Standards are technical specifications or other precise criteria used consistently as a rule, guideline, or definition. These Standards as minimal requirements are key to achieving the SDGs. Here is why.
On World Standards Day, Standards are key to achieve the SDGs
Energy, food insecurity, economic uncertainty: our world is tangled in many interlocking crises. The magnitude of these challenges calls on us – institutions, businesses and individuals – to identify solutions to build back better together.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the United Nations in 2015, offers a way forward. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): they represent a call for action to address social imbalances, develop a sustainable economy, and fight climate change. Each goal of the SDGs – and their corresponding targets – supports a specific dimension of the effort needed and point to a global commitment that is now more relevant than ever.
CEN and CENELEC, as two of the official European Standardization Organizations (ESOs), are aware of the importance to leverage all available tools to achieve the SDGs. We believe that, in this effort, standards can play a key role.
In this spirit, this 14 October, like every year, CEN and CENELEC join the international standardization community in celebrating World Standards Day. This year’s edition, under the motto “Shared visions for a better world”, showcases the many ways in which international standards can contribute to sustainability.
As the recovery from the Covid pandemic shows, voluntary, consensus-based standards facilitate the translation of ambitions into concrete actions: they offer shared and clear rules of behaviour which foster the dissemination of best practices and the circulation of innovations.
As CEN and CENELEC, our commitment to making standardization a lever for sustainable development is twofold. First, in our role as ESOs, our purpose is to strengthen the Single Market. Thanks to the well-functioning public-private partnership recently renewed through the new European Standardization Strategy, CEN and CENELEC support the EU’s initiatives – including the ones linked to the SDGs: the EU Green Deal, the Circular Economy Action Plan, and the EU’s Digital Strategy, to name only a few.
On the other hand, we understand that, as Europeans, we are part of a bigger global ecosystem. Therefore, our engagement is – primarily – global. With our strong commitment towards our international partners (ISO and IEC), together with our national members we aim to ensure that Europe leads in the development and application of standardization solutions that respond to global challenges.
Our commitment to sustainable development is reflected in the key place it holds in our CEN and CENELEC Strategy 2030, where as part of its priorities we pledge for “International standardization to be a lever for sustainable development”. This strategic document will guide our work until 2030. The objective is to ensure we are fit for the future and contribute to building a more sustainable and resilient Europe.
These are not just lofty ambitions. Through the work done by many experts across different Technical Committees (TCs), CEN and CENELEC develop European Standards that contribute to the three pillars of economic, environmental and societal sustainability. Some examples:
SDG 5 Gender equality. CEN and CENELEC signed in 2019 the UNECE declaration on Gender Responsive Standards, pledging to adopt a gender-aware approach to standardization, and established an ambitious implementation plan that is reviewed on an annual basis.
SDG 7 Affordable and Clean Energy. Many existing standards on energy management can be used as tools to help businesses gradually improve their performance and the energy efficiency of their products. For instance, in the field of Ecodesign and Energy Labelling, 25 CEN and CENELEC TCs produce European Standards on methods for measuring the energy performance of various energy-related products against the values set by the European legislation.
Another relevant area for the energy transition is transports. Standards help reduce the amount of energy used in the sector and shift to sustainable fuels. Existing standards cover means of transport (such as railways, with a total of more than 1200 standards on everything from rolling stock to electric circuits in train), tools to monitor emissions in vehicles, or Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) in urban areas. Such standards are often used by manufacturers, public authorities and regulatory bodies to implement their ambitious sustainability plans.
SDG 13 Climate action. CEN and CENELEC have adopted a horizontal approach to environmental protection, embedding it across all their actions. Some examples of this approach: the recently inaugurated CEN TC 467 ‘Climate Change’ develops standards to mitigate and adapt to climate change, while CENELEC’s 111x ‘Environment’ focuses on reducing the negative impact of electrical and electronic products on the natural environment.
The ones above are just some examples. Many more exist in other sectors, and their potential to support sustainability plans all across the board is huge.
To provide some evidence on this potential, last May CEN and CENELEC presented a new dedicated webpage: “Standards for the SDGs”. This online tool provides a comprehensive and clear mapping of the standards that contribute significantly to the SDGs in the European context.
