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When Chartered Accountants Save the World

The goals that represent the most urgent challenges facing humanity

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 30 Apr 2021

We look at how chartered accountants are addressing the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and how the profession could be impacted by them in the coming years.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) underpin ICAEW's “When Chartered Accountants Save the World” series. The goals sum up the largest and most pressing issues facing our population and our planet. Each theme in this content series highlights how chartered accountants’ work can help solve some of the challenges encompassed by the goals, and how the world’s increasing focus on the SDGs is shaping the future of the profession. 

Taken together, the 17 goals aim to “end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030,” as the UN Development Programme describes it. The goals are also integrated so that we will only achieve progress on one of the goals if we make progress on the rest. ICAEW is supporting work to deliver the UN SDGs by 2030.

Importantly, the SDGs provide a framework for all of us to understand the biggest and most pressing problems facing our population as a whole. Senior decision makers in every aspect of society are then using the goals to shape the way they run their institutions or organisations. And this is why the SDGs are so important for the accountancy profession: not only will working on them benefit all of us but the challenges they sum up are increasingly shaping the future of the profession.

This first theme of the series covering declining trust in information, particularly informs the challenges in SDGs 1 and 16. The less we are able to trust information, the harder it is to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels,” as Goal 16 describes it. 

For the world’s poor, the issue of trustworthy information is even more pressing, and exacerbated by all the trends discussed above. They often don’t have access to, as UN Sustainable Development Goal 1 characterises it, “ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources [or] appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance.” An important part of the solution to all these challenges is to have trustworthy information (clear land rights and property rights, for example, that are written down and that those communities can lay claim to) and transparency from governments and other organisations about how they make decisions regarding those communities.

Amir Dossal FCA, Founder and Chairman of the Global Partnerships Forum and before that the UN’s Chief Liaison for Partnerships, explains how “trust and transparency has become a major challenge in our society, and has been amplified by growing inequality. These imbalances constrain wider economic growth and human development, which in turn deepens the trust divide.”

On the other hand, poorer countries often do not have the benefit of access to good research or alternative viewpoints, and so could be beholden to believing a single – often official – source. There are recent examples of this, such as former Tanzanian president John Magafuli, who claimed that COVID vaccines are dangerous without giving evidence and suggested that prayer and herbal medicine were better treatments before dying himself, quite possibly of COVID . There are also countless others, such as Thabo Mbeki, a former South African president whose policies encouraged the spread of HIV/AIDS in the county. A 2009 Harvard doctoral thesis found that: ”More than 330,000 people died prematurely from HIV/AIDS between 2000 and 2005 due to the Mbeki government’s obstruction of life-saving treatment, and at least 35,000 babies were born with HIV infections that could have been prevented.”