBegin said:
The way in which the question is framed seems to have a
preface to it that the undertaking is something that we have to do and
therefore it's some kind of burden. Where we're coming from is that it's
actually an innovation and economic goldmine. If we look at it from that
perspective, then the investment that would be going into business innovation
would start to go into business innovations that are solving social and
environmental challenges, which are social enterprises, and they're creating
cost reductions by the very nature of the problems that they're solving.
Ms Andrea Spencer-Cooke, Partner, One Stone Advisors, agreed:
It's the perception that sustainability is all about cost and
not about benefit. It's been around for 30 years. We are starting to see actual
studies that can demonstrate that those companies that invest in sustainability
do better in the medium to long term. Part of the challenge is about time
frames. We have a financial system and the share market that is extremely
short-term focused. Sustainability is not short-term focused. It's about
investing now for future prosperity. There is an innate challenge there, I
agree...That said, with the sustainability leaders in the corporate sector that I
work with, they are all saving money through sustainability. Sustainability is
Ms Kylie Porter, Executive Director, GCNA, said:
...when businesses are implementing activities with regard to
the SDGs and, more broadly, responsible business practices, these provide genuine
long-term savings for companies. They are operating in an environment where
their risks are reduced, because they are operating responsible business models
and, therefore, long term they can pass a lot of those cost reductions onto
their consumers, if they are a consumer based business. We don't see the SDGs
as bureaucratic or having red tape associated with them. If anything, they
probably alleviate a lot of that because they set a precedent for how to
Risks for unsustainable businesses
The Business and Sustainable Development Commission noted '[m]oving
business to a sustainable growth model will be disruptive, with big risks as
well as opportunities at stake'.
Submissions also raised some concerns about the risks of transformational
change, such as AustralianSuper, which stated:
Certain companies and sectors may not be well-placed to
succeed in an economy focused on sustainable development. For example, carbon
intensive and water intensive companies or sectors need to examine the
reputational and transition risks associated with their long-term business
models and adapt accordingly...These expectations represent both value-creation
opportunities for industry leaders and risks for industry laggards,
particularly given the likelihood that companies will be benchmarked against
Mr Phil Jones, science teacher, also identified some of the broader
risks and benefits of change:
Phasing out of fossil fuel use and the adoption of renewable
energy will cost the investment required for it. As a major fossil fuel
exporter, this could come at a sizable cost. Restoring open cut coal mines will
be an added cost. Some level of reduction in employment opportunities would
also be lost. If mishandled the provision of unemployment benefits would be
another cost. However, it is the long term cost that should be taken into
consideration, keeping in mind the fact that the SDGs are meant to deal with
our global ecological crisis.
A few submissions suggested that implementing the SDGs could impose
additional reporting requirements on private and public sector organisations—unless
reporting is aligned with existing processes.
The City of Melbourne stated:
Unless the SDGs are integrated or streamlined with existing
reporting frameworks (e.g. the Local Government Performance Reporting
Framework) there is a risk of added costs to Councils with regard to increased
resourcing to meet additional reporting requirements. It will be important that
the Australian Government consult with State and Local Government before
developing a reporting framework to ensure there is no net increase in
Mr Petersen, BCSDA, pointed out that government has the opportunity, 'as
part of an international agenda on this, to say that any obligation in terms of
reporting or engagement with the SDGs must, wherever possible, be at least cost'.
Ms Kylie Lloyd, Managing Director of Zoic Environmental Pty Ltd said:
We're finding that it is an area where business is a little
bit nervous. They're responding to shareholder requirements or shareholder
questions to leadership from procurement requirements for various government
tenders. It becomes about how you frame and integrate SDGs within systems that
are already in place in every business. There are quality systems, there are
environmental systems and there are health and safety systems. The standard
system to run a business has key components of governance. It
is making sure that we add and align these in a smart way and...to a mapped,
focused way of the SDGs.
Mr Allen, UNSW Faculty of Science, added:
Based on the discussions I've had—and I myself run a very
small business—I see the SDGs as much more of an opportunity than a cost on
business. If you look at larger businesses that have to do reporting on
sustainability, corporate governance, OH&S—a range of different reports—the
SDGs can provide a means for streamlining their systems into a single system,
or a unified framework, to reduce the reporting burden. I think that should be
the case across the board...I think the risk is that the SDGs are seen as an
add-on. They're added on to the end of another questionnaire or another system
that companies already have to do—so they're an additional obligation. I think
there's probably a risk there but, if we use the SDGs as a framework to align
existing systems rather than as a duplication of existing systems, I don't
think there would be an additional burden.
Ms Porter of GCNA reassured the committee that GCNA has:
...already sought business input to develop guidance on
reporting against these SDGs, and that's in partnership with the GRI [Global
Reporting Initiative]. To put that in perspective, in 2017 92 percent of the
world's largest businesses reported on sustainability measures aligned with the
Global Compact's 10 principles around human rights, anticorruption and environment.
Of these, 74 percent already used GRI. So the strength in developing guidance
for reporting that incorporates the GRI principles actually won't increase the
reporting burden or the red tape or regulation burden on companies.
CSIRO supported the streamlining of SDGs reporting requirements with
existing requirements, and called for the development of indices that can be
used for a range of purposes 'so that the SDG reporting measures do not become
an unnecessary burden in addition to other national, regional and global
The Australian Government is seeking to streamline national-level reporting
to minimise duplication of reporting efforts through the creation of the
reporting platform on the SDG indicators and the use of other datasets.
The Sendai Framework reporting provides information on 11 SDG
Indicators. Rather than duplicating existing data collection efforts, the
Australian Government will engage with the Australian Sendai Framework focal
point, Emergency Management Australia within the Department of Home Affairs, to
share data and ensure that it is nationally consistent.
Possible impact on Australian
A small number of submissions from individuals raised concerns that the
SDGs and 2030 Agenda have not been considered through domestic democratic
processes, and claimed their implementation may come at a cost to Australia's
For example, Mr Graham Williamson argued that the Australian 'people have been
denied the right to vote on such a massive far reaching initiative that
fundamentally depends upon democratic participation'.
His submission asked: 'Should imported international agreements prevail against
democratic Australian laws?'
Ms Michelle Tesoriero also expressed concerns at the absence of a 'national
address to the nation' informing Australians of the commitment to the SDGs in
2015', and asked '[w]ho is watching the UN as it takes it seat as the boss of
However, the 2030 Agenda declaration stated:
We reaffirm that every State has, and shall freely exercise,
full permanent sovereignty over all its wealth, natural resources and economic
activity...We reiterate that each country has primary responsibility for its own
economic and social development and that the role of national policies and
development strategies cannot be overemphasized. We will respect each country's
policy space and leadership to implement policies for poverty eradication and
sustainable development, while remaining consistent with relevant international
rules and commitments.
This chapter has summarised the potential benefits and costs to
Australia of implementing the SDGs domestically. The following chapters outline
suggestions for how to implement the SDGs and improve Australia's performance
against the goals.
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