Higher education on sustainability needs major scale up to achieve impact

Text by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

Stockholm School of Economics (SSE) received recognition for excellence in Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reporting during the 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, arranged by PRME. While SSE has made substantial progress in aligning its teaching, research and outreach to sustainable development, it was inspiring to meet and learn from universities around the world at the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) Global Event at HLPF 2018. The objective was to review how the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the SDGs, is being integrated into sustainability strategies, research, teaching, pedagogy, and campus practices.

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HESI was created in 2012 with partnership between United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, UNESCO, United Nations Environment, UN Global Compact’s Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) initiative, United Nations University (UNU), UN-HABITAT, UNCTAD, and UNITAR. Given its association with the United Nations, HESI provides higher education institutions with a unique interface between higher education, science, and policy making.

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The speakers were animated as they shared ways of operationalizing SDGs in education and research. A reoccurring theme was the need for investment both in terms of time and finances. Some universities had freed up to 20 per cent of their faculty’s time to operationalize SDGs into research and teaching. However, based on the discussions that followed it was clear that they were outliers to the norm.

Academics, librarians, UN officials and vice-chancellors presented some excellent examples of courses, curriculum, teaching and research. Maria Cortes-Puch, of the SDG Academy made a particularly impressive presentation. The SDG Academy is a knowledge cloud that provides a collection of free online course on Sustainable Development, prepared by international experts. Cara Smyth of the Fair Fashion Center, discussed ways in which they were developing and targeting their teaching, research and outreach for Sustainable Fashion.  This was particularly relevant to us given our own research at Misum/SSE on Monetization of Circular Economy benefits in the fashion and clothing industry. The Swedish fashion industry has demonstrated an increasing commitment towards circular economy. The objective of Misum’s project is to make a business case for a bio-based circular economy within the clothing and textile industry, showing that it is possible to increase profitability while moving towards circular economy.

Access to quality education for all (SDG 4), was also emphasized. Concerns were raised about quality education becoming  a function of ones’ income or zip code.

While HESI is successfully galvanizing the academic resources and community towards operationalizing Agenda 2030, it is beleaguered by the same problems that plague the SDGs: the lack of investments and finances; limited outreach capacity; lopsided development with a skew towards developed countries etc. In my assessment HESI is still in its nascent stage and requires a major scaling up of its activities, to achieve the global impact that it has the potential to reach.

Speakers: Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations; Cara Smyth, Vice-President and Founding Director of the Fair Fashion Center, Glasgow Caledonian New York College; Angel Cabrera, President, George Mason University Bruce Stiftel, Professor, Georgia Tech School of City and Regional Planning; Amy Tu, Montclair State University; Athanasios Giannakopoulos, Dag Hammarskjöld Library; Orrin F. Summerell, United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) initiative; Nikhil Seth, Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Executive Director of UNITAR; Ignacio de la Vega, Dean, EGADE Business School, Tecnologico de Monterrey; Alex Wright, Head of Policy, Association of Commonwealth Universities;Jean-Marc Triscone, Vice Rector, Geneva University, Geneva Tsinghua Initiative for the Sustainable Development Goals; Yang Bin, Vice Rector, Tsinghua University; Eugenie Birch, Professor, University of Pennsylvania; Chalapan Kaluwin, Acting Dean of Natural and Physical Science, University of Papua New Guinea, Centre for Climate Change and Sustainable Development; Maria Cortes-Puch, Head, National and Regional Networks, Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

 

Written by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

 

 

 

The role of Information and Communication Technologies in the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 11

Text by Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. Ranjula reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

Follow Ranjula on twitter: @ranjbali

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SDG 11 focuses on making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. The increasing urbanization rates and growing use of ICT has the potential to promote inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities. Rapidly growing ICT infrastructure, digital mobile devices and connected users offer opportunities to local government, private sector and civil society, to innovate in provision of services to promote and accelerate sustainable development and support all SDGs.

