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.
Hydrogen produced from waste could soon be flowing from Egypt to Germany, with US-based H2-Industries signing deals this week that could see its ‘carbon-negative’ supplying the market with the lowest cost of hydrogen yet. This week, the company announced plans to produce 300,000 tons of hydrogen per year in Egypt, out of 4 million tons of organic waste and non-recyclable plastic. The announcement comes just days after talks at the MEFED energy conference in Jordan, where Germany climate minister Robert Habeck agreed to collaborate with H2-Industries to find German off-takers for the hydrogen produced in the MENA region, as part of the country’s new strategy to ramp up hydrogen imports to replace Russian gas.The company has also recently signed MoUs for the design, delivery, installation, and operation of hydrogen production plants in Egypt and Oman. In late April, it unveiled plans to develop a $1.4 billion waste-to-hydrogen plant in conjunction with 300 MW of solar power plants and baseload capacity in Oman. It claims that it is in discussion for subsequent projects in “30 countries from South America, Europe, the Middle East to all areas in Africa.” In total, the company’s projects in the MENA region will aim to produce up to two million tons of clean hydrogen per year from 2030.Further agreements are also being negotiated to see the hydrogen produced stored using the company’s liquid organic hydrogen carrier (LOHC) technology, which will then be transported to Germany for industrial off-takers.H2 Industries hydrogen production uses a process called thermolysis, which unlike combustion, uses a high-temperature conversion process to produce hydrogen without oxygen. In thermolysis units – which take a similar form to pre-assembled and scalable shipping container frames – waste is decomposed through steam-reforming at a temperature of around 900 degrees Celsius. The product from this reaction is a hydrogen-rich gas mixture, from which hydrogen can be extracted and purified, as well as some additional waste, which can be discarded, or sometimes used in fertilizers.The system can use a range of waste materials as its feedstock, including non-recyclable plastic waste such as hydrocarbons like polyethylene, biogenic residues from agriculture, forestry, food waste, and sewage sludge.Through preventing any emissions from this process, such production of hydrogen can essentially be labelled as ‘carbon negative.’ On a global scale, the vast majority of municipal waste goes into open dumps (33%) and landfills without gas collection (28.9%). With a high biomass content in this situation, waste can be a major source of methane – with an 84-times greater impact on the climate than CO2, over a 20-year period. By processing waste for green hydrogen, the methane emitted from waste can theoretically be eliminated. As could the emissions of toxic gases like dioxins, furans, mercury and polychlorinated biphenyls which occur when waste is incinerated.The other issue that the technology addresses is the current capacity to source green hydrogen solely from renewables. Using alternative technologies, wind and solar can be left dedicated to electricity production. To reach suggested targets of 24% of the world’s energy mix by 2050, green hydrogen production would demand 31,320 TWh of electricity – more than the 26,000 TWh of global power generation from all sources, and far more than the 3,000 TWh of wind and solar power generation used for electricity today.Another key advantage is that the costs of this type of hydrogen could be offset significantly by the ‘gate-fees’ that local authorities typically require for treating waste, as well as the carbon credits for avoiding landfill methane emissions. In California, for example, municipalities must pay in excess of $100 per ton to have their waste processed.By competing with these gate fees, H2 Industries believes that the cost of hydrogen it produces will be around half of the existing green hydrogen production technologies, and lower than the $1.50 per kilogram benchmark cost of grey hydrogen.One thing that must be considered, however – and is often neglected due to some sneaky accounting – is the significant energy needed to dry to waste before it can be turned into hydrogen.The Suez Canal project will be the first of its kind at this scale, although there are several others focused on producing hydrogen using waste feedstocks.Boson Energy – a Luxembourg based company – has developed a plasma-assisted gasification process that uses extremely high temperatures to break waste down into hydrogen, carbon dioxide and a molten slurry that solidifies into a glassy rock that can be sold for profit and used in cement, concrete or road building. The company claims that the income from this could offset the cost of hydrogen production, and allow the hydrogen to be produced at zero or even sub-zero costs.
Ways2H, similarly, is looking to use a processed feedstock of Municipal Solid Waste, mixed with ceramic beads that have been heated to around 1,000°C. At this heat, the bulk of the waste is converted to methane, hydrogen, carbon monoxide and CO2, while a portion is left as solid char – which can be identified as ‘stored carbon.’ This char is recovered and burned as the supply of heat for the ceramic beads.
The mixture of gases then undergoes steam reforming, to produce hydrogen and CO2 from the methane – improving hydrogen yield by 50%. Depending on the initial feedstock, Ways2H claims that one ton of dry waste can produce up to 120 kilograms of hydrogen – although typical yields sit between 40 and 50 kilograms. This depends on the water content of the feedstock – which inherently boosts hydrogen content – with the 120 kg figure coming from Ways2H’s pilot in South America, which uses sewage sludge as its feedstock.
