Let’s Get the SDGs Back on Track: Insights from Latin America and Asia

Let’s Get the SDGs Back on Track: Insights from Latin America and Asia 

Photo by Channey on Unsplash


In Asia, countries from the lower-middle income ranges, such as Viet Nam, Myanmar, and Lao PDR have a long way to go towards SDG achievement, but the agenda remains a high priority for Asia-Pacific governments.

In Latin America, pandemic could generate the largest recession the region has experienced since 1930, but governments should not lose sight of environmental commitments as they develop emergency recovery measures.

We have identified three ways to get back on track in the SDGs Decade of Action, including a focus on well-performing SDGs for a sense of victory.

By Clemens Grünbühel, Ivonne Lobos Alva, Kuntum Melati, and Natalia Ortiz Díaz

The year 2020 marks the start of the Decade of Action and the countdown to the ten years we have left to transform our world and deliver the Sustainable Development Goals. It is a crucial period to speed up responses to the world’s greater challenges, now amid the coronavirus pandemic, one of the worst public health emergencies of our times with critical socioeconomic impacts.

The UN’s 2020 SDGs report announces that the world is not on track to achieve the goals by 2030. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, progress had been bumpy and then, the pandemic abruptly disrupted implementation towards many of the SDGs. In some cases, it has turned back decades of progress.

The environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda needs to be secured, to support the progress of socio-economic targets.

The ongoing 75th UN General Assembly represents an opportunity to renew our commitment to improving the global state of sustainable development. But how do we get the 2030 Agenda back on track? The next ten years will require global efforts to focus and set priorities to avert falling short. This article explores perspectives from Asia and Latin America, and provides three concrete options to revert current downward trends.

Asia: Boosting Focus on Priorities

In Asia-Pacific, none of the 17 SDGs is tracking to be met by the 2030 deadline. The latest progress report on regional SDG baselines highlights that countries in the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are already lagging. The report shows that progress on five Goals has deteriorated: SDG 2 (zero hunger); SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth); SDG 10 (reduced inequalities); SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 15 (life on land).

In the last Thailand elections, all parties supported some type of environmental and social equality agenda. However, nobody wants to pursue a set of unachievable goals. So, we need to focus on what can be achieved in the remaining decade. But focus on what? 

Speaking at the UNGA’s 75th general debate on 22 September 2020, China announced a pledge on “green recovery” aiming to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 and peak its emissions before 2030. We look forward to seeing details from the region’s greatest emitter on how they will lead by example in adapting their policies and practices.

Earlier this year the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) published a report titled, ‘Fast-tracking the SDGs: Driving Asia-Pacific transformation.’ The authors categorize countries into four groups based on their efforts to undertake transformative change:

  • Fast risers (progress rapid but still a long way to go),
  • Sprinters (racing ahead),
  • Aspirants (slow rates of change), and
  • Last milers (good track record but slowing progress).

Interestingly, the report shows that countries from the lower-middle income ranges, such as Viet Nam, Myanmar, and Lao PDR are somewhat dominating as aspirants and fast risers, i.e. far from SDG achievement, while OECD and other high-income countries such as Singapore and New Zealand are in the sprinters and last-milers categories.

These results show that the development agenda remains high on the agenda of Asia-Pacific governments. While the region is industrializing rapidly, inequalities are rising, the rural-urban divide is increasing, poverty is rampant, and food and nutrition security remain yet to be resolved.

Latin America and the Caribbean: The Ultimate Dilemma

In June 2020, Alicia Barcena, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) announced the results of an analysis of progress using 72 statistical series for the for the region’s SDG indicators. She reported that of the 72 indicators, the region: has reached the target for four; ; is on the right track for 15; needs more public policy intervention for 8; requires strong public policy intervention for 13; is stagnant for 27, and is in decline for 5.

This bleak outlook is worsened by the expected effects of COVID-19. Estimates indicate the pandemic will generate the largest recession the region has experienced since 1930, with a projected growth of -5.3%, which would generate almost 12 million more unemployed and an increase of almost 30 million people in poverty.

Governments are rightly aiming to develop emergency recovery measures. However, they should not lose sight of environmental commitments and fall prey to the old dilemma: making a false choice between socio-economic relief and protecting the environment.

