From Morocco to Oman, apart from the obvious official language and religion, there is history. In effect, it is the movement of people from the outer edges of the MENA that was always throughout millennia a common carrier upon which carriages would transport migrants away from danger and bad life. So, what is the link if any between the countries of the MENA region?
Recent examples of mass movements of Syrians into Jordan, Turkey, and the European Union would be the most edifying sample. More recently, Yemen despite its status as a poorer country compared to other Gulf ones went nevertheless through conflict with its neighbours and its populations had to flee away to its immediate adjacent countries. Before that, there was the Libyan case where a large desert country with a small population did produce as it were some migrants mostly to Europe for the well offs and the neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt for the masses.
After more than half a century of migratory movements between the two shores of the Mediterranean, the North African migration system was definitively “formatted” as it still stands today: organically linked to France first, and then to Western Europe.
The Levant conflict and civil wars, and finally the crises and successive wars here and there since the 80s, have consequently forced the exodus of millions. North African countries have in turn been affected, directly or indirectly, by these Middle Eastern crises.
But geopolitical issues are also not the only differentiator of these countries and apart from armed conflicts and/or civil unrest, oil and conflict are felt like the main drivers of migration to and from or within the MENA.
Climate change and its subsequent life deregulations are affecting its inhabitants. Would this, despite all the goodwill of all the COPs and SDGs, affect the numbers and the flows?
Would all countries be subject to this culturally well-established custom since the Exodus from Egypt, to run away to search for better climes?
The overwhelming majority of global trade contributes negatively to the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to new research, which calls for better guidance for banks and corporates around what sustainable trade should look like.
Released this week by trade data and analytics provider Coriolis Technologies in partnership with MEP Saskia Bricmont and the Greens/European Free Alliance in the European Parliament, Measuring sustainability through trade maps countries’ export and import data against the 17 SDGs to identify negative and positive contributions.
It found that, on a scale of -1 to +1 where -1 means that all trade makes negative contributions, zero is neutral and +1 means that all trade makes positive contributions, world trade scores -0.58, with 80% of global trade by value being unsustainable.
A closer look at the numbers reveals some interesting findings. First, if the SDGs are broken down into their environmental, social and governance (ESG) elements, world trade scores -0.73 with regard to its environmental impact, and an almost entirely negative -0.91 for its social impact. However, when it comes to the ‘G’ in ESG – governance – global trade scores a positive 0.43.
“In other words, the world of trade and trade finance, alongside regulators, has put in place the governance structures to minimise economic risks in the form of employment, economic growth and provisions of basic health, but the price for the environment and for social equality and justice is overwhelmingly high,” the report says. It adds that trade policy can do “significantly more” to promote the basic human rights of trade as represented by the commitment to fair and open trade to promote sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption, and to shore up the institutions of trade that help peace and justice.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the most advanced economies that have the least sustainable trade, with the G20 nations accounting for some US$18.5tn in value terms in negative contributions to responsible consumption and production (SDG 12).
“These are economies where automotives, consumer electronics and machinery and components are routinely among the top five sectors for both imports and exports,” the report says.
However, while the poorest nations in the world score better, this is because imports are often for subsistence purposes rather than being aimed at luxury or consumption-based markets.
“If we are to meet the ambitious targets laid out at Cop26, we cannot afford to ignore the messages here – that the majority of world trade is unsustainable, and where it is not, it is a symptom of under-development,” the report says.
In its research, which it calls “an initial contribution to the process of creating an automated and consistent mechanism for measuring sustainability”, Coriolis Technologies has built on a methodology established by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, which takes HS codes – the internationally standardised system of names and numbers to classify traded products – and compares them against the 17 SDGs.
For example, trade in tobacco negatively contributes to SDG 3 – good health and wellbeing – while trade in medicine would be a positive contributor. Because the methodology uses HS codes at six-digit level, it is able to distinguish between, for example, a diesel car (870332) and an electric car (870380) or, indeed, a hybrid car (870360), each of which have varying impacts on SDG 7 – clean and affordable energy, and SDG 12 – sustainable consumption.
The methodology isn’t without its shortcomings. For example, while specific goods may not in themselves be sustainable, they can often be used for purposes such as sustainable infrastructure. The same also applies in reverse when it comes to the trade of sustainable goods for non-sustainable purposes. What’s more, Coriolis Technologies adds that the scope to distinguish between resource utilisation for the same product in different countries is limited: “For example, a fruit such as a strawberry produced in the Middle East requires more water and energy to produce than in its indigenous environment,” the report says.
