Social Catholic Teaching and 2030 Agenda – Two sides of the same coin?

Part I: Why investing in line with the 2030 Agenda may conflict with Christian morality.

Since its origin, the Church has never been indifferent to the social realities and problems that spur mankind. From «Rerum Novarum» through “Caritas in Veritate” to Laudato Si and Fratelli Tutti, the Church has always demonstrated its concern for integral human development. As an international actor, the Church is no stranger to the attempts to advance along the path of development. In this sense, Catholic Social Teaching is necessary at all stages of human dialogue with the world[1].

The most recent, and perhaps most significant, milestone in that effort by States to reach consensus is undoubtedly the 2030 Agenda. In 2015, the States of the United Nations unanimously enacted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While many of these goals are praiseworthy[2] and perfectly acceptable from a Christian point of view  (in fact are presented as «an important sign of hope»[3]), there are others that are radically opposed to the Magisterium and where the Holy See has openly expressed its reservations (it is worth reading the document of the then permanent observer of the Holy See, Archbishop Bernardito Auza called «Note from the Holy See on the First Anniversary of the Adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals«). In that document we can see that where the 2030 Agenda and the Social Catholic Teaching (SCT) may seem to be two sides of the same coin, there are discrepancies whose origin lies in the vision of mankind.

On one hand, the Social Teaching of the Church is based on personalism, a philosophical trend that gives protagonism to the person and, as such, to its dignity. On the other, the 2030 Agenda is based on the so-called “ethics for development” defined by the UN in 1991, which has as its main objective:

«expanding opportunities for individuals which cannot be achieved if people are not truly free to choose what they want to be and how they want to live».[4]

In other words, the 2030 Agenda seems to be based on a consensual concept in which the protagonist is not the person and its intrinsic dignity, but the concept of development. This is important because if the ultimate goal is mere development, the person can be «used» simply as a means to an end, which can lead to situations where, for example, anti-natalist measures are imposed in exchange for funding to achieve this supposed development. An example of this would be African countries, where in order to receive development aid they must adopt anti-natalist policies under the name of «reproductive health» (as has been denounced by Obianuju Ekeocha in several publications and in her documentary «Strings Attached»). 

The investment world is not immune to the 2030 Agenda. According to the latest available data, investment funds reporting SDGs have increased 6-fold from 2017 to 2020[5] and presumably that amount will already be much higher by 2023. In the face of this growth, there are questions that arise for a faith-consistent investor that are worth considering:

  • Does the 2030 Agenda respond to a vision of man consistent with the Magisterium?
  • Does the 2030 Agenda really seek integral human development?
  • As the Holy See’s notes[6] introduce, is the 2030 Agenda reduced to a universal declaration to «appease consciences» with solemn and pleasant declarations? Is it really effective in promoting true development?
  • What are the alternatives for Christians to invest in a way that is consistent with their faith?

After this brief introduction to Agenda 2030 and SCT, in the coming weeks we will publish several articles in which we will analyze the meeting points between the SCT and 2030 Agenda. We will analyze with greater emphasis the most controversial points, trying to explain from Christian anthropology, what incompatibilities arise with the approach of certain SDGs and we will ask ourselves: what can a Christian do to maintain and generate a Christian culture, also in the investment world?

We hope it will be of interest to you… duc in altum.


[1] Katarzyna Cichos, Jarosław A. Sobkowiak, Ryszard F. Sadowski, Beata Zbarachewicz, Radosław Zenderowski, Stanisław Dziekoński, Sustainable Development Goals and the Catholic Church: Catholic Social Teaching and the UN’s Agenda 2030, Routledge, 2021, p.2.

[2] Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Note Of The Holy See On The First Anniversary Of The Adoption Of The Sustainable Development Goals, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, 2016, p. 2. Available at: https://holyseemission.org/contents/statements/5806914667987.php

[3] Pope Francis, Visit to the United Nations: Address of the Holy Father September 25, 2015., The Holy See, 2015, Vatican Publishing House. Available at: https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2015/september/documents/papa-francesco_20150925_onu-visita.html

[4] UN, Human Development: 1991 Report, Oxford University Press, 1991, p. 21. Available at: https://hdr.undp.org/system/files/documents/hdr1991encompletenostatspdf.pdf

[5] UN Principles for Responsible Investment, Investing with SDG Outcomes: A Five-Part Framework, 2020, p.10. Available at: https://www.unpri.org/download?ac=10795

[6] Archbishop Bernardito Auza, Note Of The Holy See On The First Anniversary Of The Adoption Of The Sustainable Development Goals, Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, 2016, p. 2. Available at: https://holyseemission.org/contents/statements/5806914667987.php

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