Furthermore, the stability of the region is at risk. An increase in unemployment, inequality, poverty, and hunger are ingredients for more social conflicts and unrest. We are already witnessing this in ColombiaChileBolivia, and Ecuador. In these four countries, massive protests against the governments broke out in 2019, and, in some of them, the police and military forces took to the streets to stop the demonstrations, resulting in dozens of deaths, hundreds of injuries, and social and political chaos. This has quieted down during the strict quarantines, but as isolation measures have softened, people have returned to the streets to protest the economic actions taken by governments and the lack of response to the ravages of the pandemic.

The potential instability ahead clearly reminds us that a resilient, inclusive, low-carbon economy must be the linchpin of post-Coronavirus economic recovery.

How Do We Get Back on Track?  

We have identified three ways forward.

Smart prioritizing and strategic synergies: Should we go for low-hanging fruits or push the underperforming SDGs? We believe in the need to set realistic targets as constant underperformance threatens to make the 2030 Agenda irrelevant. There is a need for success stories and not just the lingering feeling of underachievement. In this sense, smart prioritizing and strategic synergies would allow us to focus on well-performing SDGs for a sense of victory, but also on key Goals and key targets that are badly struggling, to spark a significant change to development pathways.

Focus on harnessing the environmental dimension of the SDGs: A recent study shows that only 20% of countries analyzed mention biodiversity as a national priority in their SDG progress reports. The Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 declares that biodiversity is declining and that none of the Aichi Targets will be met, thereby threatening SDG achievement and undermining efforts to address climate change. The environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda needs to be secured, to support the progress of socio-economic targets.

Aim to understand how the SDGs work as an indivisible system: A danger of prioritizing is that we can lose sight of the integrated character of the 2030 Agenda. One way of reducing the risk of advancing some Goals at the peril of others is to keep an eye on potential synergies and amplification effects. It is crucial to mainstream systems thinking into SDG planning and to make use of the methods and tools that are developed to help policy developers understand the impact of their prioritization choices. SEI’s Synergies Approach allows policymakers to systematically review all potential interlinkages and to prioritize SDG targets and goals that can pull others forwards, with as little trade-offs as possible.

A Final Thought

Regardless of the current lamenting on how we will not be able to reach the goals in 2030, we do have to acknowledge how far they have taken us. Sustainability has become a bon mot in every part of society. Today, not only researchers and activist groups preach the sustainability gospel, it has reached the highest levels of government policy planning, it is part and parcel of business and city plans. Even habitual challengers, like the coal mining industry, are jumping on the sustainability bandwagon.

Let us act jointly and smartly, and not let the opportunity for real change slip away.  

This guest article is authored by: Clemens Grünbühel, Senior Research Fellow, Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) Asia; Ivonne Lobos Alva, Research Fellow, SEI Latin America; Kuntum Melati, SDG Research Associate, SEI Asia; and Natalia Ortiz Díaz, Communications Officer, SEI Latin America.

Bioeconomy Study by European Forests Institute [EFI]

A new study published by the European Forest Institute calls for collective action to put nature at the heart of the economy and set the world on a sustainable path.

Written by a multidisciplinary team of over 25 authors, led by EFI Director Marc Palahí, the 10-point Action Plan for a Circular Bioeconomy of Wellbeing brings together the latest scientific insights and breakthrough technologies to offer a solution to current global challenges.

The publication features a Foreword by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, who says: “I have been deeply encouraged by the number of scientists and practitioners who have come together to develop a 10-point Circular Bioeconomy Action Plan inspired by my Sustainable Markets Initiative and its Circular Bioeconomy Alliance. It is time for leaders, across all disciplines, to step forward, be bold in their ambition and demonstrate what is possible so that others can follow.”

The Action Plan emphasises the importance of moving towards a circular bioeconomy to holistically transform and manage our land, food, health and industrial systems with the goal of achieving sustainable wellbeing in harmony with nature. Global challenges like climate change, and biodiversity loss, coupled with a growing and highly urbanised population call for new ways of producing and consuming within our planetary boundaries. At the same time, we need to achieve sustainability while ensuring equitable prosperity. The health and wellbeing of our citizens is a strong incentive to rethink our land, food and health systems, transform our industries and reimagine our cities.

