The UN has released an update on the Sustainable Development Goals. I find the number of indicators a bit bewildering. It is interesting to dig into some of the thresholds and methods behind the indicators, and to see how individual countries score. I wonder though if countries are really using these metrics to guide their planning and policy decisions. I wonder if something a bit simpler (not simpler to compile, but simpler to interpret) like a GDP adjustment or ecological footprint would work better. If every country were in the “good” range for all these metrics, do we really know that the world would be sustainable in an absolute sense, meaning not exceeding the limits of our planet? These indicators instead seem to rank countries against each other, taking the countries doing the best in each category as the model for all the others. I wonder if the best the world currently has to offer is really the best we can aspire to in every category. Well, this is an academic question when there is clearly such a gap between the best and the worst, or even the best and the average. And I wonder if we will be patting ourselves on the back in the future because some percentage of countries met some percentage of these goals.
I’d like to thank a recent commenter on the “About” page for bringing this to my attention.
The Aichi Biodiversity Targets were adopted by the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010, and at least some aspects of them (slightly confusing to me) were incorporated in the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the UN in 2015. In short, my understanding from a quick skim is that the target is to protect 17% of land area. The current status is reported in a Protected Planet report that the UN produces every two years. (Disclaimer: I could easily have some details wrong here.)
In terms of the representation element of Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, less than half of the world’s 823 terrestrial ecoregions have at least 17% of their area in PAs and only one third of the 232 marine ecoregions have at least 10% of their area protected. Less than 20% of Key Biodiversity Areas are completely protected, and therefore further efforts are needed to expand PA systems to ensure that the global PA estate adequately covers areas important for biodiversity and the provision of ecosystem services to people.
According to this article, the G20 is making a commitment to “green finance”.
The conventional economic-development model viewed environmental protection as a “luxury good” that societies could afford only after they became rich. Such thinking explains why the dramatic growth in global income, 80-fold in real terms during the last century, has been accompanied by a decline, according to the United Nations Environment Programme, in natural capital in 127 of 140 countries…
But China is already taking concrete steps in the right direction. On August 30, President Xi Jinping presided over a decision by the Central Leading Group for Comprehensively Deepening Reforms to transform China’s financial system to facilitate green investment. The so-called “guidelines for establishing a green finance system” adopted at the meeting represent the world’s first attempt at an integrated policy package to promote an ambitious shift toward a green economy.
According to the guidelines, China will have to develop a wide range of new financial instruments, including green credit, green development funds, green bonds, green equity index products, green insurance, and carbon finance. It must also introduce a host of specific policies, regulations, and incentives, including innovative use of the central bank’s relending operations, interest subsidies, and guarantees. And it must establish a national-level Green Development Fund, much like the United Kingdom’s Green Investment Bank.
The United Nations has a new report on China’s “ecological civilization” plan. What seems notable is that it takes an urban and regional planning framework, then weaves in goals related to environmental quality and sustainable agriculture. There are also a few targets related to habitat and biodiversity conservation. It’s a good vision and contains all the right rhetoric.
I don’t like to get too much into politics in this blog, and especially not the politics of countries other than my own, but this article about Thailand and Myanmar annoyed me a little bit. I suspect it was written by someone who doesn’t travel much, but is just trying to piece together a story based on things they read in the newspaper. The premise of the story is that there is a clear connection between a western parliamentary system and foreign investment in developing countries. I don’t think this is true – companies in the developed world love investing in developing countries they view as stable and predictable, whether they have representative government or not.
Thailand has made several attempts at a Western-style majority-rule parliamentary model but it simply hasn’t worked – it hasn’t resulted in consensus policies that are acceptable to enough of the various factions of society that they would let the country move forward. So what you see on TV is a somewhat unique way of having that long-term political struggle and trying to come up with something workable. There has been some sporadic violence and loss of life regrettably, but it is nothing remotely close to a “civil war” as some columnists would have us believe. Arguably, this is a democratic process although it is playing out over a long time frame and in a very odd, uniquely Thai way. By the way, there are very real human rights abuses, military violence against civilian protestors, and political repression that have occurred under Thai governments past and present, and I am not condoning any of that in this post.
You can understand why foreign multinational corporations, which have no loyalty or ideology other than profit seeking, might prefer a nearby country like Malaysia or Vietnam, which also offer infrastructure and cheap labor with less chance of the messy political process that is creating some uncertainty in Thailand. Indonesia is another example of a country that has been developing quickly under decades of conservative governments, but is now scaring international companies a little bit with its local brand of democracy. The Phillippines has an American-style constitution, but has never quite gotten its economy in gear.
Burma/Myanmar is interesting because it is somewhat of a blank slate. It could be a laboratory where truly sustainable economic, social, and ecological development policies could be tested and refined if the political leadership really understood and wanted to do that. I think it will more likely just be the next Thailand, with its people richer, healthier, and better educated a decade from now, but missing a portion of the rich culture and natural wonder it used to have. I wish the people of both countries all the best.