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The session included speakers from academics, high-level UN officials and the civil society. Discussing the ‘smart’ in the smart cities, Chaesub Lee (Director, Telecommunication Standardization Bureau, ITU) described it as presence of technical elements of collaborative knowledge, compatibility, integrity, interoperability and interconnectivity. Lee stressed the need for local solutions for cities while mapping the culture of the city to SDGs. Professor Eugenie Birch, University of Pennsylvania pointed that the language of SDGs was not the language of the cities. Quoting from their study of US cities, Birch added that they had to insert the SDG agenda into existing local government plans where possible.

Before employing ICTs in implementation of SDG 11, Warren Feek, Executive Director, The Communication Initiative, stressed the need for deliberative thinking on the objective, the principle and identify natural public spaces. Feek discussed the need for using ICTs as a freely available public utility, media watch dog and as a tool for amplifying the voices in the natural public spaces to impact policy-making. He suggested that potential areas in which ICTs could be employed were: public dialogue and debate, gender, peace process, human rights etc.

Claudio Acioly, Head of Global Capacity Development Unit and Senior Housing Expert, UN-Habitat identified ICT as an important tool for local e-governance that could be used for monitoring and reporting on the SDGs with greater transparency and accountability.

Overall the session remained focused on governments with little discussion on how ICTs could be employed by private sector, civil society, consumers or netizens (citizens of the internet).

Written by Ranjula Bali Swain, a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. She reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018 at United Nations in New York.

Follow Ranjula on twitter: @ranjbali

 

 

Happiness, taxation and the SDG financing gap

Ranjula Bali Swain is a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

Follow Ranjula on twitter: @ranjbali

The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development was inaugurated on July 9, 2018, with opening remarks by Marie Chatardová, President of Economic and Social Council and Liu Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations. With 2500 organizations attending, and 47 countries presenting voluntary national reviews during HLPF 2018, Chatardová said that the motivation is high but there is also a true sense of urgency in improving Agenda 2030 implementation.

Zhenmin, raised concerns about the significant persistence of poverty in the rural areas, stating that close to 4 billion people were without social protection in 2016, especially the vulnerable like elderly, mothers with newborns, children, people with severe disabilities and the unemployed. Furthermore, for the first time this decade, hunger is on the rise. He stressed the need to deal with the ongoing climate change (2017 was one of the three warmest years on record with 1.1 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial levels); gender discrimination; water stress; electricity access; migration and on-going violent conflicts. Although by 2018, about 108 countries have national policies on sustainable consumption and production, Zhenmin also stressed the urgency in implementing Agenda 2030.

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In its third year of implementation, the keynote speakers identified the most important trends and actions that would catalyze transformative pathways through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Jeffrey D. Sachs, Professor and Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University and Alex Steffen, Co-founder of online magazine Worldchanging.com made compelling presentations.

Sachs made three powerful points. First, SDGs were achievable, but not being achieved because of greed and vested interests. He pointed out unsustainable supply chains in the food industry and the continued use of brown energy, as common outliers. Second, he emphasized that there was an overlap between sustainable development, happiness and taxation. Sweden, once again topped the SDG 2018 ranking, doing well on world happiness (9) and tax-GDP ratio (6). He credited Europe for being the closest to achieving SDGs and was critical of US which was low on sustainable development (ranked 35) and happiness (ranked 18) indices. Sachs made a forcible case that countries with high happiness index also tax themselves more, spending on social infrastructure (education and health) and environment,  and do well on sustainable development.

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Third, Sachs identifies a SDG financing gap of roughly $190 billion. A gap that he suggests can be easily filled by raising $100 billion by increasing Overseas Development Assistance from 0.3% to 0.5% of GNI of the developed countries. Another possibility is to raise $90 billion from  2,208 billionaires, if they would agree to contribute 1% of their net-worth per year. He called out to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to contribute saying, “Come on Zuckerberg, you were a kid in dorm 10 years back”. His concrete suggestions on raising additional revenues for financing SDGs through some other sources included: high net-worth levy, taxation of offshore accounts, tech tax (Facebook, Google, …), financial transactions tax, carbon tax, carbon offset purchases by industry, industrial fines for pollution and climate disasters, and crackdown on tax evasion etc. Sachs message was deliberate, distilled and sharp.

