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The banks’ reformed business models would lead to investments that ultimately benefit global public goods and the world’s population. Plus, countries in the Global South should be given an active role in the decision-making processes moving forward. In its latest statement, “Financing the Transition and Sustainable Development”, the RNE recommends that the German government be seen to argue for reforming the international financial architecture at the forthcoming Paris summit, but also at the UN General Assembly in September 2023 and at the reform talks of the World Bank. Essentially, Germany should lead the way at this year’s SDG Summit in the autumn by announcing ambitious measures for actioning the SDGs. “The financing gap for sustainable development is widening across the globe, while the multiple crises from climate change to the Covid-19 pandemic to the Russian war of aggression on Ukraine are only causing poorer nations in particular to fall further into debt. According to the latest calculations, some one trillion US dollars a year are needed to implement the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in the developing and emerging economies. Debt relief, in our view, is essential to ensure that heavily indebted countries, too, can get in the right lane towards sustainability and climate action”, says Reiner Hoffmann, Chair of the RNE. RNE member Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul adds: “Given the drastic debt situation of countries in the Global South, it is imperative that we set up debt relief, something China must commit to as well. Besides that, we need a comprehensive reform of the special drawing rights (SDRs) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to provide liquidity where it is most needed.” The allocation of SDRs is a system of reserve holdings introduced by the IMF in 1969. It offers countries in crisis situations the opportunity to receive reserve currency, but so far has been based on the share of IMF quotas each country holds – which effectively means the poorer countries get little benefit. As such, the richer nations should redesignate these funds in support of the developing countries. Moreover, the instrument of debt swaps should be expanded. This enables indebted nations to invest repayment sums falling due in agreed projects, for instance for climate change mitigation and healthcare, instead of paying the amount back to the creditors. The RNE also supports the idea of a trust fund for the multilateral development banks as an efficient and targeted means to open up the prospect of sustainable development in heavily indebted countries in times of multiple crises. Among other suggestions, the RNE paper supports the proposals of the Bridgetown Initiative, launched by the Prime Minister of Barbados, Mia Mottley, in mid-2022. The plan calls for reform of the World Bank and the IMF, with more capital than before going towards climate action and sustainability. In parallel, Germany too has drawn up proposals with the likes of the USA aimed at boosting the mobilisation of funds for climate protection and sustainability endeavours. These proposals should form part of a comprehensive reform agenda for the international financial institutions by autumn 2023. In the meantime, French President Emmanuel Macron along with Indian Prime Minister and current G20 president Narendra Modi has invited numerous heads of state to a summit on the “New Global Financing Pact” in Paris on 22 and 23 June 2023. The goal is to agree the cornerstones for a reform of the international financial system to support a just social and ecological transition. 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“None of the various stakeholder groups involved will be able to achieve the transformation towards sustainability alone.” In her keynote speech at the Athens Sustainability Outlook, Yvonne Zwick, Deputy Secretary-General of the RNE, highlighted this key philosophy as the foundation for the European conference. This was particularly true, she noted, in times where pressure is being felt from two sides: on the one hand from the younger generation, which is demanding effective action against climate change, and on the other from groups that do not see or want to see the advantages a globalised world provides.

It was against this backdrop that some 120 experts came together in Athens in early April to continue specifically the pan-European stakeholder dialogue on the topic of sustainable development and corporate responsibility and to identify important evolving trends. The results of the conference will be presented to the European Commission with the aim of bolstering it in its drive to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out by the United Nations. The two-part event comprised a stakeholder dialogue format with a smaller group of participants as well as a public conference the following day. It was organised by QualityNet Foundation (QNF), a non-profit organisation promoting sustainable development in Greece, and the RNE. Guests in attendance hailed in particular from Greece but also came from Belgium, the Netherlands, France and the Balkan countries

The Sustainability Code as a blueprint for other countries?

As one of the 31 speakers at the conference, Greek Deputy Minister for the Environment, Socratis Famellos, criticised the fact that prosperity is still not measured adequately. He would like to see an increase in indices that also reflect social and ecological aspects. Moreover, approaches of this kind are not yet widespread in the business sector, as was illustrated by the statement from Spyros Lioukas, professor of science & technology management at Athens University of Economics and Business, who gives business schools in general an “F” – the worst possible grade – in the area of ethics.

Thematically the discussions in Athens focused in particular on sustainable finance and the reporting of companies’ non-financial performance. “We talked about other countries’ interest in establishing an instrument similar to the Sustainability Code in Germany,” comments Zwick, who also leads the Code’s office. Some three years ago, following a two-year development process, Greece became the first country in Europe to introduce its own Sustainability Code based on the German example. At the conference, Hellenic Petroleum, Lidl Hellas and the Deutsche Telekom subsidiary OTE-COSMOTE all reported on their practical experiences of using the Greek Code. Most recently, Turkey joined the ranks and is now inviting companies to use the Turkish Sustainability Code as an instrument to support their entry into sustainability reporting and the development of a sustainability strategy.

A sustainable “New Deal” for Europe

Again and again, the participants came back to the question of whether, and how, a sustainable “New Deal” could work for Europe. They put forward that Europe would need to take a leadership role in the areas of circular economy and an inclusive fair market economy. Concretely, they discussed the suggestion that a “sustainability passport” be introduced for enterprises. Further stakeholder dialogue events will be dealing with this topic over the months to come, possibly resulting in the presentation of an initial draft proposal for the European Commission.

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