The study sets out 10 Action Points which are needed to create a circular bioeconomy based on a synergistic relationship between economy and ecology:

1. Focus on sustainable wellbeing
2. Invest in nature and biodiversity
3. Generate an equitable distribution of prosperity
4. Rethink land, food and health systems holistically
5. Transform industrial sectors
6. Reimagine cities through ecological lenses
7. Create an enabling regulatory framework
8. Deliver mission-oriented innovation to the investment and political agenda
9. Enable access to finance and enhance risk-taking capacity
10. Intensify and broaden research and education

Download the study here: https://doi.org/10.36333/k2a02

The publication was developed within the framework of the Sustainable Markets Initiative of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales. It received support from Sitra, the Finnish Innovation Fund.

Ms Rach Colling

Head of Communications
European Forest Institute

Yliopistokatu 6B, 80100 Joensuu, Finland

Tel: +358 50 5956717

Email: rach.colling@efi.int


New Report: Sustainable Business Using The Landscape Approach


The WWF’s Landscape Sourcing Report: Sustainable Business Using the Landscape Approach makes a case for the private sector to adopt landscape approaches to sustainably strengthen and increase cost effectiveness within their supply chains.

Due to climate change and other environmental crises,  the private sector is facing a number of issues that threaten the reliability and health of their supply chains. These risks include resource depletion, increased unreliability of water flows needed for farming and other industries,  and social issues such as labour rights and the health and integrity of indigenous communities.

Many company leaders now acknowledge that sustainability is not only good for the planet, but also good for their bottom line. Adopting a landscape approach as many companies have chosen to do  is an attractive entry point into the circular economy and can both help address environmental concerns while still maintaining company profitability. 


The landscape approach is a conceptual framework whereby stakeholders in a landscape aim to reconcile competing social, economic and environmental objectives. In practice, the landscape approach helps provide tools to manage land sustainably in areas where human activity competes with environmental and biodiversity goals. Adopting a landscape approach results in a sustainable landscape, satisfying the needs of the many actors dependent on and with vested interest in that landscape- communities, local organizations, private sector, and the government. 

Landscape sourcing is a methodology for product sourcing that contributes positively to the goals of a sustainable landscape through product certification which  identifies commodities  that are produced and grown using sustainable landscape management. 


When companies commit to a landscape approach, they invest in people and land, communities and biodiversity. This commitment also means working to achieve a shared understanding of the conditions, challenges and opportunities in a given landscape with multiple stakeholders agreeing to a common vision and goals. 

There are many tangible benefits for a company to invest in and build a landscape approach, including:

  • Reducing operating costs 
  • Giving themselves a competitive advantage in fast-developing markets
  • Building a wider client base
  • Securing the long-term viability of the business
  • Strengthening reputation
  • Attracting the best talent
  • Supporting business innovation


Join the authors for a full introduction and Q&A session

22 October 2020, 1pm CET/ 7am EDT/ 7pm HKT

Co-authors Nigel Dudley and Marianne Smallwood will share a brief introduction on how adopting a landscape approach is an attractive entry point into the circular economy and can both help address environmental concerns while still maintaining company profitability.


US bans imports from Malaysia’s palm oil company FGV

Wednesday, 30 Sep 2020 10:36 PM MYT

FGV, the world’s largest crude palm oil producer, and some other suppliers of the oil used in everything from food to cosmetics to biodiesel have long faced allegations from rights groups over labour and human rights abuses. — Picture by Choo Choy May
FGV, the world’s largest crude palm oil producer, and some other suppliers of the oil used in everything from food to cosmetics to biodiesel have long faced allegations from rights groups over labour and human rights abuses. — Picture by Choo Choy May

WASHINGTON, Sept 30 — The United States has banned imports of palm oil from Malaysian company FGV Holdings following an investigation into allegations it uses forced labour, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency said today.

FGV, the world’s largest crude palm oil producer, and some other suppliers of the oil used in everything from food to cosmetics to biodiesel have long faced allegations from rights groups over labour and human rights abuses.

FGV did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The US agency said the ban was the result of a year-long investigation that revealed signs of forced labour such as abuse of the vulnerable, deception, physical and sexual violence, intimidation and threats, and retention of identity documents.

