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?
The news of more than a month now has been and still is that of Ukraine. The refusal of the latter to get in step and put itself in the lap of the big brother gives us all this crash of landscapes and other nuisances of the country’s built environment. What if Russia played all its cards except that of Global Warming. Explanations on Russia and Climate Change benefits can play in its favour. After all, Climate Change is Cataclysmic — but not apocalyptic, to say the least.
The above-featured image is for illustration and is of WorldAtlas.
Indeed, it is easy to see that with this, Russia with a good part of its now sterile land set aside because covered with snow for most of the year, will be thawed and possibly turned and transformed into a good land and potentially farms.
Climate change is therefore not negative as it should be for the rest of the planet’s network. Canada, the Scandinavian countries, Iceland, and Greenland must also benefit.
On the other hand, it is the opposite that is confirmed day by day in its southern parts. Would this hint at a redistribution of food production around the world?
As everyone should know today, arctic poles and tips of glaciers are melting, seawater rising, temperatures going up, semi-arid lands drying up, desertification advancing in bordering areas, and countless natural disasters among many others are the convincing results that dominate our planet. Few can deny these anymore.
So, the great Russia, which is only great because it is adjacent to this huge and vast Siberia. This one with frozen ground and/or covered with snow all-year-round had never allowed any large-scale human settlement, except for some exploitation of natural resources at great expense, here and there.
Global warming is remedying all this. That said, with or without the blessing of the rest of the world, Russia may end up with vast tracts of agrarian mounds. A situation that will prevail once this skirmish is concluded with not only this direct impact on Russia’s geography but also on its future position as a food giant.
With a little luck, Ukraine could be able to find itself but with some modestly in the same position of a major supplier of food to the world and if it incorporated into the EU, it will be able to turn the latter, into another great of the new “Food Power”.
In conclusion, we seem to be at the dawn of a novel distribution of world food shares with the ultimate heavy price still on the countries of the south.
Marking five years since the passing of renowned architect and artist Zaha Hadid, Zurich’s Galerie Gmurzynska presents a celebratory and revelatory exhibition of her work entitled “Abstracting the Landscape”.
The picture above is for illustration and is of Ocula.
An Homage To Zaha Hadid: “Abstracting The Landscape” Exhibition At Galerie Gmurzynska In Zurich
I write about conscious luxury, focusing on travel, well-being & art.
Described as the “Queen of Curves”, this Iraqi-British innovator was one of the major figures of late 20th Century and 21st Century architecture and design. Her buildings and interiors always dared to be different and her global legacy reveals her creative and enduring genius. What she achieved is an influential body of work which others look to for inspiration.
Hers was a career marked by recognition for all that she contributed to the development of design and function. Her impact on the built environment was extensive and driven by her fusion of Modernism into her architectural creations. This saw her become the first woman to receive the Pritzker Architecture Prize and the only woman ever to be presented with the Royal Gold Medal from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Her numerous and acclaimed exhibitions have included “The Great Utopia” at the Guggenheim Museum and Art Basel in both Switzerland and Miami.
Her architecture always evolved as she was never prepared to stand still or to accept anything that would compromise her vision. She was always eager to challenge preconceptions bringing some much-needed refreshment to an architectural establishment that can often appear stale and inflexible. The fact that her many buildings already seem timeless is a testament to her ongoing relevance and her ability to prompt those who follow to strive to achieve such a level of authenticity.
Galerie Gmurzynska has had a long association with Zaha Hadid having highlighted her work in a number of earlier exhibitions. There is therefore an initial poignancy around this collection of models, drawings, artworks and sculptures as it prompts the thought that she has now gone. However, the sheer vibrancy of the pieces quickly dispels any feelings of melancholy and it is a joy to look at and experience what is so carefully set out here.
“When we saw Zaha’s design for the “Great Utopia” exhibition of Russian Avantgarde at the Guggenheim New York in 1992, it took our breath away. And that is what our relationship was about, to implement breathtaking projects ever since. For most she will be remembered as the female architect who broke the glass-ceiling. For her the term “female architect” was irrelevant. For us, as a gallery, her drawings and paintings could be considered works of art, while Zaha never considered herself to be an artist. Zaha was an eternaly curious and artistic minded person with a vision. It is this Zaha that we attempt to present in our current exhibition as an homage to Zaha Hadid.” says Matthias Rastorfer, CEO and Partner at Galerie Gmurzynska
Zaha Hadid’s use of non-figurative forms and shapes fuses technology with art and the clever interplay of light and color combinations show her freshness of vision, creativity and technical expertise. Elements of the exhibition are so “reach out and touch” that they draw both the hand and the eye as they fill the gallery’s floor space. The sinewy contours of many of the works on display seem irresistible and lure both our eyes and hands to discover more. The mixing of media adds depth to the exhibits and there is also the contrast between the modernity on show here as it juxtaposes with the traditional architecture of the commercial building which appears opposite.
