“It’s not just climate change, it’s everything change.” These powerful words were on everyone’s lips during our biggest annual event, the Stock Exchange Day, on 23 May 2019. About 600 invitees were present for the 37th edition of our annual event to attend a series of insightful presentations around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As Luxembourg Stock Exchange is deeply involved in the development of sustainable finance products, we decided to put the 17 SDGs established by the United Nations in 2015 at the forefront of the event.
Luxembourg Stock Exchange Chairman, Frank Wagener, opened the event with a call for more concrete actions and a little less talk. “There are undoubtedly a lot of challenges ahead of us,” he explained, “but at least as many opportunities that we should try to seize.” Although this time of change is putting the European Union to the test, Mr. Wagener also sees many opportunities for the member states. “Strengthening the global capital markets is key to create an integrated financial system that will benefit the economy on all levels. Indeed, a revamped Capital Markets Union could enable Europe to compete on a global level and deliver positive benefits for its citizens,” he added. In March 2018, the Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth launched by the European Commission defined a series of measures to build a solid sustainable finance framework. To ensure that more decisions regarding climate protection will be taken, we need brave political and business decisions. Mr. Wagener finished his speech by adding: “Together, we can promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and technological development.”
To pursue this inspiring call to action, Isabelle Durant, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) encouraged the audience to contribute to positive change on an individual level. “All over the world, younger generations are mobilising to make world leaders – us – see the obvious and urge us to act,” Isabelle Durant explained, “their call to action addresses the lack of sustainability of the economic and social model our generation has contributed to establish and maintain.” The change that is coming is inevitable, but everyone has the possibility to change to make a difference – even the smallest one. “Our model must change, everything must change: the way we invest, the way we produce, the way we trade, the way we consume,” she continued. If we want to meet the SDGs by 2030, Ms. Durant added that we need a strong political will, resources and a contribution on every level of society.
Further details on the SDG targets and our progress were given by Michael Green, CEO of Social Progress Imperative. Along with other partners, he created the Social Progress Index, a useful tool based on similar criteria to the SDGs that measures the progress made towards the targets. The situation he depicted was far from ideal. According to current trends, only some countries will achieve the SDGs by 2030. The global evolution is not comforting either. According to Mr. Green, the reasons behind this slow progress are not only the difference of development between countries but also the global weakness on some SDGs. On some aspects like SDG 2 “Zero Hunger,” the world is moving quickly, but on others like “Water Sanitation,” we must find a way to adapt existing solutions to a larger scale. Finally, in some cases, the evolution has even gone backwards on aspects related to personal rights and inclusiveness. For Michael Green, the challenge will be for governments to focus on the whole package of SDGs, and not only on the easiest ones, because if we do that we would have to let go of our dream and of the goals’ promise.
Closing the evening on a high note was our CEO Robert Scharfe, who reminded everyone that we all have the power to create a more sustainable society during an insightful exchange with the event’s moderator Nathalie Reuter. “We often think that sustainability is not profitable, but sustainability is about business. We need to change this old-school frame that prevents us from seizing perfectly viable new business opportunities,” he explained. Indeed, incorporating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors actually results in lower portfolio volatility, improved long-term results and a framework aligned with the SDGs. “It’s not just climate change, it’s everything change,” Robert Scharfe continued, “today there is still a lack of knowledge, but accountability and transparency will be the two main characteristics on future financial markets. Our goal is to demystify sustainability, to educate not only our clients but also ourselves.”
After an hour and a half of thought-provoking presentations, all participants were invited to a networking cocktail reception, fueled by thoughtful discussions around the next big challenge for the world: how we can contribute, on an individual level, to reaching the 17 SDGs.