Last week, the UK also approved its second waste plastic to hydrogen plant, with the £20 million West Dunbartonshire facility using Powerhouse Energy’s technology aiming to produce 13,500 tons of hydrogen per year.
The above-featured image is of H2-Industries (Photo Credit: Shutterstock/ Alexander Kirch
The above-featured image is about the ocean producing 50% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming, and is the main source of protein for a billion people around the world. Credit: IPS
What if a patient unplugged the Oxygen Tube that Keeps them Alive
By Baher Kamal
MADRID, Jun 7 2022 (IPS) – Imagine a patient connected to a vital oxygen device to keep him or her breathing, thus alive. Then, imagine what would happen if this patient unplugged it. This is exactly what humans have been doing with the source of at least 50% of the whole Planet’s oxygen: the oceans.
But oceans do not only provide half of all the oxygen needed. They also absorb about 30% of carbon dioxide produced by humans, buffering the impacts of global warming while alleviating its consequences on human health and that of all natural resources.
The carbon — and heat– sink
The world’s oceans capture 90% of the additional heat generated from those emissions.
In short, they are not just ‘the lungs of the planet’ but also its largest carbon sink.
The ocean is the main source of protein for more than a billion people around the world.
And over three billion people rely on the ocean for their livelihoods, the vast majority in developing countries.
Oceans also serve as the foundation for much of the world’s economy, supporting sectors from tourism to fisheries to international shipping.
Despite being the life source that supports humanity’s sustenance and that of every other organism on Earth, oceans are facing unprecedented real threats as a result of human activity.
While providing the above facts, this year’s World Oceans Day (8 June) warns about some of the major damages caused by human activities, which devastate this source of life and livelihood.
This report is also based on data from several specialised organisations, such as the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), among others, as well as a number of global conservation bodies, including the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
Too many causes. And a major one
Oceans as dumping sites: There are several major threats leading to suffocating the world’s lungs.
Such is the case –for example, of overfishing, illegal fishing and ghost fishing–, human activities have been transforming world’s oceans into a giant dumping site: untreated wastewater; poisonous chemicals; electronic waste; oil spills, petrol leaks, oil refineries near rivers and coastal areas, ballast waters, invasive species, and a very long etcetera.
Credit: Albert Oppong-Ansah/IPS
Of all these, plastic appears as one of the major sources of harm to oceans. See the following data:
Unless the world changes the way how to produce, use and dispose of plastic, the amount of plastic waste entering aquatic ecosystems could nearly triple from 9-14 million tonnes per year in 2016 to a projected 23-37 million tonnes per year by 2040.
How does it get there? A lot of it comes from the world’s rivers, which serve as direct conduits of trash into lakes and the ocean.
In fact, around 1.000 rivers are accountable for nearly 80% of global annual riverine plastic emissions into the ocean, which range between 0.8 and 2.7 million tons per year, with small urban rivers amongst the most polluting.
Plastic everywhere: Wherever you look and whatever you see, buy and use, there is plastic: food wrappers, plastic bottles, plastic bottle caps, plastic grocery bags, plastic straws, stirrers, cosmetics, lunch boxes, ballpoints, and thousands of other products.
Cigarette butts: Then you have the case of cigarette butts, whose filters contain tiny plastic fibres, being the most common type of plastic waste found in the environment.
Today, the world produces about 400 million tons of plastic waste … every year.
Plastic addiction: Such human dependence on plastic has been steadily increasing. Since the 1970s, the rate of plastic production has grown faster than that of any other material. If historic growth trends continue, global production of primary plastic is forecasted to reach 1.100 million tonnes by 2050.
“Our seas are choking with plastic waste, which can be found from the remotest atolls to the deepest ocean trenches,” reminds the United Nations chief António Guterres.
Fossil fuel: As importantly, some 98% of single-use plastic products are produced from fossil fuel, or “virgin” feedstock. The level of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production, use and disposal of conventional fossil fuel-based plastics is forecast to grow to 19% of the global carbon budget by 2040.
In fact, the annual plastic leakage is estimated at 229.000 tons, 94% of which consist of macroplastics. Plastics constitute around 95% of waste in the open sea, both on the seabed and on beaches across the Mediterranean.
COVID-19: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) February 2022 publication: Global Plastics Outlook reports that the increase in the use of protective personal equipment and single-use plastics has exacerbated plastic littering on land and in marine environments, with negative environmental consequences.
Rivers: The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reports that, flowing through America’s heartland, the Mississippi River drains 40% of the continental United States – creating a conduit for litter to reach the Gulf of Mexico, and ultimately, the ocean.
Electronic waste: should all this not be enough, please also know that the world produces 50 million tons of e-waste, a portion of it ends up in the ocean.