However, industry bodies and regulators are in wide agreement that the SDGs are an adequate taxonomy of reference to enable a comprehensive framework for sustainability, including the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), which refers to them in its recent position paper on defining and setting common standards for sustainable trade and associated financing.
By providing a quick and simple measurement, Coriolis Technologies has laid bare the enormous amount of work ahead to make global trade more sustainable – but has also provided a call to action for policymakers.
“Since we know the sustainable development goals where the largest negative contributions are likely to be across world trade, we know the levers we should pull,” the report says, adding that too much of world trade contributes negatively to zero hunger, affordable and clean energy, clean water and sustainable cities.
“We also know the sectors which are to blame for the low scores of some countries: automotives, consumer electronics, machinery and components, plastics, iron and steel, and oil and gas. Oil and gas alone contributes some 10% to the value of EU trade, so if we can reduce our dependency on it, we can also reduce the negative contributions to the SDGs,” the report says, adding that the countries that have the worst scores all have automotives in their top five imports and/or exports. As a solution, it puts forward policy incentives towards the use of electric cars and clean energy in order to address the negative role that automotive and fossil fuel trade play at present.
Although Coriolis Technologies admits that the challenge of ensuring trade becomes a positive contributor to sustainable development is not an easy one to address, its development of a model to map out ESG weaknesses in trade should go some way to focusing minds as the trade and trade finance industry attempts to become more sustainable.
The above-featured image is credit to Kiara Worth/IISD/ENB, Author provided
In September 2015, leaders from 193 countries gathered in the UN assembly hall in New York to plan nothing less than “transforming our world”. This was the birth of the sustainable development goals, which aimed to “free the human race from the tyranny of poverty and want and to heal and secure our planet”.
There are 17 sustainable development goals, or SDGs, encompassing 169 more detailed targets and over 200 measures of progress. There is almost nothing that the UN does not seek to improve with these goals, from reducing poverty and hunger to securing better health, education, gender equality, sanitation, energy, economic growth and infrastructure, while reducing social inequality, ensuring sustainable consumption, protecting the climate, ocean, biodiversity and forests, and furthering peace and justice.
To give just a few examples of the 169 targets under these overarching goals, governments agreed, by 2030, to halve the proportion of people in poverty, end hunger, ensure all children complete a quality education for free, raise the income of the poorest 40% of each country’s population at a rate above the national average, and significantly increase funding to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity and ecosystems. The list goes on.
Sustainable development goals are found wherever UN bureaucrats and international diplomats meet. You’ll see the 17 flags of the SDGs in the lush gardens of the UN headquarters in New York. Posters listing the SDGs hang in government offices all around the world. Dozens of international meetings are held to discuss them each year. The UN even announced an international decade of action for achieving the goals. In the Netherlands, where I live, the government has appointed an SDG coordinator whom I once spotted in an electric car painted with the SDG symbols and a suit with the SDGs printed on the inner lining. In short, if you turn over a stone, you may find an SDG.
And yet, it is fair to ask: do these global goals actually change anything? Do they tangibly influence the actions of governments, business leaders, mayors, UN bureaucrats and university presidents? For the last few years, a growing community of social scientists has considered this question. With 61 colleagues from around the world, we analysed more than 3,000 academic studies that scrutinised aspects of the SDGs. Our findings are published in the journal Nature Sustainability, and a more detailed assessment will soon be published as a book. Because we believe it is important to share what we found with everyone, both publications will be free to download and read.
All talk, no action
Unfortunately, our findings are disheartening. The SDGs have infiltrated the things people say, think and write about global sustainability challenges. Governments mention the SDGs in their national reports to the UN, and some have set up coordinating units to implement them. Multinational corporations like to refer to the SDGs as well – especially those goals that are least disruptive to their commercial activities, like SDG 8 which calls on governments to “sustain per capita economic growth in accordance with national circumstances”. And unsurprisingly, UN organisations are all formally supportive of the SDGs.
But nothing has changed where it matters. We found few new policies, institutions or budget allocations designed to further specific goals. Did any government change its laws to achieve the many intersecting transformations envisioned by the SDGs? Did any ministry in those governments create new programmes for implementing the SDGs? If so, there is little evidence of it. What we found instead are changes in discourse. Those in power now refer to the SDGs often. Yet the way they govern has not changed.
