United NationsDepartment of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Major Group: Business & Industry

Contribution from the Major Group Business and Industry to the Third
Session of the General Assembly of the Open Working Group on Sustainable
Development Goals
24 May 2013
My name is Jack Moss, I am speaking for the Major Group Business and Industry, trying to
cover industries of all sizes from tiny local businesses, through small and medium enterprises
to large multinationals. I have been the water spokesman for this group during the Rio
conference and its preparatory process. I therefore have strong motivation towards water as
a subject.1
Over the last two days we have heard many interesting things: aspirations, hope, ambitions -
poverty alleviation, well-being, happiness, harmony. We heard talk of sustainable
development as being 3 integrated dimensions linked and interacting with each other,
environmental, social and economic. I am sure this is the right way to look at sustainable
In side event organised by Germany, we heard the need to be practical, to devise solutions
that work in the real world but also of the challenges of politics and negotiation, power,
sovereignty, subsidies and trade.
Others talked of a new vision of society and others again about how to pay, - about new
ways to see the value of things and new visions of economics. There was talk about
transparency, governance and involvement, but also about leadership and decision-making
by governments.
In short we heard of extreme complexity.
1. Our first message is therefore on this issue of complexity
From this complexity, we are all faced with devising a small number of simple Sustainable
Development Goals that will help to take us towards a new order in a sustainable world and
away from the many unsustainable divergences that face us today.
We heard many, and sometimes diverging proposals, that people hope will meet this
challenge of high aspirations in extreme complexity. The richness of these suggestions adds
to the complexity of the challenge of finding solutions. Some of these proposals are
repeated in different forms and indicate that convergence is possible.
What we did not hear was any way to structure the complexity around some manageable
organisational principles.
1 Please note while this is not a pre-agreed statement it seeks to express commonly held positions by the
community represented, but engages the speaker alone. It is an extended version of the remarks given in the
session of the Open Working Group.
I know from my early management career in construction that a successful building emerges
from a project that combines a clear view of the functions to be performed by the finished
structure, and from a well organised design and construction process that works upwards
from the foundations to the internal finishes.
In our process of constructing a new and better world, we need to build on sound
foundations. We see the SDG’s as being these foundations. However, it sems that a
significant part of our current discussion is starting somewhere in the middle and that may
be a mistake.
We would therefore like to propose that as an organisational principle one should look at
the basic elements that form the foundations of any future sustainable development path.
For an individual organism, be it an insect, a plant, a fish or human being, I identify 6
fundamentals that are essential for survival. These are atmospheric gases to breathe, water
to hydrate, place to exist (for most of us land, but for others the oceans and freshwater),
energy (either direct from sunlight or in a secondary processed form), food (which is mainly
a product of air, water, land and energy), and what most people forget, the ability to dispose
of the wastes created by using these 5 other elements of survival.
It is only once an organism or a person has these 6 fundamentals satisfied that it can aspire
to going beyond the struggles of survival to the possibility of reproduction and, in the case of
humans, higher aspirations such as education, health, employment, stretching up to
happiness leisure and well-being.
We would therefore suggest that we need to look at a first tier of sustainable development
goals that address these 6 essential fundamentals. Such an approach needs a goal for each
and needs to recognise that while each is interlinked and inseparable from the others, they
all also have their own specific characteristics that need to be understood and worked in to
the targets and indicators that will support each goal.
Once we have a firm platform for these 6 issues we can then use them to support the higher
aspirations such as poverty alleviation, gender equality, public health, employment, wellbeing
and so forth.
That is why we liked the clear proposal made yesterday about water with a single
overarching goal linked to “water security” and 3 focused, interconnected and supporting
targets that collectively make water management and it’s contributing to society, the
environment, and economics a reality.
We will return to this later in this presentation.
2. Lessons from the MDGs
We talked about the lessons and unfinished business of the water and sanitation MDGs. A
lesson that I don’t think has come across clearly is the importance of using clear definitions
and well adapted monitoring processes. Unfortunately there has been confusion and
obscurity created by the misuse of three adjectives applied to access, “Safe, Clean,
Improved”. The MDG aimed at access to “safe” water, whereas the indicator used to assess
progress is “improved”. Improved sources are essentially those that are segregated from use
by animals. Much evidence indicates that “improved” sources do not equate with “safe”.
This has led many people and governments misinterpret the UN statistics and believe that
only 800 million people lack access to safe drinking water, whereas in truth close to 2 billion
people or more use unsafe water and half of humanity does not have its human right to
water satisfied (see AquaFed reports ).
