Beyond gloomy headlines about a scolding 16-year old activist to leaders acknowledging failure to make meaningful progress on climate change, you may have missed the fintech report published during the United Nations General Assembly last month. 

The report, titled Harnessing Digitalization in Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals, looked at how digitization might help finance the UN’s 17 so-called SDGs, a range of targets from ending poverty to cutting inequality the UN hopes to achieve by 2030.

Financial digitalization can provide “new livelihood opportunities, provide better access to public services, lessen the carbon footprint, and enhance accountability and good governance,” the report concluded.

Fintech is already making saving money easier for people, and simplifying collecting taxes for governments, taxes that can go toward sustainability projects. 

“What we see now, thanks to the digital revolution, are more realistic ways to make that happen at meaningful scale.”

Digitization has already yielded more than $500 billion in green, sustainable development bonds. It’s enabling investors to get updated climate change information from satellite images, The group also concluded digitization increases the availability and quality of relevant financial information and provides consumers with a platform to advocate for their interests. 

Fintech can “shift the center of gravity of the financial system toward the citizen,” the report said among its conclusions. 

In a press release, task force Co-Chair Achim Steiner said that citizens are looking for ways to channel money toward “green and other sustainability-related targets. 

But the authors also warned that digitalization “can reinforce existing patterns of exclusion and discrimina- tion, drive new forms of inequality and encourage unsustainable practices, including the environmental effects of digitalization.”

“What we see now, thanks to the digital revolution, are more realistic ways to make that happen at meaningful scale,” he said.

The Task Force, which includes heads of financial technology companies, business leaders, central bankers and UN officials, was formed in November 2018 and is scheduled to issue its final report to the Secretary-General next year.

The report comes as member-states seek ways to accelerate their efforts to meet the UN’s ambitious 2030 Agenda goals to make the world a healthier, more just place. A separate 252-page report released last month at the General Assembly, the Global Sustainable Report, reached grim conclusions about the effort to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

Progress to meeting the SDGs is uneven at best, the report found. While the lives of the world’s poor have improved in some ways, they have gotten worse in others. For example, in the energy sector, improvements in energy efficiency and increased use of renewables are both good signs. But millions of people endanger their health and the environment because they lack clean cooking fuels.

Uneven Progress

“The world will not meet the Sustainable Development Goals if we do not reach people caught in fragile and conflict-affected states, where millions are being displaced and left behind, particularly women and girls,” the U.N. said in the report.

There is less absolute poverty — another UN concern — than there was decades ago, and access to education has improved. But Income inequality remains a concern and hunger is on the rise. In addition, the UN is behind in its goal to halve the proportion of people living in poverty in 2030. 

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted wealth disparity in a Sept. 24 address at the UN’s first SDG Summit in New York. “Half the wealth around the world is held by people who could fit around a conference table and, at the current pace, almost 500 million people could remain in extreme poverty by 2030,” Guterres said. 

Some countries have taken some initial steps to achieve UN social impact goals. Finland’s new, left-leaning government said it would increase spending by about $1.35 billion a year on infrastructure and social welfare programs over the next four years in its quest to become carbon neutral by 2035. 

The Maldives has formed a public-private partnership to create a national framework to achieve goals highlighted by the UN. In August, Mexico created a state-owned internet company as part of a longstanding pledge to provide Internet access to all its citizens. About 30% of the country’s population currently has internet access, which is a key element in economic development.

“Robust governance innovations are needed to ensure that digitalization supports the alignment of finance and money with citizens’ interests and sustainable development,” the UN task force report said.