Tag Archives: Sustainability

The Decade of Action: Cities Humanizing SDGs

We are 10 years away from delivering the 2030 sustainable development Agenda. Yet, the pace of progress on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is slower than sought. In January 2020 and in an attempt to expedite progress, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres inaugurated the ‘Decade of Action’. The Decade is built on three levels of action: global action, local action, and people action.

Weeks after, the COVID-19 Pandemic hit the globe and magnified pressure on achieving all SDGs across borders. While human well-being lies at the heart of the sustainable development Agenda, the global extreme poverty rate is projected to be 8.4-8.8% in 2020, which is close to the level in 2017. This means that an estimated 40-60 million of people may be pushed back into extreme poverty, causing the first increase in global poverty in more than 20 years. This alone can shake most – if not all – of the SDGs targets across the globe.

Experts and reports are highlighting this marked poverty increase along with the following important consequences as priorities that we all need to understand and tackle: women and girls suffer the most economic shocks, around 90% of children are affected by school closures and associated stoppage of nutritional supplements and vaccines, inequalities of all types are amplified, hunger rate is increasing, and climate honeymoon might be shorter than expected. It is time to identify those left behind and ways to mobilize local actors to take the lead towards a global sustainable recovery.

Why Cities?

Cities are vital engines for economic growth and social welfare. Cities that plan, manage, and maintain hard and soft infrastructure services offer tremendous opportunities for poverty reduction and human prosperity. Within the sustainable development framework, Cities can drive the transformation needed to achieve the SDGs and more importantly stimulate local action for strong, healthy, and just societies.

Why SDGs Framework?

The evolving risks and challenges associated with hard and soft infrastructures, social cohesion and safety, climate change, and migration; create new complexity for local governments. SDGs can be the common language and comprehensive framework for understanding and tackling development challenges.

While the SDGs overarching principles and objectives are unified across the globe, they allow for a lot of innovation by Cities in response to their complex and localized needs. Innovation is triggered by endless synergies and interlinkages between the different SDGs to optimize solutions that address more than one priority. Moreover, fiscal constraints that most Cities face are triggers for innovation and deployment of technologies that would further contribute to economic recovery and social justice.

Voluntary Local Reviews (VLRs)

A Voluntary Local Review (VLR) is a tool for local governments to report their progress on SDGs. In 2018, New York City launched the first Voluntary Local Review as a way to localize the reporting of SDG progress. They define VLR as a tangible product for engaging citizens, peer cities, and the global community around the SDGs.

However, the journey turned out to be as valuable as the destination. The VLR process stimulated collaboration between various line institutions on data collection and analysis, mapping local progress, and raising awareness among relevant staff members. Such momentum continued beyond the completion of the report demonstrating other significant outputs from VLRs.

The VLR is also a practical platform to publicize knowledge and information and promote transparency and accountability as core sustainability values.

Unlike the Voluntary National Review (VNR), the VLR – to date – has no official status at the UN. Therefore, there are no formal processes or standards in place for producing a VLR, leaving the door open for each City to create and customize a VLR to its own needs and priorities.

Cities Leading The Way

Cities like New York and Helsinki are pioneering the marsh towards SDGs implementation. Many Cities from all around the globe are joining the movement through various networks and platforms. Smaller Cities with limited resources and less visibility are taking small but solid steps on the same path. While VLRs are meant to report on progress, they also provide the right context for collective dialogue and agreement on priorities, targets, and Key Performance Indicators.

Some of the commitments reported by New York City in its VLR include: reaching carbon neutrality by 2050 by pursuing steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from buildings, and by sourcing 100% clean electricity, while creating green jobs and holding polluters responsible for climate-related costs; finding ways to beneficially reuse 100% of the City’s biosolids by 2030, so these investments would contribute to both renewable energy and zero landfill goals; and several other commitments related to environment, health and financial inclusiveness. The VLR defines 10 KPIs to track progress on SDGs targets.

The city of Helsinki, on the other hand, values sustainability as a driver for being renown as a global innovation hub. Its VLR puts quality education and decent work and economic growth on the top of the list, in addition to several other targets that would contribute to achieving the City’s vision.