The investigation also raised concerns that forced child labour was potentially being used in FGV’s production processes, CBP said in a statement, adding that the ban would come into effect immediately.

“The use of forced labour in the production of such a ubiquitous product allows companies to profit from the abuse of vulnerable workers,” said Brenda Smith, Executive Assistant Commissioner of CBP’s trade office.

Indonesia and Malaysia are the two biggest producers of palm oil and the industry has also been blamed for deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats.

Smith said CBP had received allegations around the broader palm oil industry and asked US importers to look into the labour practices of their suppliers.

“I can’t be more specific at this point but I would suggest that US importers doing business with palm oil producers take a look at their supply chain and ask a lot of questions around the labour practices,” she said.

US consumer goods giant Procter & Gamble, which has a joint venture with FGV, should take the ban “seriously” if it is an importer of its palm oil products, Smith said.

Procter & Gamble did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The CBP ban comes after rights groups called on US authorities last year to investigate FGV over concerns about forced labour and human trafficking on its plantations.

About 84 per cent of palm plantation workers in Malaysia, or some 337,000 workers, are migrants from countries including Indonesia, India and Bangladesh.

Anti-trafficking group Liberty Shared submitted a petition to CBP in April against another Malaysian palm oil producer, Sime Darby Plantation, over alleged labour abuse.

The company said in July it had asked the rights group for more information and that it would swiftly address any breaches following a thorough investigation. — Reuters


Five Aussie and five Kiwi Fairtrade coffee brands serving up for International Coffee Day

30 SEP 2020

Coffee can feel like a lifesaver when it helps you function in the morning, but for many farmers and workers around the world, it really is.

Man picking coffee in PNG

Challenges in price fluctuations, variable weather conditions, disease, pests, and now climate change threaten coffee’s very existence as well as the livelihoods of up to 125 million people. What are we willing to give to do to support our morning coffee?

Fairtrade coffee is an easy way to support the long term sustainability of your coffee. Just look for the Mark to know that the Fairtrade Premium and Fairtrade Minimum Price has been applied to support farmers in building a better quality of life for their families and communities. Including growing better quality beans and confronting challenges like the effects of climate change. It’s win-win.

An espresso shot of facts

Coffee beans drying

Why Fairtrade coffee matters: 

  • 50% of all Fairtrade farmers produce coffee
  • 582 coffee producer organisations represent 760,000-plus farmers in 32 countries
  • 18% of all Fairtrade coffee farmers of women
  • Coffee farmers received $137 million in Fairtrade Premium in three years to enhance their communities
  • Only 33.8% of Fairtrade-certified coffee is bought on Fairtrade terms. This means coffee farmers are missing out on $270 million a year in Fairtrade premium.

This International Coffee Day (or any day, really), try these brews that are doing their bit in your country and globally

Hands holding coffee cherries in PNG
Five Aussie true brew Fairtrade coffees:
  1. Grinders: As Australia’s largest roaster of Fairtrade coffee beans, since 2010 Grinders have generated over $1,475,000 in Fairtrade Premium funding to help support 795,400 Fairtrade farmers and their communities in 537 cooperatives from 30 countries across the world.
  2. BP: For when you’re on the move, Wild Bean Cafés have recently introduced a new, smooth, 100% Arabica and 100% Fairtrade Wild Bean Cafe Barista Blend. Wild Bean Cafe’s annual Barista competition is also proudly supported by Fairtrade. 
  3. DC Roasters: AllCity is as cool as a hot coffee can be – packed in a striking pinball pack and including beans from Colombia and Sumatra, it’s for the pinball wizards and everyone else too.
  4. The Bean Alliance: Oxfam fair: The Oxfam fair brand was launched in 2010 to bring Oxfam’s Fairtrade, ethical and life-changing products to more Australians for enjoyment in the workplace and at home. Available in all major supermarkets, it’s been doing just that for more than a decade.
  5. Coffex: Coffex is acknowledged for their global and ethical sourcing, and the expertise of their master roasters. Their Global Café Direct Range is made up of blends that are not only Fairtrade certified but also 100% Organic.
Five sweet as Kiwi Fairtrade coffees:
  1. Z Energy: Z Energy has promised to: “be bold and provide leadership and a range of solutions to enable our customers, stakeholders and communities to join us on the journey to a low carbon future”… we’ll drink to that!
  2. Waiheke Bean: The Full Buzz coffee beans come entirely from a large group of farmers (more than 2,500 members) from Eastern Papua New Guinea who have organised into a collective known as the Highland Organic Agricultural Cooperative.
  3. IncaFe: IncaFe is founded on the belief that Certified Organic Agriculture produces more nutritious, healthier products which are better for the environment and simply taste better too.
  4. Grounded: Grounded Responsible Coffee not only tastes amazing, but is also 100% Fairtrade, 100% organic and certified Climate Neutral. With a tree planted for every pack of Grounded purchased, this brew is also helping clean up New Zealand’s waterways and restore native flora and fauna. 
  5. Bruno Rossi: Inspired by Italy’s love affair with espresso, Bruno Rossi is rich, dark and handsome. Put that together with fair, and it’s everything a good coffee should be. 