At the moment, the website accounts for 4783 deliverables, with more expected to be added in the coming months. The objective of the project is to develop a strategic approach to SDGs leading to the inclusion of sustainability considerations in standardization.
The global challenges we all face are complex and require collective effort. SDGs show the way forward. On World Standards’ Day 2022, and together with many other organizations around Europe and the world, CEN and CENELEC are happy to renew their commitment to leveraging the power of European standards in building a sustainable future for everyone.
Investments adhering to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria are capturing increasing interest in the Middle East. A 2020 survey carried out by multinational bank HSBC revealed that 41% of regional investors wished to adopt an effective ESG investment policy. A May 2022 PWC report confirmed this trend, adding that Middle Eastern companies’ top three sustainability priorities are diversity and equality, climate change and safety.
The region has long lagged in ESG investments. For example, in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, an economic model highly reliant on non-renewable energy exports has limited interest in ESG practices, especially environmental ones. However, in recent years, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been leading the way in matters of sustainable development, devising national plans to overcome hydrocarbons dependence, increase the share of renewable resources in their energy mix and boost the private sector.
Alena Dique is the founder of ESG Insights Middle East, a regional ESG databank. She told Al-Monitor, “ESG investments in the Middle East have boomed since the pandemic, and this trend will probably remain popular until 2030. Social investing is largely pushed forward by investors who want long-lasting, sustainable contributions left behind as their legacy. At the same time, environmental investments present a huge opportunity for the Middle East, especially with the region hosting both COP27 and 28. However, there is still a long way to go regarding the governance aspect, even though the Middle East is no stranger to responsible investing, ethical practices or sharia-compliant strategies.”
In addition to the ethical aspects, many Middle Eastern investors consider sustainable assets attractive from an economic perspective. A recent GIB asset management report highlights that ESG-compliant investments generally have higher long-term profits. “This is difficult to evaluate as ESG is both qualitative and quantitative. We need to look at how investors choose to assess ESG risk and what areas they look to emphasize. ESG rating might not evaluate all companies the same way or give a true depiction of return on investment all the time. Still, there is no denying that sustainability evaluation exists and can impact the flow of investments,” Dique added.
The increasing interest in ESGs — both at the private and the government levels — has also introduced changes in Middle Eastern business practices. “In the region, ESG strategy has been embraced as a mechanism to drive companies to demonstrate their sustainability credentials alongside their global peers,” said Dique. “New trends, such as creating ESG positions or adopting green policies, show a growing interest in sustainability issues. Regional governments are hands-on with the transition of energy and natural resources, human capital and economic development and now have taken ESG on board too. Change is challenging, but transition takes time — and that can be monitored and measured.”
The Dubai Investment Fund, one of the largest independent investment funds worldwide in terms of assets under management, recently announced the creation of an ESG investment department aiming to track the local and global market and discover the most profitable sustainability assets. ESGs are also gaining momentum in other corners of the GCC, such as Kuwait. In recent months, the National Bank of Kuwait adopted a sustainable financing framework to support the national plan to tackle climate change and integrate ESG standards in all the bank’s operations.
Despite the growing enthusiasm, finance experts argue that ESG funds worldwide have a poor track record in financial performance. Corporate executives should naturally pay attention to employee, community and environmental concerns, but setting ESG targets on this basis may distort the decision-making process and force managers to focus on sustainability issues beyond their relevance for long-term shareholders’ interests.
Even from a regional perspective, some investors are still skeptical about the potential of ESGs. “The Gulf was rather late adopting ESG initiatives, which isn’t necessarily bad, as it is a rather ambiguous and subjective term. The current energy crisis demonstrates what can happen when an initially reasonable idea is taken too far. In this case, the overall shortfall in hydrocarbon capital expenditure can become counterproductive in the long run,” said Ali Al-Salim, Co-Founder at Arkan Partners, an independent investment consulting firm based in the Gulf.