A close-up on our part of the world, and specifically on Jordan, reflects a spectrum of initiatives by the city of Amman and a few other Cities. Amman joined several networks and platforms to strengthen and promote its clean energy, low Carbon, and resilience strategies. Other important players, such as the Cities and Villages Development Bank, are embarking into the sustainability field to enable stronger action by local municipalities. On a smaller scale, Sahab City is demonstrating real leadership in the transformation towards sustainability.

Sahab suffers a poverty rate of 54%. Its total area is 12 Km², where around 75 thousand Jordanian Citizens are living within this limited area in addition to another 40,000 Syrian refugees. The City is home to two of the largest industrial zones in the Kingdom and is combating several environmental challenges. Despite the limited resources available for Cities like Sahab, it is emerging as a role model in designing and kickstarting the implementation of clean energy (energy efficiency and renewable energy) strategy. Driven by its team’s passion and commitment, Sahab joined the Covenant of Mayors initiative that aims to support and engage Cities and Towns to reaching energy and climate targets.

Big or small, Cities are the collective DNA for SDGs. Through putting Cities and their interactions in the front seat, we humanize the SDGs framework and bring it closer to local issues and actors. It cannot be timelier to leverage the SDGs framework to create and foster partnerships and collaboration among people and institutions to co-create and implement common sustainable development plans.  

My latest article on EcoMENA: https://www.ecomena.org/cities-humanizing-sdgs/

Science for Sustainable Development: Are We Ready for the Change?

When the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development was launched in 2015, it was based on five key elements: people, planet, prosperity, peace, and partnership. At the time, none of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were solely dedicated to science or scientific research. However, this does not undermine the role of science in development. In fact, the Sustainable Development Agenda calls for strengthening the integration of science and technology into the various aspects of life so that they can maximize their impact on human development. Moreover, SDG 9 — build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation — calls for countries to measure their spending on research and development.

Nowadays, people look to science, technology, and innovation as enablers for economic development and as a means to improve quality of life. Scientists and researchers are not only able to propose knowledge-based solutions for current challenges, but more importantly, they own the knowledge, data, and credibility needed to embark on the rapidly changing future.

In 2019, the InterAcademy Partnership (IAP) published a report titled ‘Improving Scientific Input to Global Policymaking with a Focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.’ This report discussed a number of ways scientists and researchers could contribute to inclusive sustainable development. These include channeling research towards the identification and analysis of the interactions between different SDGs as well as proposing solutions that can enhance development impact.

Additionally, the report called for new approaches to engaging researchers in the design, measurement, and analysis of the SDGs indicators. These recommendations include carrying out more research in the area of ‘complex systems sciences’ to deepen the understanding of the earth’s carrying capacity and enable more innovations in the area of natural resources management. In addition, the report asks for the maintenance of a readily accessible electronic database of all studies and research related to sustainable development and SDGs.

Some countries have already started research projects around complex sustainable development challenges. Through this, they are attempting to better understand the interactions between SDGs and to propose solutions and/or scenarios with calculated trade-offs. For example, researchers in India are analyzing potential compromises between the expansion of agricultural land and biodiversity conservation and low carbon practices. Researchers in Africa tackle the impact phasing out fossil fuels may have on job creation, while others investigate food security within cities in relation to urban planning.

In my country, Jordan, we aim to strengthen the role of social sciences and humanities in applied research and innovation through a collaborative initiative called “El Hassan Research Chair in Sustainability.” Such research projects and initiatives not only enrich the contributions of science into the SDGs, but more importantly, influence the impact of the sustainable development agenda locally, regionally, and globally.

Beyond individual projects, strengthening the role of scientific research and science institutions in the development agenda is will help the enhancement and coordination of the supply and demand of science and technology. Several measures can assist in this endeavor, provided it is backed up by collective ownership and strong will.

Such measures may include transforming planning and decision-making processes to become more science and evidence-based, building trust and feasible partnership models between the generators and users of knowledge (industry, government, civil society organizations, and other national actors), institutionalizing national dialogue around development priorities and their interactions with science, and ultimately reaching a revolution in how researchers and innovators design their projects for maximum social impact.