Find all Fairtrade coffee brands.

Coffee pot steaming PNG

Photography by Josh Griggs, taken in Eastern Papua New Guinea at the the Highland Organic Agricultural Cooperative


United Nations ramps up drive to restore the natural world

How do you restore a planet? With a shared and inspiring vision, an openness to new ideas and many willing hands.

Alarmed by widespread degradation, the climate crisis and plummeting biodiversity, governments last year declared 2021-2030 as the United Nations Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (UN Decade). During the next 10 years, the initiative is aiming to halt and reverse degradation and raise awareness about the need for restoring the natural world and the many benefits it brings to humankind.

The decade begins next year but work is already underway to build the movement. Starting today, individuals, communities, businesses, governments and others can show their support for reversing the degradation of Earth’s natural systems and creating a more sustainable world.

Individuals and organizations are encouraged to not only use the Decade’s brand-new visual identity, but to make it their own. They can make use of various communication tools in up to eight languages to show that they are part of #GenerationRestoration.

Through a newly launched website, everyone interested in protecting and reviving ecosystems can learn how restoration works and how to get involved in the UN Decade. Groups and organizations can sign up and begin sharing their inspiration, experience and resources.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare how our health and well-being depend on the health of the planet,” said Inger Andersen, head of the United Nations Environment Programme. “Pulling together in a global movement for restoration is key to making our societies and economies stronger and fitter for the future.”

Aspekbom restoration farm in south africa
Spekbom, a shrub, is used to restore land and capture carbon in South Africa. Photo by UNEP

Every year, the world is losing 4.7 million hectares of forests – an area bigger than Denmark. In the last 100 years, half of the world’s wetlands have been degraded or drained. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, prevent catastrophic climate change and save one million species on the verge of extinction, hundreds of millions of hectares need to be revived. This enormous task is too big for anyone organization to undertake. Restoration is a global mission.

A strategy for restoration

A core team has spent months consulting with stakeholders from across the globe on how to achieve the UN Decade’s aims. Having considered more than 2,000 comments from officials, restoration experts, funding partners, indigenous peoples and youth, UNEP and FAO today released a strategy that will underpin the initiative.

A digital platform for the exchange of ideas and technical expertise is being designed for launch in early 2021.

Restoration means reducing human pressures on landscapes and seascapes of all kinds and allowing or helping them to recover, boosting their resilience and productivity.

Initiatives can range from planting a tree or cleaning up a beach – achievable with few resources – to large-scale reforestation or re-wilding schemes with big investments and careful management. Political leaders have a critical role to play in restoration. They can, for instance, change harmful agricultural and fishing policies and channel international finance toward sustainable solutions.

“Reviving ecosystems can bring huge rewards, especially when it is carefully planned and carried out,” said Qu Dongyu, head of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “The UN Decade provides a platform for groups of all kinds to find the information and partners they need to make restoration a success.”

Reef restoration in Jamaica
Restoring reefs and coasts is essential for climate change adaptation. Photo by UNEP

Healthy ecosystems will be essential for achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including its core drive to eliminate poverty, say experts. Many of the benefits of restoration, from better crop yields and water supplies to protection from natural disasters, would accrue to poor rural communities who depend on forests, fisheries and other natural resources.

