Millenium Development Goals: Time for a Rethink?

In September 2000 United Nations member countries agreed on eight goals aimed at encouraging development by improving social and economic conditions in the world’s poorest countries. These goals were adopted in the United Nations Millennium Declaration and are known as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

In addition to the above aims, the MDGs’ intend to provide a framework for the entire international community to work towards a common goal focused on human development, poverty reduction and increased opportunity to access and benefit from global economy. The goals are as follows:

  • Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
  • Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
  • Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
  • Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality
  • Goal 5: Improve Maternal Health
  • Goal 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
  • Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
  • Goal 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development with developing countries, develop and implement strategies for decent and productive work for youth

As the target date (2015) for achieving the targets set for the MDG’s looms there is much debate on the success of the MDGs, whether they should be reviewed, re-defined or completely replaced.

According to a CESR article the first decade of progress against the MDGs revealed “the inadequacy of the international community’s efforts to meet commitments made a decade ago to fight poverty and other forms of deprivation such as hunger, disease and gender inequality.” In addition the 2011 UN report on the progress against the MDGs also revealed that between 2000-2010 progress against the MDGs’ had been inequitable and has in most instances bypassed the poorest, most vulnerable and disadvantaged sectors of the population who are meant to be the key beneficiaries of the MDGs’.

Thus it is evident that the MDGs despite being well-intentioned and aimed at facilitating human development have not necessarily hit their mark. There are various reasons and debates in relation to the success or failure of the MDGs. However, in my opinion the key issues requiring revision, re-thinking or attention are as follows;

1. The fact that the MDG targets are set for the world as a whole. An impact of looking at the MDGs as global targets is the fact that the development needs of specific countries and regions may be over looked. This is highlighted by the following UNDP statement;

“While the share of poor people is declining, the absolute number of the poor in South Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa is increasing.” (http://www.undp.ro/mdg/basic_facts) 

In other words: There is a significant need for locally defined MDG targets and not broad “world” based targets.

2. The MDGs’ are focused primarily on achieving targets as opposed to the process required to achieve the required development impact. This may be seen as limiting the scope of and reducing the impact of the development efforts. In other words: the “how” is just as important as the “what should be!”  Consequently, issues such as local needs and capacity should have been more effectively considered and integrated into the goal setting process.

3. The focus on numerical targets. Such targets are difficult to measure within the context of many of the less developed countries, which lack reliable data and the institutional and government capacity to collect and measure such data. Numerical targets do not always guarantee effectiveness or development impact.

“The problem of incomplete data has been recognized in Africa where most people are said to die or be born “without leaving a trace in any legal record or official statistics. In rural Africa, there are few hospitals, home births are common and assistance from a midwife or another health official rare.” (Katie Nguyen, Reuters Alert Net)

4. Aid does not necessarily result in development. The MDGs’ in many instances had the effect of focusing international aid flows specifically towards the attainment of MDGs’. This was based on the presumption that the MDGs’ are the optimal way of ensuring development and poverty alleviation. However, in certain instances this had the effect of misdirecting aid away from the real development issues within specific and local country contexts.

This sentiment is highlighted by Archbishop N Ndungane, as follows;

delivery on aid commitments have recorded a steady increase from 2004 through 2009. While it is a positive trend, it has created a tendency to focus more on aid in terms of the resources needed for the realisation of the MDGs than on the other sources. The recent global crises have come as a rude shock to remind us that this was a distortion and huge mistake”

The sentiment is also reiterated by the site; Globalissues, as follows;

“aid has often come with a price of its own for the developing nations:

  • Aid is often wasted on conditions that the recipient must use overpriced goods and services from donor countries
  • Most aid does not actually go to the poorest who would need it the most
  • Aid amounts are dwarfed by rich country protectionism that denies market 
access for poor country products, while rich nations use aid as a lever to 
open poor country markets to their products
  • Large projects or massive grand strategies often fail to help the vulnerable 
as money can often be embezzled away. 
It is time for these countries in need of development to call for justice and for the countries that once promised to help the world to actually fulfill their promises.” (http://www.globalissues.org)

These issues highlight the need to rethink the manner in which “development” and aid should be considered when the MDGs’ goals are assessed for impact and a post- MDGs’ framework or path is forged.

A continued focus on financial aid and development that does not effectively, equitably and sustainably consider local and regional contexts, capacities, needs and sensitivities will not only be a waste of resources both financial and natural, but also a waste of time. We need to prevent any further misdirected efforts especially within the context of increasing resource degradation, climate change and environmental vulnerability.