Experts and entrepreneurs also criticize ESG investment because of the lack of clear measures to define what is sustainable and what is not. They claim that ESGs have an ambiguous — and problematic — definition leading to various regulatory approaches in different jurisdictions, which means that there is no standard legal framework to deal with them. “A dose of common sense and a holistic approach to ESG investing — thinking about unintended consequences — is critical for regional investors to consider,” Al-Salim concluded.
The above-featured image is of the Fourth wave of globalisation saw China’s increasing role as a global powerhouse. Getty Images
Is the world retracting from globalisation, setting it up for a fifth wave?
Over the past 25 years there has been lots of research and debate about the concept, the history and state of globalisation, its various dimensions and benefits.
The World Economic Forum has set out the case that the world has experienced four waves of globalisation. In a 2019 publication it summarised them as follows.
The first wave is seen as the period since the late 19th century, boosted by the industrial revolution associated with the improvements in transportation and communication, and ended in 1914. The second wave commenced after WW2 in 1945 and ended in 1989. The third commenced with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the disbanding of the former Soviet Union in 1991, and ended with the global financial crises in 2008.
The fourth wave kicked off in 2010 with the recovery of the impact of the global financial crises, the rising of the digital economy, artificial intelligence and, among others, the increasing role of China as a global powerhouse.
More recent debates on the topic focus on whether the world is now experiencing a retraction from the fourth wave and whether it is ready for the take-off of the fifth wave.
The similarities between the retraction period of the first wave and the current global dynamics a century later are startling. But do these similarities mean that a retraction from globalisation is evident? Is there sufficient evidence of de-globalisation or rather “slowbalisation”?
This period was further typified by protectionist sentiments, increases in tariffs and other trade barriers and a general retraction in international trade.
Looking at the current global context, the parallels are remarkable. The world is still fighting the COVID pandemic that had devastating effects on the world economy, global supply chains and people’s lives and well-being.
For its part, the Russia-Ukraine war has caused major global uncertainties and food shortages. It has also led to increases in gas and fuel prices, further disruptions in global value chains and political polarisation.
The increase in the price of various consumer goods and in energy have put pressure on the general price level. World inflation is aggressively on the rise for the first time in 40 years. Monetary authorities worldwide are trying to fight inflation.
Global governance institutions like the World Trade Organisation and the UN, which functioned well in the post-WWII period, now have less influence while the Russian-Ukraine war has split the world politically into three groups. They are the Russian invasion supporters, the neutral countries and those opposing, a group dominated by the US, EU and the UK. This split is contributing to complex geopolitical challenges, which are slowly leading to changes in trade partnerships and regionalism.
Europe is already looking for new suppliers for oil and gas and early indications of the potential expansion of the Chinese influence in Asia are evident.
a movement towards a less connected world, characterised by powerful nation states, local solutions and border controls rather than global institutions, treaties, and free movement.
There’s now talk of slowbalisation. The term was first used by trendwatcher and futurologist Adjiedji Bakas in 2015 to describe the phenomenon as the
continued integration of the global economy via trade, financial and other flows, albeit at a significant slower pace.
The data on economic globalisation paint an interesting picture. They show that, even before the COVID pandemic hit the world in 2020, a deceleration in the intensity of globalisation is evident. The data which represent broad measures of globalisation, includes:
World exports of goods and services. As a percentage of world GDP, these reached an all-time high of 31% in 2008 at the end of the third globalisation wave. Exports fell as a percentage of global GDP and only recovered to that level during the early stages of the fourth wave in 2011. Exports then slowly started to regress to 28% of global GDP in 2019 and further to a low of 26% during the first Covid-19 year in 2020.
The volume of foreign direct investment inflows. These reached a peak of US$2 trillion in 2016 before trending lower, reaching US$1.48 trillion in 2019. Although the 2020 foreign direct investment inflows of US$963 billion are a staggering 20% below the 2009 financial crises level, they recovered to US$1.58 billion in 2021.
Foreign direct investment as percentage of GDP started to increase from a mere 1% in 1989 to a peak of 5,3% in 2007. After a retraction following the global financial crises, it peaked again in 2015 and 2016 at around 3,5%. It then declined to 1,7% in 2019 and 1,4% in 2020.