According to an October 2020 report released by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and authored by Alexander Nicolas, more than 12 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s seas every year.
Fishing gear accounts for roughly 10% of that debris: between 500.000 to 1 million tons of fishing gear are discarded or lost in the ocean every year. Discarded nets, lines, and ropes now make up about 46% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Alexander Nicolas explains.
This marine plastic has a name: ghost fishing gear.
“Ghost fishing gear includes any abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear, much of which often goes unseen.
“Ghost fishing gear is the deadliest form of marine plastic as it un-selectively catches wildlife, entangling marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles, and sharks, subjecting them to a slow and painful death through exhaustion and suffocation. Ghost fishing gear also damages critical marine habitats such as coral reefs.”
Overfishing is yet another major damage caused to the world’s oceans threatening the stability of fish stocks; nutrient pollution is contributing to the creation of “dead zones.”
Currently, 90% of big fish populations have been depleted, as humans are taking more from the ocean than can be replenished.
Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing: A fugitive activity that further adds to the abusive overfishing, causing the depletion of 11–26 million tons of fish… each year.
IPS article The Big Theft of the Fish provides extensive information about these two major activities that deplete the oceans vital natural resources.
Untreated wastewater is another example of the damage made by humans to the oceans.
It has been reported that around 80% of the world’s wastewater is discharged without treatment, a big portion of it ends up in the oceans.
The oceans in a conference
All the above facts –and many more– are on the agenda of the United Nations Ocean Conference 2022 (27 June- 1 July), organised in Lisbon and co-hosted by the Governments of Kenya and Portugal.
According to its organisers, the Conference seeks to propel much needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action. Cross your fingers!
The Business Times in its section Global Enterprise tells us how opportunities arising from Middle East’s Asian pivot are moving up the ladder of development in both regions. Or could it be mainly about Leveraging Asean’s strengths Let us see what by Mindy Tan.
The Middle East has always been considered an energy exporter to Asean, but this relationship has become more nuanced in recent years, especially as the former has shifted its focus to boosting non-oil exports.
Notably, countries such as Indonesia and Singapore have benefited.
Late last year, the Indonesian government announced they had secured US$32.7 billion worth of investment commitments from United Arab Emirates (UAE) businesses in various sectors, such as vaccine manufacturing and distribution.
“Indonesia is a very typical case of how I think Asean is becoming a magnet for foreign direct investment (FDI) from the Gulf countries,” said Gyorgy Busztin, a visiting research professor at the Middle East Institute, National University of Singapore.
Dr Busztin cited Asean’s political stability (outside of Myanmar) as well as a general lack of labour unrest as key factors that draw these Gulf countries to the region, even as he qualified that these countries have to be looked on a case-by-case basis.
“Compatibility, stability, and predictability, which are, of course, combined with the presence of a large, young, and highly trained workforce – it all comes together very nicely.”
Singapore too has benefited from the relationship.
A spokesperson from the Singapore Business Council, Qatar, noted that with Qatar is diversifying its economy away from oil and gas as part of its National Vision 2030, some of the key sectors they are looking at include sustainability and technology.
These are sectors in which Singapore has strong capabilities, he said.
“This makes businesses that wish to expand outside of the Middle East region look to Singapore as one of the key destinations to explore opportunities and use it as a base to springboard into the wider region due to its strategic location and easy access from the Middle East,” he said.
Alessandro Arduino, principal research fellow at the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore, added: “Expertise from Singapore will be beneficial to development in the Gulf and at the same time, can increase profitable cooperation between the Gulf and South-east Asia in areas ranging from artificial intelligence to Internet of Things, and smart cities.”
Leveraging Asean’s strengths
Economic ties between the Middle East and Asean have strengthened significantly since the first Asean-GCC Joint Vision was adopted in 2009.
In 2019, the two blocs further agreed to finalise the Asean-GCC Framework of Cooperation for 2020-2024 to advance collaboration in multiple sectors including smart cities, energy, connectivity, agriculture and halal products. Bilateral partnerships between individual countries have also risen.
The Singapore-UAE Comprehensive Partnership (2019) and the Malaysian Investment Development Authority’s (MIDA) MoU with the Investment Promotion Agency of Qatar (2019) are notable examples.
Heidi Toribio, Regional Co-head, Client Coverage, Asia, Corporate, Commercial and Institutional Banking at Standard Chartered
Heidi Toribio, regional co-head, client coverage, Asia, corporate, commercial and institutional banking at Standard Chartered, said: “As countries across the Middle East diversify into new non-oil sectors, Asean is emerging as an important trade and investment destination.”
In 2020, investments from the Middle East into Asean reached US$700 million, a three-fold growth from 2017. In the first three quarters in 2021 alone, merchandise imports to Asean from the Middle East grew more than 30 percent year-on-year, reaching US$52 billion in value, she noted.