References, Articles, sites etc

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Some Thoughts on Green Buildings & Sustainable Development

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Something to think about and some ideas that you could use next time you play simcity or make very important decisions about how the planets resources are used!

 

 As a society we are dependent on our built environment and our natural environment. It is evident that the built environment has significant impacts on our natural environment and the health of our society. It therefore makes perfect sense to ensure that our built environment does not negatively affect the sustainability of our society and nature. The built environment is a significant contributor to Green House Gas (GHG) emissions and influences the manner in which we as a society utilize our resources. There is also proof that green buildings promote the health and productivity of the buildings’ inhabitants and uses.Consequently we need to ensure that our built environment reduces and minimized GHG emissions and also facilitates the sustainable use of our resources.

“… green buildings typically cost up to 5 percent more than standard buildings during construction, but can reduce waste output by 70 percent, water usage by 40 percent and energy usage by 30 to 50 percent.” (www.worldgbc.org)

Thus it makes perfect sense for all new buildings to be green. However, the concept of green building and the green building sector have been around for quite a while and don’t seem to have made much of an impact on the built environment landscape. 

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How many of the buildings that you use/ see every day may be categorized as green buildings that are contributing to the sustainability of the planet and society?

 “Green buildings represent 2 percent of the commercial buildings and 0.3 percent of new homes in the US.” (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=green-buildings-may-be-cheapest-way-to-slow-global-warming)

 The concept of green buildings and the greening of the construction and building is a dynamic and evolving debate that covers (and brings together) a plethora of stakeholders, professions and topics. This in my opinion is the reason that the green building sector hasn’t moved beyond building certification, passing of (some) legislation and the development of a few green buildings that may or may not be facilitating the establishment of a sustainable society. It is evident that green building could in fact contribute to sustainable development; however, there are a few barriers that need to be overcome before the green building sector is able make a more sustainable development impact. The key issue in this regard relates to the skills and stakeholders involved.

In order for the green buildings sector to be able to make a more effective development impact and contribute successfully towards sustainable development the following should be considered;

  • Fast tracking of the creation of an enabling environment. This includes policy frameworks, legislation and regulation through increased public sector involvement. This would create a demand for green buildings and greening technologies as well as create incentives and tax benefits.
  • Broadening of the skills set in the construction sector and the use of multidisciplinary teamsthat do not only include the standard construction industry type of skills.
    • The members of these teams need to be able to effectively work and communicate across professions.  
    • Team work, coordination and leadership skills are core skills in green building (www.uncsd2012.org)
    • Increased awareness and capacity building initiatives that include non- construction sector stakeholders. This would;
      • Ensure that people understand why it is important to build green buildings
      • Show the public that there is another way of building
      • Highlight the cost and health benefits of green buildings.
      • Increase the demand for green buildings.
      • The need to move away from an energy efficiency focus in green buildings towards a more sustainable development focus. There needs to be a more integrated approach that goes beyond energy, emissions, heating, cooling and solar panels etc Waste, transport costs, water and biodiversity should be integrated into the planning and build process.
      • A move away from green buildings being seen as primarily large scale developments to a broader focus which includes green buildings within the residential sector. This would also have the effect of making green buildings accessible to a larger portion of the population.
      • A move away from a tick box approach to green buildings towards an increased focus on the actual performance of the building.
      • Green buildings need to be contextualized within a broader development and planning framework. Of particular importance is the need to focus less on individual green buildings and increase the focus on green developments which incorporate and integrate green buildings and green design.
        • A green building that is inaccessible would negate the benefits of being green if it is associated with high travel costs and travel related GHG emissions.
        • A green building that provides bicycle parking yet is located in area that is not conducive to bicycle use is a waste of bicycle parking space.   
        • Green buildings need to be integrated into the service provision and infrastructure needs of the surrounding environment. A green building that doesn’t contribute to the sustainability of the area that it is situated in is not really that sustainable or green.
        • Green buildings could be used to provide services to the surrounding area. Examples are
          • A building that generates excess electricity (solar, wind, biogas etc) that is then feed into the grid.
          • A building that harvests rain water that can be used to water parks or gardens in proximity.
          • Rooftop gardens that provide green spaces or act as green lungs in dense urban areas.  
          • Rooftop gardens that provide food to surrounding areas
          • etc

References and additional reading FYI:

www.gbcsa.org.za

www.worldgbc.org

www.uncsf2012.org

Role of Sustainable Transport in the Creation of Sustainable Cities

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Cities, especially African cities are facing increasing challenges in terms of resource scarcity, climate change, rural urban-migration, environmental degradation and disaster mitigation. Urbanisation and the growth of cities is increasingly placing pressure on land, energy and resources resulting in increased environmental threats and vulnerabilities and it is estimated that two thirds of the world’s population will be living in cities by 2030. 