So, are we ready to bring the discussion around the role of science and technology in sustainable development from global to local? Do we have the luxury of time to re-think our planning approach for both sustainability as well as research and innovation, or should we seize the time of crisis to infuse the aspired change? And, how would such change contribute to making the world a better and more livable place?

My article on Medium as part of my Plus Social Good contributions. “Science for Sustainable Development: Are we We Ready for the Change?” by +SocialGood https://link.medium.com/8RkqUipUD6

العالم ما بعد “كورونا”: إعادة تعريف التنمية البشرية

بقلم: ربى الزعبي

كحال كثيرين حول العالم، أحاول التكيف مع متطلبات الحياة الشخصية والمهنية المصاحبة لانتشار فيروس كورونا. الأزمة العالمية تعيد تعريف وتحفيز العديد من الخصال والمبادئ والقيم البشرية، مثل العناية الشخصية، والتوازن الحياتي، والتطوير الذاتي، ومساعدة الآخرين، والاهتمام بالبيئة وغيرها.

لنأخذ حماية البيئة مثالا في ضوء ما تناقلته وسائل الإعلام من مواقف وآراء حول التأثيرات المحتملة لجائحة كورونا على بعض القضايا البيئية الساخنة مثل التغير المناخي والتنوع الحيوي. يتوارد للذهن تساؤلات عديدة: هل يصبح فيروس كورونا المنقذ الموعود من تلوث الهواء وانبعاثات غازات الدفيئة؟ هل جلبنا نحن البشر الفيروس بعبثنا بالنظم الحيوية والبيئية؟ وهل من دروس تستقى من تجربة كورونا وترشد التنمية البشرية بصورتها الجديدة؟

قبل أيام، صرحت رئيسة برنامج الأمم المتحدة للبيئة أن البشرية تعرض الطبيعة لضغوطات كبيرة وذات تبعات مدمرة، محذرةً من أن الفشل في العناية بكوكبنا يعني فشلنا في العناية بأنفسنا. وأوضحت أنه لم يسبق وانتقل هذا العدد من مسببات الأمراض من الحيوان إلى الإنسان حيث وصلت نسبة الأمراض المنقولة من الحياة البرية إلى 75% من مجمل الأمراض المعدية المستجدة.

حث علماء المناخ، بدورهم، الشعوب على اتخاذ خطوات واقعية للاستعداد لمستقبل تحفه المخاطر الناتجة عن النتائج الوخيمة لتغير المناخ.

لعالم ما بعد “كورونا”، بغض النظر عن التواريخ والمدد، بدأت الاقتصادات والمؤسسات التمويلية تجري حساباتها ولا تبدو الصورة مشرقة. صندوق النقد الدولي صرح أن الاقتصاد العالمي سيدخل في حالة ركود، أما البنك الدولي ومؤسسة التمويل الدولية فقد أقرا حزمة إضافية من التمويل السريع مقدارها 14 مليار دولار لمساعدة الشركات والدول على مكافحة الفيروس والتعامل معه والحد من انتشاره.

البلدان المتضررة، بدورها، تتبنى إجراءات شرسة للتخفيف من الأضرار الاقتصادية خلال الأزمة، بيد أنها ستحتاج إجراءات أكثر صرامة لإنعاش اقتصاداتها عقب انحسار أزمة كورونا. أما الشعوب، مثلنا نحن الأردنيون، ممن وضعتهم دولهم في قمة أولوياتها، فسيستحثون الهمم لرد الجميل والنهوض بالتنمية والاقتصاد من خلال خطط ومشاريع تعوض ما فات وتمنح الأمل في حياة أفضل.

ومع ذلك؛ هل ستستطيع الاقتصادات الناشئة الصمود أمام ركود اقتصادي جديد؟ وهل من المنطقي الاستناد في التخطيط لمرحلة ما بعد كورونا على دراسات وتقارير وبيانات ما قبل كورونا؟ وهل ستحمل مفاهيم التنمية البشرية والتوظيف والضمان الاجتماعي المعاني نفسها التي تحملها اليوم؟ وهل يتوقع العالم أزمة أو أزمات جديدة نتيجة التباطؤ في اتخاذ قرارات حاسمة

عناوين التغير المناخي والتدهور البيئي لا تروق لكثيرين حاليا، لكننا لا نستطيع إنكار أن السنوات القليلة الماضية كانت ثقيلة على الناس والحكومات. فالأبنية والبنية التحتية والخدمات الأساسية وسلامة الإنسان وصحته لم تكن في أفضل حالاتها. الآثار السلبية المباشرة وغير المباشرة للتغير المناخي أصبحت أكثر وضوحاً، بينما إجراءات التصدي لتغير المناخ تلوح على استحياء في بعض الدول والمناطق دون غيرها.

