Mobile’s contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals: Good progress to date and much more to do

This blog was written by Mats Granryd, Director General, GSMA

Even pre-COVID, the world was not on track to meet the SDGs.”

This was the sobering statement from Sanda Ojiambo, CEO of the United Nations’ Global Compact, in her keynote at our recent webinar exploring the findings of the GSMA’s ‘2020 Mobile Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals’ (SDGs), our annual assessment of mobile’s contribution to achieving the Global Goals.

The headline from our report, like many other assessments of SDG performance, is that despite some good progress within the mobile industry, the world faces an uphill challenge to achieve the SDGs by 2030 – and the COVID-19 pandemic makes the hill even steeper.

So, understandably and rightly there is significant focus on accelerating action for the SDGs now. Not only because some of the hard-won progress of recent years could be lost due to COVID-19, but also with five years gone since the launch of the SDGs, there are only 10 years remaining to achieve the goals. This has been dubbed the Decade of Action by the UN.

Five years gone

It is abundantly clear that in all areas of business and society, including the mobile industry, more needs to be done, and fast, if we are to meet the aspiration of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is encapsulated in the SDGs.

Yet, despite the current global malaise, it is also the right moment to pause and reflect on progress made to date and successes from the last five years. The analysis in our latest Mobile Impact Report shows that the mobile sector has made progress on all 17 SDGs for the fifth year in a row. Overall, the sector’s average SDG impact score has increased from 33% five years ago to 48% today. This means that the mobile sector is achieving 48% of what it could potentially contribute to the SDGs.

2019 was the most impactful year yet with the industry increasing its overall SDG impact score by 4.7 percentage points. Five individual SDGs now have an impact score of more than 50%. SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure (63%) and SDG 4: Quality Education (54%) represent the areas of greatest impact. These are followed closely by SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities (52%), SDG 3: Good Health and Wellbeing (51%), and SDG13: Climate action (50%).

There is strong evidence that mobile connectivity delivers sustainable outcomes. Since 2015, the number of mobile users has grown by 600 million and there are 1.1 billion more mobile internet users. During the same timeframe, mobile has contributed $360 billion, or 4%, to global GDP, created five million new jobs, and helped to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by ten-times more than the global carbon footprint of the sector’s own emissions.

These gains clearly support the SDGs and show the exponential effect that mobile connectivity can contribute towards achieving the Goals.

Mobile technology remains at the centre of how we can address our most significant global challenges. It is also future fit. During COVID-19 lockdowns around the world, reliance on mobile has never been greater. Mobile networks have been stress-tested by the massive and unprecedented surge in data use, at least double normal traffic, and they have withstood the test – testament to the investment and progress made by operators around the world.

Ten years to go

But casting ahead, the picture shifts. Our analysis shows that, while more improvements will be delivered by 2030, mobile will not reach 100% for any SDG, which would represent the maximum contribution that the sector can make. This shows that mobile operators need to build on their existing efforts and investments, working with governments and other partners to drive positive, global impact and push towards 100%.

As a sector, we can be proud of our achievements to date. But we must recognise the next ten years are where the real work lies.

When launching the Decade of Action, Antonio Guterres, Secretary General of the UN, said, “We need to move together, leaving no one behind.” This is an aspiration that the mobile sector holds close and will continue to work towards with great energy for the next ten years, as we aim to deliver a vision of a more sustainable, equal and prosperous world.

For more detailed analysis, download the ‘2020 Mobile Industry Impact Report: Sustainable Development Goals’:

Download Report

Access the recording of our webinar, to hear our panel of experts discuss the findings of the report and the impact of COVID-19.

Watch Webinar