Another difficulty is in the difference in the way access is defined in terms of distance from
the user to the point of service. If these were comparable for water and sanitation, we
would also find that the situation reported for water would be much less favourable than
that reported.
Finally to truly protect public health, sanitation must be much more that simply improved
3. Importance of water to business
Water is a big and growing issue for businesses of all kinds. This applies to all three
interlinked dimensions of sustainable development. Essentially with no water there can be
no business and therefore none of the products and services that businesses provide into
your communities and environments.
The interest of business does concern water and sanitation, which we recognise are essential
as a very effective form of preventive health. This is important for us so we can have healthy
employees and customers. We recognise the importance of the human right to access to
safe drinking water and sanitation and want to see its implementation.
However, the interest in sustainable water goes well beyond this. Let me illustrate this by
citing two recent business surveys. The first was conducted by the World Economic Forum in
its “Global Risks Report 2013” http://www.weforum.org/reports/global-risks-2013-eighthedition.
This report identifies water supply in a sample of 50 different risk subjects. Water
supply risk has risen to number 4 in terms of “likelihood” of occurrence and number 2 in
terms of “impact”. The second survey was carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit
“Water For All, A study of water utilities' preparedness to meet supply challenges to 2030”
6&src=7604535&Act=15. This report surveyed the leaders of both public and private
operators of water supply systems in developed countries. It identifies a number of risks in
terms of severity and likelihood and the three top ones are i) drought, ii) pollution of water
sources and iii) failed infrastructure.
These surveys just give an indication of the ways the business and industry community sees
the importance and challenge of a sustainable future for water and the need to support your
work in the Open Working Group.
4. Approaches to including water in the future SDGs
The Open Working Group has had a paper on water prepared for it by the Technical Support
Team. You are probably also aware of the draft paper that has been made available for
public consultation by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network. The first paper
proposes two alternative approaches to water (in its widest sense). These alternatives are
either to have a specific water goal that addresses the key issues of access to water and
sanitation, water resource management and management of wastewater, or to embed
water into other goals and not have specific water goal. We specifically avoid using the
expression “stand-alone goal”, because as already indicated there must be complete
interconnection between the fundamental goals.
The Sustainable Development Solutions Network comes down on the second approach
advocating for no specific dedicated goal for water.
Let me deal with this second position first. The importance and complexity of devising and
implementing policies for the allocation and management of water throughout the water
cycle and the vital role this “primary resource” plays in all dimensions of sustainable
development is recognised by more and more stakeholders, including the business
community. For this reason alone not dedicating a specific goal to water is a serious
omission. This is all the more so with the growing realisation by many stakeholders
throughout the world that water is a limited and irreplaceable resource and only a
renewable one if well managed.
The idea that water is cross-cutting so does not deserve a goal of its own is seen by many
decision makers as an irritation, whereas in reality, without significant improvement of
water management across the globe most of the goals that the document proposes and that
the OWG is considering cannot be realised.
A specific goal on water with its attendant indicators is going to be needed. This goal needs
to be developed under a general concept of ensuring water security and must encompass
the 3 related aspects of access to safe drinking water and sanitation services, the protection,
allocation and quality of water resources, and the reduction and removal of water pollution
to enable more re-use of water that has already be used for other purposes and to protect
other users and the environment from water pollution.
We do not find the paper’s arguments for not including a specific water goal as set out in
point 20 on page 31 of the paper in any way persuasive. The arguments used there are
The importance of an integrated approach to water as a fundamental enabler of sustainable
development and primary resource for social well-being, economic development and
environmental security clearly calls for a dedicated water goal. This water goal should reflect
the importance given to water in the “Future we Want” as well as the overwhelming support
given in the global UN online consultation and the advice from many water and non-water
Pursuing the approach of diluting water within other goals, while not giving it a clear goal in
its own right, also makes it almost certain that water will be under-represented in the
process of determining the SDG’s, because it means that a significant presence of water
experts will be required to make input at every meeting and deliberation that leads to the
goals being finalised, which is unlikely to happen. It presents a serious risk of leading to the
exclusion of water as a vital issue from the process.
You will understand from this position, that we do not support the “either or” approach
suggested by the Technical Support Team. What we do see as being the right approach is a
combination of the two approaches. A dedicated water goal is clearly needed and water also
needs active consideration and integration into other goals, both the 6 primary ones that we
recommend and the more aspirational goals that they will support and enable.
The global water community is currently focussed on the challenge of the devising the detail
targets and attendant indicators and monitoring processes that will be need to make a
dedicated water goal a real and useful tool in the drive to a more sustainable, poverty free,
inclusive, world where 9 billion people can live well and within the long term capacity of the
planet to support them.