Setting goals for a changing world

Despite the changing fortunes of many around the world, there are still challenges to development; pulling millions more out of poverty, providing clean habitats, fostering innovation, building stable societies, taking care of an aging population with increased life expectancy, tackling climate change, and with the advent of more automation, finding different ways for entire segments of society to spend their days.

In 2015, the world’s governments, through the United Nations, agreed on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to ensure that parts of society are not left behind by the rapid pace of change. This Agenda is framed by 17 overarching Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which set priorities and guide action over the next fifteen years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the world: people, planet, prosperity and peace.

These are not simply goals for the United Nations system to follow, but a framework for aligned action across all parts of society and the global community. Business, in particular, has a big influence on how many of the goals can be realised, but will also benefit once they are achieved.

Business thrives in stable societies with healthy and prosperous citizens, open borders and strong institutions. At the same time, there is an obligation on all companies and industrial sectors to consider not just profit maximisation in business strategy, but stable and sustainable growth. In addition to this the SDGs provide an ideal template of the important elements for corporate strategy.

Transport's role in sustainable development

While there is no stand-alone SDG on mobility, former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged the catalytic power of the sector and formed a High Level Advisory Group on Sustainable Transport to look at how it could help deliver the SDGs. The group developed ten recommendations to promote wider access to safe and efficient mobility which fed into a cross-UN effort, Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All). This initiative brings together UN agencies, multilateral development banks, NGOs, academics and industry to chart a way forward for mobility that follows a vision of universal access, efficiency, safety and green transportation.

Aviation's unique perspective

Much of the discussion on mobility is focused on ground transport for understandable organisational reasons. Urban transport links including roads, railways, cycling infrastructure and bus networks are all heavily reliant on government intervention and coordinated policy, whereas aviation is largely self-sufficient. In many developing nations, however, there may need to be some policy intervention to ensure infrastructure development for wider access to air services.

The global aviation industry is aligned with the aims of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Analysis shows that the global air transport industry plays at least some role in supporting 15 out of the 17 SDGs. Through generating connectivity between nations, aviation is a key driver of economic and social development. Over half of all international tourists travel to their destination by air, and tourism plays an even more important role in some states than others, with 45 out of 47 least developed countries identifying tourism as a key development sector.

Aviation also has one of the clearest and wide-ranging climate action plans of any global industry, which contributes to the environmentally-focused SDGs.

While aviation already plays a major role in supporting and complementing the SDGs, simply through its day to day operations, there are areas where the industry could increase its contribution to sustainable development by working in partnership with governments and inter-governmental institutions.