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Responsible investment: The SDG conundrum

As policymakers worry about achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, companies and asset managers are still working out how to make sense of them.

Lucy Fitzgeorge-Parker ESG 1920px.jpg

Some things change, some stay the same. The Davos World Economic Forum may have taken place in cyberspace this year instead of Switzerland, but the question of how to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was once again a key theme.

Set by the UN General Assembly in 2015, the SDGs cover three broad areas – economic, social and environmental development – and comprise 17 goals, further refined to 169 targets.

There has long been agreement that achieving them by the target date of 2030 will require action from both the public and private sectors, and the emerging consensus over the past year has been that policymakers need to do much more.

But what about the private sector?

At first glance the picture looks encouraging. The past few years have seen a proliferation of investment strategies referencing the SDGs, from thematic exchange-traded funds to early-stage impact investment funds. The goals have been used as reference points for sustainability-linked bonds and loans, and even in an FX forward structured last June by Deutsche Bank.

As investor attention has started to shift from ESG risks to assessing impact and outcomes, the SDGs have provided an appealing framework

Meanwhile on the corporate side, the latest annual Survey of Sustainable Reporting released by KPMG in December showed a big rise in the number of companies connecting their business activities to the SDGs.

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