The exhibition involved close co-operation with the late artist’s designs team who act as the guardians of her legacy and who seek to preserve and respect her artistic integrity. It is fitting that Galerie Gmurzynska has decided to incorporate key elements of Zaha Hadid’s work as a permanent element of its gallery space. This will act as a reminder and a living memorial of this great architect and artist’s depth of contribution over the length of her career.
Impressive on all levels.
I view luxury lifestyle from a conscious perspective and am most passionate about wellbeing, art and travel. I am the founder of the lifestyle blog her-etiquette.com (follow me on Instagram: @her_etiquette). I also run the consulting firm HER CIRCLE which specializes in sustainable luxury strategies and marketing concepts with purpose. Before becoming an entrepreneur I have worked in Sales & Marketing at Coutts & Co, Deutsche Bank and Hugo Boss. Based between Zurich and London, I travel the world and write about the joy of the journey.
Special Reports in Cities look to climate-friendly greenbacks to fund smart projects by Sue Weekes, News editor, Smart Cities World, is more and more evident all over the developed world. It is like a salvation tendency aimed at the assurance of a viable future. It is how the world chooses to respond in the coming years to avoid human activity-induced climate change that has massive repercussions for generations yet to be born.
Cities look to climate-friendly greenbacks to fund smart projects
With technology set to play a key part in the global recovery from the pandemic, we explore evolving funding methods that are helping cash-strapped cities get smart.
There is a certain irony in the situation that having stalled many smart city projects around the world in 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to prove the catalyst for accelerating programmes via stimulus and recovery packages.
While technology doesn’t hold all the answers when it comes to helping cities recover and build back better, world leaders clearly recognise the important part it must play.
US president Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure plan outlined in March has been the most notable stimulus package to date and ticks many boxes when it comes to core to smart city areas: $100bn for broadband internet; $100bn for electric grid and clean energy; $174bn for electric vehicle incentives, $85bn for public transit, $50bn for disaster resilience of infrastructure; and $20bn for road safety.
Meanwhile, the European Union (EU) pledged a similarly unprecedented package worth €1.8 trillion to help the continent recover, with the centrepiece of NextGenerationEU funding the Recovery and Resilience Facility. This will provide €672.5 billion in loans and grants available to support reforms and investments undertaken by EU countries. Its ultimate goal is to make European economies and societies “more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions”.
“Covid has slowed down many projects due to the paralysis in procurement processes,” says Alicia Asín, CEO of Libelium, which develops and deploys Internet of Things (IoT) sensors for a range of smart city applications. “Now we expect that NextGenEUrope funds to help incentivise and accelerate projects again. Those funds are a great tool to make a difference moving forward from proof-of-concept phase to production.”
These sentiments are echoed by Murali Krishnan, senior industry analyst at growth strategy and research firm, Frost & Sullivan, who also witnessed the abrupt halting of smart city infrastructure development as economic growth dwindled in several economies and governments were forced to reduce spending. “Government financing will continue to be the leading funding model globally as government stimulus programmes across major economies have been initiated to drive economic growth,” he says. “Such stimulus programmes include digitisation and technological spending complementing the rise of smart cities.
Government financing is ideal for projects that have low economic viability but strong social need
“For instance, China rejuvenated its ‘new infrastructure initiative’ post Covid, with announcements to increase investments across 5G, smart grids, data centres, and other smart city initiatives.”
Technology has come to many cities’ aid during the global pandemic and will be key to their recovery, but critical challenges that existed before the pandemic such as digital divides, climate change, congestion and poor air quality, haven’t gone away. As Michael Huerta, former acting US secretary of transportation and administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, who recently joined the board of directors of mobility analytics company StreetLight Data, points out proper consideration must now be given to how best to channel this money.
“In the transportation arena, the [United States] administration has talked about making smarter investments that not only address mobility needs, but at the same time help advance our climate and social equity goals,” he says. “This presents an opportunity to reimagine what we invest in and to talk about how smart city projects can address all three of these goals.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand for mobility, and I do expect an acceleration of projects overall. The key will be to address needs in ways that have broad support.”
Alongside stimulus funding, green banks and other more sustainable funding models are likely to become part of the mix. A green bank is a public, semi-public or not-for-profit institution that offers a variety of financial products focusing specifically on climate mitigation projects, such as renewable energy and energy efficiency programmes.