The transport system of a city is an effective reflection of the quality of life, the range and location of activities and the range and availability of goods and services within a city. Thus it is evident that transportation and transport systems are integral to the effective and equitable functioning of a city. The significance of the role of transportation within a city is further reiterated by the following:

  • Approximately 20-30 percent of a city’s land-use budget is used for transportation infrastructure and to facilitate transportation (Mathew and Rao, 2006).
  • According to the South African Ministry of Science and Technology (2011) the transport sector accounts for 30% of the country’s GHG emissions and is therefore considered a major GHG contributor.
  • Transportation has the ability to integrate as well as isolate cities and societies.
  • Globally automotive CO2 emissions are increasing steadily (IEE, 2009).
  • Globally transport is the second highest CO2 emitting sector with emissions being estimated to reach 18 billion tones by 2050 (IEE, 2009).

Transportation plays a key and critical role in the functioning of cities and is therefore able to play a fundamental and strategic role in the future of our cities. In particular, city’s transportation systems are able to play a significant role in reducing GHG emissions and facilitating resource use that is efficient, equitable and sustainable. Key factors impacting the manner in which a city utilizes resources are land use densities, primary activities and energy and transportation efficiencies. These issues are directly linked to the manner in which the city has developed, is planned and how the city will be planned and developed in the future.

In order to facilitate more sustainable transportation and ultimately sustainable cities the key sustainable transport characteristics that  should be incorporated into city planning are as follows:

  • Cities should be planned to be inclusive, to facilitate accessibility and be equitable.
  • Cities should be planned with pedestrian and cyclist accessibility and movement as the priority.
  • Cycling and other non-green house gas emitting modes of transport should be prioritized above motorized and other green house gas emitting modes of transport.
  • Pavements and cycling lanes should be planned for and integrated into all new development applications.
  • Pedestrian and cycling facilities should be linked to public transport networks.
  • Public transport should be prioritized over individual car based transportation. In this regard linkages to stations and bus routes must be planned, integrated and effectively implemented with the aim of promoting public transport use above individual car based transportation.
  • Transport systems should be tailored to the size, form and key functions of the city with the aim of providing a balanced transport system.

REFERENCES:

Department of Transport 2005(a): National household travel survey (NHTS), 2003 technical report. Department of Transport

Department of Transport 2005(b): National household travel survey (NHTS), 2003 key results of the national household travel survey. Department of Transport

Mathew T and K Rao 2006: Role of Transportation in Society. IEE 2009: Green House Gas Emissions and the Transport Sector, Panorama www.ifp.com

Aid, Development & The Development Set !

This is an old poem I found which I think is very pertinent and also very sad.

I work in the Development Finance and Environmental sector (10+ years) and am often very disheartened and sad when I think about all the green wash and the fact that good development projects and proposals often get overlooked for projects that don’t necessarily make sense (or only make financial sense) when you look at all the issues and consider sustainability etc.

Don’t get me wrong there are lots of good organisations out there that do good work but in my opinion there is also a lot of hot air/ big development talk etc that is not actually helping anyone except for the people who fly around the world telling people what they should be doing and how they should be doing it.

The poem made me think… we haven’t really come very far or achieved much development impact or sustainability since the 1970s (when the poem was written) ….other than the development set living much cooler lives and travelling around holding more and more very important talk-show sessions? The poem also made me think of COP 17 and what the real cost of COP17 was. (Click on links for previous blog posts on COP17).

The Development Set by Ross Coggins

Excuse me, friends, I must catch my jet I’m off to join the Development Set;

My bags are packed, and I’ve had all my shots I have traveller’s checks and pills for the trots!

The Development Set is bright and noble

Our thoughts are deep and our vision global;

Although we move with the better classes

Our thoughts are always with the masses.

In Sheraton Hotels in scattered nations

We damn multi-national corporations;

injustice seems easy to protest In such seething hotbeds of social rest.

We discuss malnutrition over steaks

And plan hunger talks during coffee breaks.

Whether Asian floods or African drought,

We face each issue with open mouth.

We bring in consultants whose circumlocution

Raises difficulties for every solution –

Thus guaranteeing continued good eating

By showing the need for another meeting.

The language of the Development Set Stretches the English alphabet;

We use swell words like “epigenetic” “Micro”, “macro”, and “logarithmetic”

It pleasures us to be esoteric – It’s so intellectually atmospheric!

