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Kristina Persson is no longer a government minister, Minister for Strategic Development and Nordic Cooperation

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Business Engagement in the UN Post-2015 Development Agenda

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Volvo Group Sustainability Forum 2014, Stockholm 26 november 2014
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A joint Political and Business Leadership for Sustainability.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for the opportunity to address this year’s Volvo Group Sustainability Forum! Volvo Group has been a pioneer in supporting research and innovation in sustainability for a long time. And the Volvo Environment Prize has been a prestigious environmental award, ever since it was launched in 1988.

Sustainability is a core value and a business development model contributing to Volvo Group’s success. I am sure that this also has meant a boost for the Swedish business community to prioritize their work on sustainability.

Business is moving beyond Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to sustainable development, as key value in support of competitiveness. I find this very encouraging. It is a strong reason for hope and a starting point for partnership between the public and private sector.

We all know that the challenges ahead of us, in terms of ecological sustainability, social inclusiveness and economic stability are immense. Many of us worry over the growing gap between visions and actions. We will need a much closer cooperation across borders - not only geographical but also between sectors and interests - if we shall have a chance to succeed in meeting these challenges.

This was recently confirmed by the "Global Agenda Council Members" - business representatives, academics and politicians all around the world – who every year are asked by the World Economic Forum to identify the key global challenges that will have the biggest impact in the coming 12 to 18 months. The gathered insights generate the "Top 10 Trends in social, economic and political issues".

As the top three of this year's list you find:

  • Deepening income inequality
  • Persistent jobless growth
  • Lack of leadership

The first two are social and economic, and it is encouraging that a broad international community recognizes the risks with growing social disparities. The fact that Lack of leadership is number three on the list reflects a growing lack of confidence in the world's ability to address mounting global challenges. As much as 86% of the respondents agreed that we have a leadership crisis in the world today.

The necessity to achieve a sustainable development is putting strong demands on the quality of political leadership. And the strongest obstacle is - I believe - the lack of legitimate, global or regional leadership. We have national structures and national democracies but in the place of global cooperation and global responsibility we have mistrust and weak international organizations.

No nation can by itself solve the threats to environment, stability and peace. Neither can individual nations capture the full benefits of new opportunities, including new knowledge, without international cooperation through trade, foreign investments, financial stability, etc. Global challenges call for global actions.

For you who are here from the business sector, not least from the transport sector, I guess that you already see the scale and the complexity of these issues in your daily business operation. Put differently, ecological and environmental degradation, climate change and its impacts – are not invisible risks in the future, but real threats not only to people’s well-being today but also to successful business operation.

The two major concerns in the WEF list, the economy and the environment are intimately linked. In other words, environmental issues are not only about environment, but about economic prosperity and social cohesion. And this complexity of the problems and their solutions are themselves a challenge for our present structure of governance.

So, what can we do, as business leaders and as politicians? I don’t hesitate to say that we, the politicians need to deliver more. We must explore and define the proper regulatory framework and the long-term policy signals that will unleash the innovations, investment and market development needed for a sustainable future.

In this process, the dialogue with business people will be an integral element. There are some key questions to which we need to find good answers:

  • How to incentivize and support sustainable development
  • How to ensure that future economic growth and technology development will go hand in hand with social inclusiveness?
  • How to ensure good governance and finance for sustainable development?

These are key strategic issues that the new government will work with. As Minister for Strategic Development, a green transition agenda for Sweden and Nordic influence on the global agenda for sustainable development are among my top priorities.
The government is also setting up an Innovation Council – that will have Sweden’s sustainable and competitive future as key focus. The engagement of business sector will of course be instrumental in turning the strategic visions into reality.

The process of reaching Millennium Development Goals has resulted in significant improvements to the livelihood for millions and millions of poor people in the world. Nevertheless, poverty has not been eradicated and inequality is still growing. 1.8 billion people still don't have access to clean drinking water and sanitation; 2.3 billion people still don't have access to electricity. Not to mention the growing threats of climate change and their consequences on poverty and migration.

The current process of establishing new goals for sustainable development, within the framework of post-2015 development agenda is in itself a massive undertaking that will need strong involvement of business. The theme for this forum is therefore very timely.

The post-2015 development agenda will unlike the Millennium Development Goals, not primarily focus on international development cooperation. Traditional development funding will certainly be part of it, but the vast majority of resources will have to come primarily from the private sector.

I am pleased to learn that the Swedish business community, through the program of Swedish Leadership for Sustainable Development, has embarked on the road to “inclusive business” integrating social values and sustainable development into core business. These companies may become the new generation of sustainability pioneers. They can lead by example, through demonstrating the role of business in society and in tackling global challenges. In other words, through inclusive business, they will be able to tap both into development potentials and make positive changes in a resource-and pollution-constrained world.

The policy and investment decisions that we make now will determine the future of our economy and our climate. We know that around 90 trillion US $ is predicted to be invested in infrastructure in the world's urban, land-use and energy systems within the next 15 years. If we choose low-carbon investments we can generate strong and high-quality growth, not just in the future, but already now. If we on the other hand continue down the high-carbon route, climate change will bring severe risks to the long-term prosperity and the quality of life of future generations. Public-private partnership can make the green transition happen on a large scale and at great speed.

To summarize, sustainability will increasingly be at the top of the agenda, for both government and business. The post-2015 agenda must be built by a new spirit of solidarity, cooperation, and mutual accountability.

So, let us join forces to work hard towards a green transition, to de-couple our economic growth from ecosystem destruction; Let us team up to re-couple sustainable development with industrial competitiveness and societal well-being!

Thank you!