Protecting and reviving natural habitats and making farmlands, coasts and cities more sustainable will also help halt dramatic falls in wildlife populations that have left a million species threatened with extinction. And restoring forests and other landscapes that store vast amounts of carbon is a key step on the path toward preventing catastrophic climate change.

Experts are calling on governments and international institutions to seize the opportunity presented by economic recovery plans following the coronavirus pandemic to shift investments toward a so-called “restoration economy” that can provide millions of green jobs.

The UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030, led by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and partners covers terrestrial as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. A global call to action, it will draw together political support, scientific research and financial muscle to massively scale up restoration. Learn more.

For more informationonthe UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, please contact Tim Christophersen.TOPICS


Integrating SDGs into sustainability reporting

Transparency is fast becoming the new paradigm for conducting business. Transparency underlies Target 12.6 of the SDGs, to encourage companies to adopt sustainable practices and integrate sustainability information into their reporting. Through better reporting, organizations can understand, communicate, and better manage their contributions to the SDGs. 

Visit our Resource center to download our essential tools for integrating the SDGs into your reporting. 

Essential tools for integrating the SDGs into your reporting include (Download below from the ‘Relevant documents’ section): 

  • Analysis of the goals and targets

A handbook of indicators to make reporting on the SDGs straightforward and simple to execute. Translations are also available in Portuguese, Japanese, Simplified Chinese, Spanish and Bahasa.

Collaborators: UNGCPWC

Funded by: SIDA 

  • Integrating the SDGs into corporate reporting: A practical guide 

    A three-step guide to embed the SDGs in existing business and reporting processes.  Translations are available in Portuguese, Traditional Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Bahasa, Turkish and Thai.

    Collaborators: UNGCSHIFTPWC

    Funded by: SIDA
  • Mapping the SDGs against the GRI Standards A linkage document to show which GRI Standards you can use to report on specific SDGs.


Rethinking investment policy to support sustainable development

Just a few words in an investment treaty can cost governments millions—or even billions—of dollars. The mere threat of such a costly dispute has led many governments to think twice before enacting new policies, from COVID-19 relief measures to anti-smoking legislation. IISD experts are pushing for reform and offering their expertise to ensure progressive, sustainable policy isn’t held back by the threat of arbitration.By Nathalie Bernasconi-Osterwalder on September 17, 2020Share this page:


Economies need investment to grow, support public services and infrastructure, and make the clean energy transition a reality. With only a short time remaining to meet significant global commitments such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement, every penny is crucial. While the challenge was already great, the devastation wrought by COVID-19 makes this work even harder, yet also more urgent and important. 

Most investment treaties, however, still do little to support investment that advances sustainable development and the post-COVID recovery. Instead of setting up a framework to promote collaboration on sustainable investment, these treaties can stifle government action to develop economies that create value in the country and are respectful of the environment. They can cost governments millions—or even billions—of dollars when a foreign investor decides to bring the government to international arbitration.  

Under most investment treaties, foreign investors have access to a powerful mechanism known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which allows them to sue the host governments if its actions harm current or future profits and are found in breach of one of the main principles included, such as those relating to non-discrimination, expropriation or ‘fair and equitable treatment’.

An aerial view of wind turbines on a hill top in Spain

Most investment treaties do little to support the type of investment that advances sustainable development, such as funding for renewable energy projects.

ISDS allows foreign investors to bypass local courts to challenge a wide range of measures, including those to protect public health or the environment, bringing claims directly to international arbitration tribunals, which will have the final say over whether or not the foreign investors should be compensated.

In recent decades, more than 1,000 known ISDS cases have been brought against states hosting foreign investors. Losing a case can be crushing: the average award is over USD 500 million. In at least nine cases, payouts have exceeded USD 1 billion

The mere threat of such a costly dispute can lead to a ‘regulatory chill’, hurting people and limiting governments’ policy space. Now, there is the very real risk of ISDS being applied to emergency measures that governments have adopted to fulfill public health and economic recovery objectives during the pandemic. 

But there is some hope. For several years, IISD has worked to shift the focus on investment at the international level away from a system that prioritizes investor protection to one that emphasizes the advancement of national and global development goals through sustainable investment.