Multinational enterprises have been the major vehicle for economic globalisation over time. The number of them indicates the willingness of companies to invest outside their home countries. In 2008 the UN Conference on Trade and Development reported approximately 82 000. The number declined to 60 000 in 2017.
Data on world private capital flows (including foreign direct investment, portfolio equity flows, remittances and private sector borrowing) are not readily available. However, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development data show that private capital flows for reporting countries reached an all-time high of US$414 billion in 2014, followed by a declining trend to US$229 billion in 2019 and a negative outflow of US$8 billion in 2020.
These declining trends are further substantiated by the evidence of deeper fragmentation in economic relations caused by Brexit and the problematic US/China relations, in particular during the Trump era.
The question now is whether the latest data is:
indicative of either a retraction from globalisation similar to that experienced after the first wave a century ago;
or it is merely a process of de-globalisation;
or slowbalisation in anticipation of the world economy’s recovery from the impact of Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine?
The similarities between the first wave of globalisation and the existing global events are certainly significant, although embedded in a total different world order.
The current dynamics shaping the world such as the advancement of technology, the digital era and the speed with which technology and information is spread, will certainly influence the intensity of the retraction of the already embedded dependence on globalisation.
Nation states realise that blindly entering into contracts and agreements with companies in other countries, may be problematic and that trade and investment partners need to be chosen carefully. The events over the past three years have certainly shown that economies around the world are deeply integrated and, despite examples of protectionism and threats of more inward-looking policies, it will not be possible to retract in totality.
What may occur is fragmentation where supply chains becoming more regionalised. Nobel prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz refers to the move to “friend shoring” of production, a phrase coined by US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.
It is becoming obvious that the process of globalisation certainly shows characteristics of both de-globalisation and slowbalisation. It’s also clear that the global external shocks require a total rethink, repurpose and reform of the process of globalisation. This will most probably lead the world into the fifth wave of globalisation.
An IPS‘s OPINION by Stefan Shweinfest demonstrates how sadly the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, are threatening Peace & Security in the world of today.
The IMF had recently sounded some alarm over growing debt sustainability problems in many low-income countries well before the coronavirus pandemic. The MENA countries don’t escape this potential trauma in the making as more than two years afterwards, the debt situation deteriorated significantly. A big debt crisis is brewing in the Global South because according to still the IMF, 60% of low-income countries are now at high risk of debt distress. Together with a growing number of middle-income countries are suffering from high debt service burdens. Could all this be the root cause of the following?
Intersecting Crises are Impeding the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Threatening Peace & Security
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 8 2022 (IPS) – This week marks the mid-way point to the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and with it the release of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022.
While we would like to trumpet success stories and report that we are on track in eradicating poverty and hunger and improving health and education in this report, the reality is, we cannot.
Instead, the data show that cascading and intersecting global crises are creating spin-off impacts on food and nutrition, health, education, the environment, and peace and security, presenting existential threats to the planet, and have already undone some of the initial accomplishments towards the SDGs.
In fact, the results of the report reflect a deepening and impending climate catastrophe; a war that is sparking one of the largest refugee crises of modern time; shows the impacts of the pandemic through increased child labour, child marriage, and violence against women; as well as food supply disruptions that threaten global food security; and a health pandemic that has interrupted the education of millions of students.
The report sounds an alarm that people and the planet are in serious challenges, rather than reading as the successful story of progress that we would have hoped for when launching the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015.
The COVID-19 pandemic has halted or reversed years of development progress. As of end of 2021, nearly 15 million people worldwide had died directly or indirectly due to COVID-19. More than four years of progress in alleviating extreme poverty have been wiped out, and 150 million more people facing hunger in 2021 than in 2019.
An estimated 147 million children missed more than half of their in-person instruction over the past two years. The pandemic severely disrupted essential health services. Immunization coverage dropped for the first time in a decade and deaths from tuberculosis and malaria increased.
The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Threatening Peace & Security
As grim as the scenario sounds, we shall set a course for achieving the implementation of the 2030 Agenda through recovery and response: enact new ways of thinking and open up new possibilities.
