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Actuaries and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Ken BuffinKen Buffin, Founder of the US-based Buffin Foundation, discusses the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the innovative ways actuaries can harness their skills to drive progress towards achieving them by 2030.

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly set seventeen Global Goals for Sustainable Development, more commonly referred to as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs represent a universal call to action for implementing a series of comprehensive and far-reaching global measures crucial for realizing a prosperous, sustainable and equitable future for all. Successful delivery of the goals would result in the eradication of all forms of poverty, in developed and developing nations, by 2030. The SDGs were developed to achieve specific objectives based on four key principles:

  1. All the world's people should have access to safe and sustainable water and sanitation, adequate nutrition, primary health services, and basic infrastructure, including electricity, roads, and connectivity to the global information network;
  2. All nations should adopt economic strategies that increasingly build on sustainable best-practice technologies, appropriate market incentives, and individual responsibility. The world should move together towards low-carbon energy systems, sustainable food systems, sustainable urban areas, and stabilization of the world's population through voluntary fertility choices of families supported by health services and education;
  3. Every country should promote the wellbeing and capabilities of all their citizens, enabling them to reach their potential, irrespective of class, gender, ethnic origin, religion, or race. Every country should monitor the wellbeing of its citizenry with improved metrics and reporting systems. Special attention should be given to early childhood, youth, and elderly persons, addressing the specific vulnerabilities and needs of each age cohort;
  4. Governments at all levels should cooperate to promote sustainable development worldwide. This objective includes a commitment to the rule of law, human rights, transparency, participation, inclusion, and sound economic institutions that support the private, public and civil-society sectors in a productive and balanced manner.
     

View the SDGs
 

Since the adoption of the goals, we have seen many interesting examples of SDG projects from within the ongoing work of the United Nations Social and Economic Council and the various UN Agencies, including the World Health Organization, International Labour Organization and International Social Security Association, World Meteorological Organization, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and the United Nations Committee on Trade and Development. For example the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has been exploring how fiscal policy can be deployed to reduce inequality through spending on health, education, and social protection and ensuring the progressivity of tax systems. The IMF is also focusing on efforts to boost women's economic participation, especially through the design of tax and spending policies. The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2018 details the progress that has been achieved against the goals. I encourage Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA) members to explore these sources of UN SDG projects so as to expand their horizons in considering how actuarial skills may be relevant in relatively new areas such as climate change, economic inequality, workplace safety innovation, sustainable consumption, and other global challenges and opportunities.
 

View the 2018 SDGs report
 

Successful development and implementation of the SDGs will depend on expert input and guidance, including that which actuaries can provide. Actuaries can readily apply or adapt their technical skills and experience, such as risk assessment and risk mitigation, to support many of the SDGs. The SDGs cut across several issues that fall within the practice areas and experience of the actuarial profession, including social protection, financial stability, poverty alleviation, mortality reduction, healthcare provision, and capacity building for insurance and financial services. I encourage all actuaries to become more informed about the SDGs and to consider how they may become involved either through their individual activity or through helping their employers to support the SDGs. The IFoA has already published a number of examples of case studies which highlight the innovative ways in which actuaries are helping to achieve the goals. The examples span the design of innovative insurance products to address environmental risks in China, road traffic risks in India, and the impact of animal agriculture. These diverse case studies demonstrate how traditional areas of actuarial practice can be expanded to address the global issues facing our world today.

The IFoA’s dedicated SDG campaign was launched in January 2018 with a view to stimulating discussion within the profession about the importance of SDGs and the role of actuaries in achieving them. Two forthcoming events will provide opportunities for members to learn more and become involved with the IFoA’s campaign.

  • The Actuarial Society of South Africa and the IFoA will be hosting a joint-webinar on Friday 5 October 2018. The webinar will be chaired by Marjorie Ngwenya, Immediate Past-President of the IFoA. It will discuss the SDGs in more detail and consider the role actuaries can play in achieving them.
  • I will be chairing an IFoA SDG workshop in London on the evening of Monday 29 October 2018. The workshop will be interactive and will bring together experts from the actuarial profession, government, academia, think tanks, the third sector, and others engaged in financial services, to discuss how the core elements of the actuarial skillset can be applied in practice to achieve the UN SDGs.