IISD has worked to shift the focus on investment away from a system that prioritizes investor protection to one that emphasizes the advancement of national and global development goals through sustainable investment.

IISD has worked with and advised dozens of countries and regional groups on investment law and policy. Countries are, in fact, hungry for innovative ways to reform their outdated investment treaties, developing their own model investment treaties or developing strategies for renegotiating or exiting outdated treaties.  

A new investment model for sustainable development

As early as 2005, IISD developed a text for a Model International Agreement on Investment for Sustainable Development. This model has been extremely influential and has heavily influenced the development of modern investment treaty models with respect to the definition of investment that takes into account sustainable development; the formulation of investment principles that allow for the necessary policy space; alternatives to investor-state arbitration; obligations for investors to respect human rights, the environment, and refrain from illegal action, such as corruption and fraud; and obligations on home states to support sustainable investment and allow victims to seek justice in the home state of the investor.  

However, while newer treaties and treaty templates incorporate reforms to varying degrees, the stock of old and outdated treaties remains in large part intact. These treaties continue to present a great risk for governments around the world, including in the COVID-19 context. Governments must take action now – they have the knowledge and the tools. 

A speaker uses a microphone during a meeting

The annual Forum allows negotiators to take a deep dive into systemic reform of ISDS, which is another avenue where IISD has long worked to address some of the myriad imbalances in international investment governance / IISD Reporting Services

The Annual Forum of Developing Country Investment Negotiators

For discussing all these issues, IISD has established the only international platform for government officials exclusively from developing and emerging economies. This one-of-a-kind forum allows investment negotiators to strategize collectively, exchange best practices, and raise questions in a supportive environment. 

This year’s Forum, the 13th of its kind, was the first to be held virtually because of COVID-related travel restrictions. Whether in-person or online, the annual gathering offers developing country government participants a unique chance to share and learn from the experiences of colleagues across continents. Far more than just a meeting, the Forum has evolved into a vibrant community of government officials determined to work together toward systemic reform of international investment governance and to safeguard the best interests of their developing nations. 

The 2020 Forum was no exception. The discussions, co-hosted by the Government of Thailand and held online between September 3 and 11, looked not only at governments’ COVID-19 policy responses and what options investment negotiators have to safeguard these from ISDS challenges, but also debate about the road ahead. Negotiators debated what investment for a sustainable, resilient recovery might look like – and how countries can shift the focus of discussions in various ongoing international processes on the quality of foreign direct investment, rather than just its quantity. 

Far more than just a meeting, the Forum has evolved into a vibrant community of government officials determined to work together toward systemic reform of international investment governance.

With the stakes so high, we remain committed to ensuring developing countries can attract responsible investment that advances sustainable development while safeguarding their legitimate policy space. COVID-19 may have reshaped our world forever. But it has also reminded us that while the world of investment policy-making may move slowly, the risks can materialize quickly, and having a space where negotiators from developing countries can convene and debate a way forward at the national, regional, and multilateral levels is vital to enabling concrete change and resilient fairer economies. Share this page:


How much soy is hiding in your supply chain?

The Soy Toolkit
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Our Programme Director, Sophie Higman, spoke at the edie Sustainability Leader’s Forum 2020, discussing ‘Embedded soy in the average shopping basket’ alongside Emma Keller, Head of Commodities at WWF and Laurence Webb, Responsible Sourcing Manager at Tesco.


The average shopping basket contains cooking oil, margarine, chicken, bacon, fish and cat food among other things. These all need soy to be produced – be it as an ingredient or to feed the animals that go into these products. In fact, 70–75% of the world’s soy ends up as feed for chickens, pigs, cows and farmed fish. 

This mean these products all have a soy footprint. But, does this also mean a deforestation footprint?  

Recent research attributes 13% of all deforestation in Latin America to the expansion of soy. It’s considered the 2nd most important deforestation driver on the planet, after cattle ranching. 

This hidden ingredient in your shopping basket – or your company’s supply chain – could be associated with environmental and social issues, including deforestation, labour rights infringements and land conflicts. 


Which products in your supply chain might have a risky footprint?