And although establishments may be unmoved,

Our vocabularies are much improved.

When the talk gets deep and you’re feeling numb,

You can keep your shame to a minimum:

To show that you, too, are intelligent

Smugly ask, “Is it really development?”

Or say,

“That’s fine in practice, but don’t you see: It doesn’t work out in theory!”

A few may find this incomprehensible,

But most will admire you as deep and sensible.

Development set homes are extremely chic,

Full of carvings, curios, and draped with batik.

Eye-level photographs subtly assure

That your host is at home with the great and the poor.

Enough of these verses – on with the mission!

Our task is as broad as the human condition!

Just pray god the biblical promise is true:

The poor ye shall always have with you.

From “Adult Education and Development” September 1976

(Not So) Good Intentions: Climate Change Adaption & Mitigation Projects

I am pretty certain that we are all aware that everything we do has an impact as does everything we don’t do! This is particularly important as we all do our bit for the planet, nature, our environment, a sustainable future, our families, our next pair of shoes, or outfit, meal, or our next chocolate fix …… or whatever the reason is that you do the things you do.

Often we assume that our actions have no impact and that our positive and “good” actions are just that… perfectly wonderful and good for the world. We especially fall prey to thinking we have achieved great wondrous goodness when we do something that we perceive as good for the planet, nature or society. In addition green washing and misinformation by organisations simply adds to the fake feeling of ”goodness”. It is for this reason that we often end up doing things that we think are very good and that have possible negative impacts that we do not consider or that we blindly ignore.  An example is a recent presentation that I attended on energy efficiency, certified emissions reductions and climate change adaptation technology. Considering all the energy that COP 17 generated about the pros and cons of the climate change response and adaptation, I was quite hopeful that the first presentation that the first post COP 17 presentation I attended  relating to the climate change and technology issue would actually provide some new and amazing information or solution or way forward.

The presentation related to the use of agricultural wastes as an energy source, (nothing new here I thought….) specifically, palm oil processing wastes which are used to generate methane gas which is then used to generate power. Shock horror…..palm oil!

Palm oil, a major component of many processed food products has the dubious honour of being a major contributing factor to green house gas emissions, deforestation, landless-ness, relocation of marginalized communities etc

Surely, these people aren’t trying to sell a climate change adaptation solution (and we all agree that we definitely need solutions to climate change) that involves deforestation, habitat and species loss, and general negativity based on the creation of a few emissions reductions?

So the issue is, do we really need to cause more degradation and negative impacts by adopting solutions that actually take us backward in the journey towards sustainability?

When I raised the issue with the team that was presenting they had no idea about the linkage between palm oil production, species and habitat loss and deforestation etc. I am not sure whether the projects negative impacts will be mitigated or reduced but I did realize that before we blindly follow the solutions presented to us by we need to ensure that the so-called solution is in fact a solution. The other sad fact is that most people should by now know about the impacts of the palm oil industry and we should all be trying to reduce our use of palm oil and not creating opportunities for palm oil production to be increased or overlooked under the guise of sustainability and climate change adaptation.

I do note that the project uses the waste from palm oil processing and in so doing is trying to make the system more efficient. However, at the same time the use of palm oil in this project provides it (in my opinion) with a layer of green wash aimed at making it more acceptable and sustainable.

However, given the palm oil industry’s not so good record as far as habitat and species loss is concerned I think we should avoid climate change adaptation projects that may actually contribute to climate change and increased green house gas emissions in the long run.

In case you did not know here are some facts on the impact of palm oil cultivation:

  • Deforestation, mainly in tropical areas, accounts for up to one-third of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions, and is a driver toward dangerous climate change.
  • Greenpeace has concluded that “first generation” biodiesel extracted from new palm oil plantations may not on balance reduce emissions. If wood from forests cleared for palm plantations is burned instead of used for biodiesel, leaving forests untouched may keep more carbon out of the air.
  • Habitat destruction, leading to the demise of critically endangered species (e.g. the Sumatran tiger, the Asian rhinoceros, and the Sumatran Orangutan.)
  • Reduced biodiversity including damage to biodiversity hotspots.
  • Destruction of cash crops, such as fruit and rubber trees in Sarawak, Sabah and Kalimantan and Borneo, that belong to indigenous peoples (the Dayak), despite their frequent objections.

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_palm_oil#cite_note-30)

Additional information on Palm Oil:

FAQ PALM OIL

Palm oil in your shopping

Borneo orangutan survival

CSPINET Palm Oil report

Mongabay Article on Palm Oil