The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is among those calling for a “green and just” recovery. In November last year, it urged leaders to explore the use of city green banks as a mechanism to deliver a Covid-19 recovery plan that prioritises the environment and local communities. Its step-by-step guide, Establishing a City Green Bank, is based on the experiences of major locally operating green banks.
“City-level green banks have the potential to deliver low-cost investment through a self-sustaining mechanism, offering long-term environmental, social and economic benefits for people,” said Claire Markgraf, head of financing of C40 Cities’ Sustainable Cities Initiative.
Banks are also launching greener and more socially responsible funding initiatives that aim to help the private sector fund smart city technologies. At the end of 2020, the United Overseas Bank in Asia launched the UOB Smart City Sustainable Finance Framework to make sustainable financing more accessible to companies that are helping to create smart cities.
The framework is aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and is supported through the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s green and sustainability-linked loan grant scheme.
Covid has slowed down many projects due to the paralysis in procurement processes
It sets out the criteria that the bank’s corporate and institutional clients must meet when accessing a range of products, from green- or sustainability-linked loans and trade finance facilities to other sustainable banking products. Under the framework, businesses must also be able to demonstrate how their activities promote a better quality of life for residents through renewable energy, green building construction, improved energy efficiency, green transportation, sustainable water and waste management and/or climate change adaptation.
Meanwhile, cities in developing countries around the world have seen the benefits of support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF), set up in 2010. A critical element of the historic Paris Agreement and the world’s largest climate fund. it is mandated to support developing countries raise and realise their ambitions towards low-emissions, climate-resilient pathways. The GCF’s current portfolio features 173 projects around the world with a funding commitment of more than $8.3bn.
According to the Saigon Times, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is proposing a major $67.3m smart city project in Can Tho, a city located in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta in which the GCF is involved. The report says finance will be sourced from an official development assistance loan of $32.9m from ADB, another loan from the GCF of $7.07m and the city’s reciprocal capital of $20.2m.
The report explains that Can Tho City, the investor of the project, will borrow the money while the Ministry of Finance will sign agreements for borrowing and using the ADB and GCF support on behalf of the government.
Smart city projects can, of course, be funded from multiple sources. Krishnan explains that these can be chosen during different phases of the project depending on a number of factors. “Project initiators must carefully choose funding mechanisms depending on risk appetite and return on investment expectations,” he says, adding: “Direct financing through government allocation or international grants is popular in developing regions, whereas more developed economies often rely more aggressively on revenue-based financing models to build infrastructure.
“Government financing is ideal for projects that have low economic viability but strong social need.
“Public and private partnership (P3) models vary in terms of agreement though they are found commonly in developing and developed regions as a means of financing.”
Huerta is a “big fan” of public-private partnerships and despite recent announcements about federal funding, believes it is important to continue to explore opportunities in this area: “This requires a lot of discussion between cities, investment partners and the larger community about shared goals and objectives, and being willing to hold everyone accountable for meeting them.”
Transit Wireless, a 5G, neutral host infrastructure provider of wireless, wireline and data-driven solutions to transit operations, has a long-standing public-private partnership with the New York City Metropolitan Transport Authority. In its recently launched white paper Infrastructure in Crisis: How P3 can save critical projects in a post-Covid World, it says P3s “fill budget holes” where cities have limited options to raise revenue. It contends that the P3s that work most successfully today are those that allow a win for all parties – the government entities, private partners and citizens – at a cost and risk model that is sustainable even during the worst fiscal times.
Technology has come to many cities’ aid during the global pandemic and will be key to their recovery
Typically, this sees burden of much of the financing shifting to the private partner. The P3 provides revenue opportunities to municipalities, for instance, advertising on free public wifi or generating revenue from a road toll. The provider also carries the responsibility for the performance of the infrastructure throughout its lifecycle.
The white paper highlights, though, that success of the P3 is reliant on the right mindset and behaviours, as well as a collaborative plan and understanding of the required outcome. “It is imperative that when entering a successful PPP, the public entity and the private entity view each other not as parties on opposite sides of the negotiating table, but as partners who work to achieve the overall goals,” says Melinda White, CEO of Transit Wireless. “The right plan accounts for contingencies should obstacles arise. When approaching a PPP, it is essential that the company truly understand and deeply connect with the needs of the agency and its operations.”
Going forward, White believes that federal support actually strengthens existing and future and create more opportunities for collaboration. “It will incentivise cities to move ahead with network infrastructure, partner with private companies, and commence the work to build connected communities.”
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