According to a survey of Middle Eastern companies commissioned by Standard Chartered and prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, 82 per cent of Middle East respondents expect more than 10 per cent growth in their Asean business revenues this year.
They identified access to the large and growing Asean consumer market (60 per cent); access to a global market (from Asean) enabled by a network of Free Trade Agreements (58 per cent); and diversification of production footprint (51 per cent) as key reasons why they are interested in the region.
The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is also expected to attract more investments; all of the respondents agreed that the ratification of the agreement will lead to more investments from their company. Close to 70 per cent said they expect their company to increase investments by more than 50 per cent over the next 3-5 years.
In terms of geographical preference, respondents chose Malaysia (78 per cent), followed by Singapore (69 per cent) and Indonesia (67 per cent).
Of those who picked Singapore, 94 per cent of the senior executives from the 45 companies based in the Middle East said they consider the city-state a major regional R&D/innovation centre.
A further 87 per cent said Singapore is a desirable hub for regional procurement and that Singapore is an ideal place to set up their regional sales and marketing headquarters.
Finding new growth opportunities
The report identified 5 growth sectors which it expects to drive the future of the Middle East-Asean corridor. They are namely refining and petrochemicals; infrastructure and real estate; renewable energy; retail and consumer goods; and digital infrastructure and services.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, consumption of fuels and petrochemicals continues to grow strongly in Asean, driven by rising consumer and industrial demand. To address energy security concerns, the region is also now focusing on boosting local production capacity by building integrated refining and petrochemical facilities.
Similarly, rapid economic and social progress have accentuated Asean’s infrastructure needs.
“The infrastructure segment will continue to dominate the construction industry, maintaining a 46 per cent share in sector GVA (gross value added) by 2025, followed by commercial real estate (32 per cent) and residential real estate (22 per cent),” said the report.
“In particular, demand for healthcare and transport infrastructure as well as logistics and industrial real estate are expected to drive growth, which is creating new investment and business opportunities for Middle East companies.”
Separately, demand for digital solutions and enabling digital infrastructure is expected to see significant growth. Indeed, the region’s flourishing digital start-ups are increasingly attracting capital from leading investment firms globally, including many from the Middle East.
In terms of more nascent sectors, Asean nations are increasingly prioritising solar and wind solutions to meet their future energy requirements. Retail and consumer goods sector in Asean is also expected to regain momentum in the years ahead, led by an expected surge in consumer spending.
Experts have been pointing out for years that the North African region is a “hotspot”, and that the risks associated with temperatures already above the global average, would be higher (1.5 degrees by 2035, with the possibility, without a radical policy change, of reaching 2.2 degrees in 2050).
Rainfall is expected to decrease and temperature to rise, which will have a direct impact on water resource capacities. Climate models show that these trends will strengthen over the future years.
As the agricultural sector is the main consumer of this resource, agricultural production – and therefore the supply to consumers – will be directly affected.
Agricultural lands are largely located in the arid and semi-arid area, representing 85% of the total land area (excluding the Sahara), and will now be increasingly subject to frequent droughts and climatic accidents.
This diagnosis, widely shared by the National Climate Plan (PNC) adopted by the authorities in 2018, has not been followed up, and the climate change adaptation measures adopted by the PNC are far from being implemented.
A major challenge, therefore, arises in a country where the orientation given to policies is aimed at a further intensification of the modes of exploitation of natural resources: how in these conditions to increase agricultural production while preserving natural resources strongly threatened in the future by ongoing climate change?
Secondly, there is the economic shock caused by the rise in world prices for basic agricultural products, which are very heavily consumed by the population (cereals, milk, edible oils, and sugar).
The market crisis and the rises in commodity prices in the spring of 2020 were accentuated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict that began on 24 February 2022.
Soft wheat prices, which hovered around $200 per tonne in the years 2011-2012, reached amounts that are around $290 per tonne in the last quarter of 2021.
The health crisis was a trigger for this market crisis and this with, on the one hand, the consequence and the weight exerted by imports from China – which became the world’s leading importer of agricultural and agri-food products during 2020/2021 season – and on the other hand, the rise in transport prices combined with temporary export restrictions implemented in several exporting countries (Russia, Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Argentina, India…).
Since the beginning of the war, soft wheat has increased by 50% to $450 per tonne. World prices for vegetable oils increased by 23%, sugar by 7%, and meat by 5%.
Algeria will thus buy at the end of February 2022, 600,000 tons of milling wheat, of French origin at $ 485 per ton (cost and fees) to load March-April 2022.
Egypt, the world’s largest importer of soft wheat, will acquire 240,000 tons of French soft wheat for loading at the end of May, at $492.25 per tonne.
The featured image is of Workers harvesting wheat in a field on the outskirts of Berouaguia, southwest of Algiers. (Reuters)
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