Haoliang Xu: Plenary Address At The Responsible Business Forum

Nov 23, 2016

Your Excellency Minister Lawrence Wong,

Your Excellency Minister Sathasivam Subramaniam,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you Mr. Preston for the introduction, and thank you to Global Initiatives and the Marina Bay Sands for walking the sustainability talk – for making the Responsible Business Forum the first zero-waste zero-emission conference of this scale. 

We hope to learn from this and adopt the approach at future UNDP events.

I am pleased to be here at this pivotal moment for Asia-Pacific and the world. 

It is one year since every country in the world signed up to the Sustainable Development Goals. 

They form a blueprint for addressing the most significant challenges facing our planet and its people. 

Challenges like climate change. 

This is likely to be the hottest year on record and here in Asia, climate change is a cause of the natural disasters that have claimed half a million lives in the last decade.

Challenges like inequality, which has been growing for four-fifths of Asia-Pacific’s population over the last 20 years.

Challenges brought on by the accelerating process of ageing, which will make it harder for many Asian states to provide basic services to their people.

The 17 SDGs will address these challenges and other interlinked issues, including education, hunger and security.

But governments cannot implement this blueprint on their own. Nor can the UN and other development organizations. 

As Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his statement to you yesterday: We need you.

Think of the power you represent. We won’t fight global warming by reminding people to turn off the lights when they go out. 

But we will if businesses incorporate sustainable use of water and power in the processes of production.

We won’t feed all the world’s hungry with charitable distributions of rice. 

But we will with improved agricultural techniques and boosted trade. 

We won’t achieve equal rights and a decent education for girls just by building schools – not unless we also build economies that give parents the means to put their children into those school. 

In developing countries, businesses account for 60 percent of GDP and 90 percent of jobs. 

The kind of change envisaged by the SDGs can only be achieved with the input of the private sector. 

But what do we hope to achieve here today?

This is the start of a new movement. By connecting business with governments, we can create a policy environment that unleashes the potential of the private sector. 

When governments understand the needs of business, and business understands the development priorities of governments, everyone stands to benefit.

We are already seeing examples of such collaboration.

Just yesterday, the ING Bank, Credit Suisse, FMO, and others launched in this venue an innovative Sustainable Finance Collective Asia.

And what does UNDP bring to the table? 

We bring 50 years of experience in development and boots on the ground in 36 Asia-Pacific countries.

We connect governments and businesses and provide forums, like this one, to share innovative ideas. 

We can help governments design the policies required for business to flourish, and we can help business move beyond corporate social responsibility to make sustainable development a core part of their operating model.

At the policy level, we have produced the 2016 Regional Human Development Report that introduced “Nine Actions for Sustainable Development in Asia-Pacific” to help governments capitalize on demographic trends to spur development.

With Baoshang Bank, we are going to launch YOUTH 2030, a regional network of youth leaders and incubators to support innovation and entrepreneurship.

We have established the UNDP Social Impact Fund, a 'blended finance' platform to promote social impact investing and investments in SDG implementation in Asia-Pacific. 

This Fund will be ready to receive proposals next year, thanks to a partnership with the Haifu International Finance Company.

And let me give you an example from where we are right now.

In 1960, the government of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew received a team of advisors led by Dr. Albert Winsemius from what later became UNDP. 

The team delivered a roadmap for Singapore’s development, with innovative ideas in areas such as engineering, education, tourism, retail, financial services and container shipping. 

It shaped Singapore’s economic and industrial development, as well as its public administration.

The years of cooperation paid off. You will have seen the results on the way to this meeting.

Now we have to do for the world what we did in Singapore.

We have accumulated great expertise, we have the resources and this region is already blazing a trail.

In 2000, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for less than 30 percent of world GDP. By 2014 it was almost 40. 

The number of people living in poverty has dropped from over a billion in 2000 to around 300 million today. 

But to sustain this momentum and achieve impact on the scale needed to achieve the SDGs, we must engage more companies around the world.

We must continue to advocate for behavior change.

We must change the way we produce and consume.

We need to spread the word that responsible business is not only a force for good, it is good for the bottom line.  

Recently, the CEO of Thirst, Mina Guli, told me that the water used to make a cotton suit and a pair of leather shoes is more than the water one person needs to drink in his or her whole life.  

And we can’t wait a lifetime. Just like Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and advisor Albert Winsemius, we have to start planning for the long-haul.

Ladies and gentleman,

Achieving the SDGs is a great ambition. 

The scale of the challenge makes me humble.

I imagine that is how Albert Winsemius felt in 1960.

But look at Singapore today.

And look at the Republic of Korea, Thailand and other countries in Asia-Pacific that transformed themselves through political and business leaders like you.

I am optimistic. We are ready to continue to support your effort to end poverty in all its forms and set Asia-Pacific on the path to sustainable development.

Thank you and I look forward to having constructive discussions with you over the next two days.

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