During COVID-19, responses sped up the adoption of digital technologies and innovative approaches. There are some examples of positive trends coming out of the report: There has been a surge in the number of internet users due to the pandemic, increasing by 782 million people to reach 4.9 billion people in 2021, up from 4.1 billion in 2019.
Global manufacturing production grew by 7.2 per cent in 2021, surpassing its pre-pandemic level. Higher-technology manufacturing industries fared better than lower-tech industries during the pandemic, and therefore recovered faster.
In addition, before the pandemic, progress was being made in many important SDGs, such as reducing poverty, improving maternal and child health, increasing access to electricity, improving access to water and sanitation, and advancing gender equality.
War in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine is creating one of the largest refugee crises we have seen in modern time, which pushed the already record-high global refugee number even higher. As of May 2022, over 100 million people worldwide have been forcibly displaced from their homes.
The crisis has caused food, fuel and fertilizer prices to skyrocket, further disrupted supply chains and global trade, roiled financial markets, and threatened global food security and aid flows.
Projected global economic growth for 2022 was cut by 0.9 percentage point, due to the war in Ukraine and potential new waves of the pandemic.
The world’s most vulnerable countries and population groups are disproportionately impacted by the multiple and interlinked crises. Developing countries are battling record inflation, rising interest rates and looming debt burdens.
With competing priorities and limited fiscal space, many are finding it harder than ever to recover economically. In least developed countries, economic growth remains sluggish and the unemployment rate is worsening.
Women have suffered a greater share of job losses combined with increased care work at home. Exiting evidence suggests that violence against women has been exacerbated by the pandemic. Anxiety and depression among adolescents and young people have increased significantly.
Low-carbon, resilient and inclusive development pathways will reduce carbon emissions, conserve natural resources, transform our food systems, create better jobs and advance the transition to a greener, more inclusive and just economy.
The world is on the verge of a climate catastrophe where billions of people are already feeling the consequences. Energy-related CO2 emissions for 2021 rose by 6 per cent, reaching their highest level ever and completely wiping out pandemic-related declines.
To avoid the worst effects of climate change, as set out in the Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to peak before 2025 and then decline by 43 per cent by 2030 from 2010 level, falling to net zero by 2050.
Instead, under current voluntary national commitments to climate action, greenhouse gas emissions will rise by nearly 14 per cent by 2030.
A Road Map out of Crises
The road map laid out in establishing the Sustainable Development Goals has always been clear. Just as the impact of crises is compounded when they are linked, so are the solutions.
In taking action to strengthen social protection systems, improve public services and invest in clean energy, we address the root causes of increasing inequality, environmental degradation and climate change.
We have a valuable tool in the release of The Sustainable Development Goals Report 2022 to understand our current state of affairs. What’s more, in order to understand where we are and where we are headed, significant investment in our data and information infrastructure is required.
Policies, programmes and resources aimed at protecting people during this most challenging time will inevitably fall short without the evidence needed to focus interventions.
Timely, high-quality and disaggregated data can help trigger more targeted responses, anticipate future needs, and hone the design of urgently needed actions. To emerge stronger from the crisis and prepare for unknown challenges ahead, funding statistical development must be a priority for national governments and the international community.
As the SDG Report 2022 underscores the severity and magnitude of the challenges before us, this requires accelerated global-scale action that is committed to and follows the SDG roadmap.
We know the solutions and we have the roadmap to guide us in weathering the storm and coming out stronger and better together.
Stefan Schweinfest is Director of the Statistics Division in the United Nation’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN DESA). Under his leadership, the Division compiles and disseminates global statistical information, develops standards and norms for statistical activities including the integration of geospatial, statistical and other information, and supports countries’ efforts to strengthen their national statistical and geospatial systems.
Standards are a hidden part of the information and communications technology networks and devices that we all use every day. Though rarely perceived by users, they are vital in enabling the interconnection and interoperability of ICT equipment and devices manufactured by hundreds of thousands of different companies around the world.
For example, 95% of internet traffic is on fiber, built on standards from the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations for ICT. ITU has also played a leading role in managing the radio spectrum and developing globally applicable standards for 5G cellular networks.