في الأردن، مثلا، فقدنا أرواحا غالية قبل سنوات وما يزال كثير منا يعانون تبعات الفيضانات والجفاف. يفاقم مثل هذه الآثار على المستوى الوطني تحديات أخرى كزيادة عدد السكان (وتبعات اللجوء) والبطالة وتحديات أمن المياه والطاقة. الأردن أنجز خطوات مهمة في التوسع باستخدام الطاقة النظيفة، لكنه ما يزال في أول الطريق وبحاجة إلى تعاون عربي ودولي للاستمرار وللتكيف مع آثار تغير المناخ الاقتصادية والاجتماعية.

لكن هل ستعيق أزمة فيروس كورونا التحول العالمي نحو الطاقة المتجددة؟ وهل يتحتم علينا مراجعة اتفاق باريس والأهداف التي نص عليها بسبب التأخر المتوقع في الإنجاز؟ وهل يمكن لتمويل المناخ والاقتصاد الأخضر تقديم حل ناجع لإنعاش الاقتصادات المتضررة، وربما لتطوير نهج أكثر إنسانية للتخطيط التنموي؟

ثلاثة دروس تظهر بوضوح هنا: الأول أن البيئة المحيطة تبدو أكثر صحة ونظافة في زمن الكورونا، ما يعني أن إجراءات حاسمة قليلة قد تصنع فرقا كبيرا في نسب التلوث البيئي. والثاني أنه من المتأخر جدا البدء في اتخاذ إجراءات وقائية عند وصول الخطر أو بيان الأثر، وأما الدرس الثالث فهو أننا يجب أن نعي أن التحديات المحيطة ستصبح أكثر تشعباً وتعقيداً وتداخلاً، وليس من المقبول أن نعلق القرارات والإجراءات اللازمة لمجابهة تحد معين فقط لأن تحديا آخر ظهر فجأة. أي تقاعس عن التعامل مع أحد تحديات التنمية البشرية يعد أفضل مسرّع للأزمات والكوارث الإنسانية.

من المنطقي أن تُنجب التحديات غير التقليدية حلولا غير تقليدية. يطلق العالم اليوم نداء عاجلا للعلماء على تنوع اختصاصاتهم، وهم أصحاب المعرفة والمصداقية، ليس فقط لإيجاد تفسيرات وحلول لمشاكل اليوم، وإنما لاستشراف المستقبل بكل تعقيداته وفرصه، ومن ثم توجيه خطط التنمية البشرية نحو مستقبل أكثر أمنا وسلامة.

المقال منشور من قبل معهد غرب آسيا وشمال أفريقيا shorturl.at/fozW5

Innovating for Sustainable Development – it’s everyone’s business!

For decades, science, technology, and innovation were exclusive elements for more developed countries. Investment in research and development is still as low as it could get in developing countries. Even with the most talented individuals, research and development are confined within labs with minimal market and public interaction. This cannot be the case anymore as collective local actions are instrumental for global change.

The Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs) not only highlight innovation as a goal but also emphasize the value of innovation to achieve other goals. Whether it be education, energy, health, climate change or poverty that we strive to address, science, technology, and innovation will need to be tackled in a participatory and inclusive manner to ensure benefit to the public. Building sustainable economic clusters and social businesses around new technologies are only possible though widely-enabled innovations from the full spectrum of community; including women, youth and indigenous communities. Connecting local technological needs with global opportunities is a common challenge in many countries that requires us all to be more conscious of market dynamics and social inclusiveness. The ability to recognize local technological needs and capabilities is core to create a value proposition that maximizes economic productivity and competitiveness.