What should we make of this? Optimists point to the SDG timeline: the SDGs were only agreed upon in 2015 and are to be achieved by 2030. The analysis that we published largely uses research from before 2021. In other words, we have eight more years to go. That governments and corporations talk differently about sustainability and refer to the SDGs more often today can be seen as a sign of hope that this talk will be followed by action.
And yet, mere talk can backfire by conferring legitimacy on unsustainable behaviour, letting corporate leaders wave colourful SDG flags while prizing profits above all else. Simply talking about SDGs can demobilise civil society by creating a false impression of action. Even as promised, transformations remain elusive. Idle talk acts as a smokescreen, hiding the reality of delay and stagnation.
I do not want to belittle the importance of having the SDGs. Our study only provides a snapshot of the present state of implementing them. The SDGs do reflect some wonderfully high-minded global ambitions, not least by focusing on global inequalities (SDG 10), necessary improvements to national and global institutions (SDG 16) and the reduction of harmful consumption patterns in wealthy countries (SDG 12).
But we have to make the goals actually work. Civil society and social movements need to prick the bubble of SDG talk. Government leaders and industry bosses must not be allowed to hide behind SDG flags in their offices, SDG buttons on their lapels and SDG logos on their glossy pamphlets. The SDGs cannot remain a lofty inspiration. We must convert their promise to action.
Don’t have time to read about climate change as much as you’d like?
In The art of designing energy efficiency by Julianne Tolentino, Dubai-based Nareg Oughourlian explains how he approaches design in the UAE. He argues that this requires ‘an exact drive for the future, challenged only by the limitations of sustainable development clean energy projects and sustainable cities’.
The above featured image is of the Sustainable City, Dubai.
Nareg Oughourlian talks about the clean energy projects and sustainable cities
Energy efficiency: Rome was not built in a day, or so the saying goes. In November 2021, the UAE pledged to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and, in doing so, became the first Gulf state to commit to a timeline to decarbonise its economy and fully reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.
Not that this happened out of the blue; the UAE has been heavily financing clean energy projects such as Masdar, Sustainable City, and the Barakah nuclear plant for over 15 years, inexorably pushing the sustainability envelope in the region and worldwide.
The country has always been known for its sky-high ambitions and impressive success rate, of that there is little doubt. However, the net-zero target marks a real turning point in the way things are done in the UAE and, more importantly, sets up a challenging and exciting target. It requires an exact drive for the future, challenged only by the limitations of sustainable development.
The previously held reliance on oil is changing, and the region is shifting towards alternative options. Shifting towards an ecological mindset remains at the core of any decisions that need to be made moving forward. The UAE is proudly leading the way in the region alongside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Following the pledge to reduce emissions at the 2015 Paris agreement, many countries fell through on the promise to achieve short-term goals, but structurally altering the policies of a nation takes time, and changes are slowly and surely being made across the globe. In the UAE, winning the bid to host the COP28 global climate talks in 2023 further cements the seriousness and gravity of the 2050 target and, amongst other things, the future of green buildings and the built environment in the region.
Energy efficiencies and net-zero goals
Net-zero emissions are essentially focused on maintaining a balance between the greenhouse gases created and the amount that are taken out. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, there is also reliance on carbon offsetting or carbon removal.
Internationally recognised guidelines require most companies to decarbonise 90-95% of all CO2 emissions through internal abatement options to reach net-zero. For the remaining 5-10% of emissions, qualifying neutralisation activities can be used. Those neutralisation activities are not referred to as offsets, but instead include only activities that directly pull carbon out of the atmosphere, which can be done through Direct Air Capture, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, improved soil and forest management, and land restoration. This is a contrast to the term ‘zero carbon,’ which concentrates on reducing existing carbon emissions to zero.
It is a well-known fact that the construction industry is a leading cause of C02 emissions, with 39% of global CO2 emissions attributed to building and construction. This means that any small changes within the industry can enormously impact the environment and climate change.
Heating, ventilation, cooling, and lighting are elements we take for granted in residential and commercial buildings, but they contribute a staggering 28% of carbon emissions because of poor energy efficiency.
So, how can buildings reduce their impact on the environment? The immediate answer to these questions lies within the innovation of Low and net-zero Energy and Carbon Strategies. A net-zero building produces as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis. This energy balance is propped up by maintaining energy efficiency by the effective design of building operations.
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