But while technical standards are clearly indispensable for business and society to work in our industrialized world, it is also becoming clear that technical standards have a key role in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.
Indeed, the focus of the recent ITU Global Standards Symposium, which brought together more than 700 industry leaders and policymakers, was how standards can help address some of the most pressing needs of the planet, such as eradicating poverty or hunger and mitigating climate change.
To address SDGs 1 and 2 on ending poverty and hunger, an ITU focus group on “Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT) for Digital Agriculture” is working toward new standards to support global improvements in the precision and sustainability of farming techniques.
Under ITU and the World Health Organization, a focus group on “Artificial Intelligence for Health” aims to establish an “open code” benchmarking platform, highlighting the type of metrics that could help developers and health regulators certify future AI solutions in the same way as is done for medical equipment. Also, standards for medical-grade digital health devices — such as connected blood pressure cuffs, glucose monitors, or weight scales — are helping prevent and manage chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Standards are helping bring broadband to rural communities with lightweight optical cable that can be deployed on the ground’s surface with minimal expense and environmental impact. The installation of ultrahigh-speed optical networks typically comes with a great deal of cost and complexity. Standards can change that equation by providing a solution able to be deployed at low cost with everyday tools.
To address SDG 11 on sustainable cities and communities, more than 150 cities around the world have started evaluating their progress toward smart-city objectives and alignment with the SDGs using so-called key performance indicators based on tech standards. These cities are supported by United for Smart Sustainable Cities, an initiative backed by ITU and 16 other U.N. partners.
International standards, recognized around the world, are essential for making technologies … accessible and useful to everyone, everywhere.
Addressing SDGs related to climate action and green energy, ITU standards for green ICT include sustainable power-feeding solutions for 5G networks, as well as smart energy solutions for telecom sites and data centers that prioritize the intake of power from renewable energy sources. They also cover the use of AI and big data to optimize data center energy efficiency and innovative techniques to reduce energy needs for data center cooling.
Financial inclusion is another key area of action to achieve SDG 1 on ending poverty. Digital channels are bringing life-changing financial services to millions of people for the very first time. Enormous advances have been made within the Financial Inclusion Global Initiative and the associated development of technical standards in support of secure financial applications and services, as well as reliable digital infrastructure and the resulting consumer trust that our money and digital identities are safe.
However, the complexity of global problems requires numerous organizations with different objectives and profiles to work toward common goals. Leading developers of international ICT standards need to work together to address the SDGs, using frameworks such as the World Standards Cooperation, with the support of mechanisms such as the Standards Programme Coordination Group — reviewing activities, identifying standards gaps and opportunities, and ensuring comprehensive standardization solutions to global challenges.
Including a greater variety of voices in standards discussions is crucial. It is particularly important that low- and middle-income countries are heard and that a multistakeholder approach is made a priority to have a successful and inclusive digital transformation.
Uncoordinated and noninclusive standardization can spell lasting harm for countries that already struggle to afford long-term socioeconomic investments. Without global and regional coordination, today’s digital revolution could produce uneven results, making it imperative that all standards bodies work cohesively.
Sustainable digital transformation requires political will. It was notable that last year in Italy for the first time, leaders from the G-20 group of nations used their final communiqué to acknowledge the importance of international consensus-based standards to digital transformation and sustainable development.
This important step could not have been made by one standards body alone.
Cities, governments, and companies face a significant learning curve while adopting new tech as part of low-carbon, sustainable, citizen-centric development strategies to meet the challenge of addressing the SDGs. International standards, recognized around the world, are essential for making technologies in areas like digital health and 5G — combined with bigger and better data use — accessible and useful to everyone, everywhere.
The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex’s editorial views.
About the author
Chaesub Lee is the director of the Telecommunication Standardization Bureau at the International Telecommunication Union, a specialized agency of the United Nations for ICT. Lee has contributed to ICT standardization for over 30 years, specializing in areas such as integrated services digital networks, global information infrastructure, internet protocol, next-generation networks, internet protocol television, and cloud computing.
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