Boosting local innovation might be the magical recipe for progressing on sustainable development goals if the ingredients are made available. Less developed countries need support to shape suitable models for innovation within the context of sustainable development. Lessons learned so far indicate that the public sector might not be the key driver for innovation. Businesses, on the other hand, play a substantial role in accelerating innovation as investors and consumers. However, the real catalysts for sustainable innovation are not yet fully empowered. Universities, research institutions, think tanks and NGOs are requested to step into the driver seat to define the needs and connect the dots. These players should be better equipped to understand local development challenges and convert them into innovation opportunities. Civil society organizations and scientists combining both knowledge and community power can advocate for an inclusive and enabling policy and regulatory environment that bolsters and celebrates local innovation.

Jordan’s Green Economy Potential by Ruba Al-Zu’bi

The global financial recession triggered serious debate among many countries in revealing the causes behind failures and in innovating affordable solutions. Seeking “transformational” economic growth is very fashionable nowadays bringing to the front-line clean energy and green investments as keys for a better future. And for those countries at the heart of change in the Arab World, the famous “Spring” is bringing a different flavor to the aspired change and reform.

In Jordan, attention to sustainability (whether environmental or social) is a need as well as a strategic choice. For a country with very limited natural resources and increasingly growing demand, attending for people and environment is not only a political obligation but an under-exploited differentiator that would place Jordan as a regional platform for community-oriented development and sustainable investments.

The known argument of “environment versus investment” should not stay within our dictionary. Both are converging to support development goals especially within a vulnerable environment like ours. The magnified energy crisis that recently hit Jordanians has initiated a paradigm shift in perception and practice. We have never been more aware of the energy cost and the tough budgetary constraints like we are today. I wish I could claim the same for water, another upcoming reality that Jordanians are hardly ready to face.

Learning it the hard way, Jordan is recognizing with no doubt that sustainable development and effective linkages between economic, social and environmental goals, are not attainable without targeting development sectors and mainstreaming sustainability within their plans and operations. The standalone green approach in decision-making is no longer viable as it encapsulates environment away from other development policies and reforms.

The demand for reforms that ensure long-term benefits to the community is dictating an integrated development approach. People need to be conscious about trade-offs and at the heart of the decision-making process. While calling for more jobs and social welfare; Jordanians are becoming more aware of the pressures caused by economic growth on the country’s natural resources. The business and investment climate has its requirements to give back with value added economy. Land, water, energy, infrastructure and good governance are all inputs in the development process; thus, if Jordan is to compete in the market, we should find the right recipe.

Recognizing its untapped resources, Jordan has identified clean energy and green investments as new clusters to boost economic development, provide green jobs, and sustain natural resources. As the first country in the MENA region to conduct a national green economy scoping study, Jordan has identified several opportunities to kick off the green clusters including renewable energy and energy efficiency, water and waste-water management, solid waste, green buildings, ecotourism, transportation etc. However, mainstreaming the green economy potential into those sectors is still limited.

The cost of imported energy amounted to 20% of the GDP (2006). Total imported energy amounted to 96% of Jordan’s total energy needs. The estimated investment needed in the renewable energy sector by 2020 is about 2.1 billion USD and in energy conservation around 152 million USD.

Jordan hopes to generate approximately 1200 MW of electricity from wind projects (BOO basis) and another 600 MW from solar (BOO basis) in addition to 50 MW from waste to energy projects by 2020. This goal is necessary to reach the 10% renewable energy target of the total energy mix.

A major achievement was made recently with the first patch of agreements signed between the government and renewable energy developers to start the first solar and wind power generation projects enabled by the recently issued comprehensive legislative and regulatory framework for renewable energy.

Such investments are expected to contribute to the energy security goals, create green jobs for Jordanians, alleviate burden off the government budget and position Jordan on the clean energy map. As promising as this truly is, Jordan needs to proactively pursue the other elements of the value chain, namely; education, innovation & technology, training, and entrepreneurship. With over 70% of its population under 30 years of age, Jordan’s big investment needs to be in its talent. Mainstreaming the green economy market needs into the education and vocational training systems will enhance the green clusters competitiveness and ensure socioeconomic benefits.

Through building an effective regulatory and governance framework and bringing together public and private sectors as well as civil society organizations; Jordan will establish its competitive edge in the green economy world while striving to meet its people’s development aspirations.