To gain a broader sense of a company’s exposure to soy, and therefore soy-related issues, Sustainability and Sourcing teams need to start by analysing the soy footprint of their supply chain to understand how much embedded soy is in a given product.

For chicken, estimates range from 0.383 per kg of carcass weight (Consumer Good Forum, 2016) to 0.958 per kg (Profundo). 

McDonald’s has developed their own Soy Calculator which has helped them answer these questions for their own chicken supply chain and to plan for further engagement with their suppliers. Proforest is partnering with them on this journey.

Once a company has an idea of its soy footprint, what can it do to ensure it is not associated with social and environmental issues and, if it is, how to address them? 


Proforest has developed the Soy Toolkit: a one-stop-shop of resources to support companies on their sustainable soy sourcing journey. The Soy Toolkit gathers a very wide range of resources companies can build on to ensure soy is responsibly produced and sourced.

We provide a 5-step framework to support companies with the implementation their soy policies:  

  1. Assess and plan implementation
  2. Understand supply chain risks
  3. Engage suppliers
  4. Establish a purchase control system
  5. Monitor, verify, report 

Within each element of the framework is a thorough review of relevant initiatives – this includes tools that are appropriate for companies far from the production level such as retailers and food or feed manufacturers. 

One such tool to help you understand supply chain risks is the Soy Scorecard developed by WWF. These publicly available scorecards allow you to have a broad understanding if a company you buy from has a procurement policy and programme in place to ensure soy is not associated with environmental and social issues.

If suppliers are not managing risks in a way that meets your policy or commitment, you can prioritise them for further engagement and agree on action plan.

Further still, the Soy Toolkit can help you to monitor progress. We provide examples of good practices on reporting and real examples of what companies are doing.


We want the Guardian to play a leading role in reporting on the environmental catastrophe.

So today at the Guardian we commit to the following:

We will continue our longstanding record of powerful environmental reporting, which is known around the world for its quality and independence. In April 2019, the Columbia Journalism Review said, ‘For some time now, by far the best daily reporting on climate change has come from the Guardian, which covers the science, politics, economics, and health aspects throughout the world with great force and clarity.’ We will prioritise and give prominence to environmental journalism from The Guardian and Observer, bringing you the news and information you need. Our reporting on the environment, from our international team, will never be influenced by commercial or political interests and will always be rooted in scientific fact.Read morefrom our editors

“The Guardian will give the climate crisis the attention it demands

Katharine VinerEditor-in-chief

“The climate crisis is the defining issue of our lifetimes, and informs all our journalism

John MulhollandEditor, Guardian US

“Only a properly informed debate can help us avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis

Lenore TaylorEditor, Guardian Australia

Why the Guardian will no longer accept fossil fuel advertising

Anna Bateson and Hamish Nicklin

 We will report on how environmental collapse is already affecting people around the world, including during natural disasters and extreme weather events. We will bring you the world’s leading voices on the climate crisis, and we will cover issues across food, travel and lifestyle in order to help readers live sustainably. We will undertake investigations into the economic and political structures that underpin the carbon economy, and examine the role the climate crisis plays in many other critical issues – including inequality, migration and the battle over scarce resources.

 We will use language that recognises the severity of the crisis we’re in. In May 2019, the Guardian updated its style guide to introduce terms that more accurately describe the environmental crises facing the world, using “climate emergency, crisis or breakdown” and “global heating” instead of “climate change” and “global warming”. We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on the urgency of this issue.

 The Guardian will achieve net zero emissions by 2030. We are developing a detailed plan for how to achieve this, involving a full audit of our emissions. Our priority will be to reduce our carbon footprint meaningfully and permanently.

 We will be transparent with our progress. We have announced today that we have become the first news organisation to acquire BCorp certification, which means joining a community of businesses from across the globe who openly commit to driving positive societal change. This is an important milestone in public transparency and accountability for our global environmental footprint.

 We will no longer accept advertising from fossil fuel extractive companies on any of the Guardian’s websites and apps, nor in the Guardian, Observer and Guardian Weekly in print. This includes any business primarily involved in extracting fossil fuels, including many of the world’s largest polluters. Our decision is based on the decades-long efforts by many in the industry to prevent meaningful climate action by governments around the world.


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