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Alex Steffen, who describes himself as a Planetary futurist, made the overwhelming point that the solution for achieving sustainable development was ‘speed’. Steffen said that we are at the cusp of massive change with two economies in place, the sustainable and the unsustainable one. He stressed that sustainability is disruptive and we need sustainable innovations, redistribution of wealth and rapid speed in the transformation towards sustainable development. According to him, the significant predatory delay in this transformation was due to the unsustainable, fossil-fuel economy. Pronouncing Donald Trump as a road bump to sustainable development, Steffen stressed that as sustainable solutions accelerate political will will change.

The opening session set the stage for two weeks of HLPF 2018 for sustainable development, identifying the positives but at the same time raising concerns about the many dimensions of SDGs implementation for the transformative change that Agenda 2030 demands.

Written by Misum´s Ranjula Bali Swain, Visiting Professor, who reports back from The High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2018 for Sustainable Development that took place in July 2018. Ranjula Bali Swain is specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

United Nations High-Level Political Forum 2018 and participation predicament – an academic’s dilemma!

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Text by Ranjula Bali Swain, who is a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

The High-level Political Forum (HLPF), is United Nations central platform to follow-up and review the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) at the global level.  It supports the member states to “conduct regular and inclusive reviews of progress at the national and sub-national levels, which are country-led and country-driven” (paragraph 79). The forum meets annually with a mandate to follow-up and review the General Assembly resolution 70/299. The HLPF 2018 theme is ‘Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies’ and it reviews the progress of SDGs 6, 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17, with voluntary national reviews from 47 countries. A brief digression here before I plunge into the HLPF history.

This spring and summer I cancelled my participation/presentations in the Climate Change: Impacts and Responses conference at UCLA Berkeley and the World Finance Conference in Mauritius, due to my air-travel carbon footprint concerns! It was a mindful decision. Before deciding to travel to New York, I bundled up multiple tasks including an invitation as a visiting scholar at the United Nations – Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN), participation in HLPF 2018, lecturing in an economics graduate course at Columbia University, seminar presentation at UN SDSN, participation in IAFFE annual conference at State University of New York and collaborative research with our partners at the Stern Business School, New York University. However, it is the HLPF 2018 Carbon-Neutral effort that enabled me to travel and participate with a lighter conscious! According to the estimates, 98% of the carbon emissions at HLPF 2018 will be from air travel. This is equivalent to over 3.5 million kilograms of carbon or 13,805,650 kilometers driven by an average passenger vehicle or the consumption of 8,103 barrels of oil. Each participant at HLPF 2018 will emit on average of 1,246 kilograms of carbon from air travel that is equivalent to 33 tree seedlings grown for 10 years in the USA. However, if each participant flying in at HLPF 2018 would donate around USD 5 to a certified carbon-offsetting project, all air travel to the HLPF would be carbon-neutral! The process is uncomplicated! First, one estimates the emissions from the trip using the ICAO’s air travel carbon emissions calculator.  Second, one can compensate those emissions by purchasing an equivalent amount of carbon credits recognized under the United Nations Climate Change Convention. A must-do for the globe-trotting tribe!

The establishment of the United Nations High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) was mandated in 2012 by the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), ”The Future We Want”and its format and organizational aspects are outlined in General Assembly resolution 67/290. In 2013, its focus was on ‘Building the future we want: from Rio+20 to the post-2015 development agenda’ to ‘Achieving the MDGs and charting the way for an ambitious post-2015 development agenda, including the SDGs’ in 2014. The HLPF has been facilitator in enabling the transformation from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The emphasis in the 2015 HLPF was on ‘Strengthening integration, implementation and review- the HLPF after 2015’. This was followed with a series of review HLPFs,  ‘Ensuring no one is left behind’ in HLPF 2016 and a review of SDGs 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 14 in  ‘Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world’ during HLPF 2017. The  ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres emphasizes that ”The 2030 Agenda is our roadmap and its goals and targets are tools to get there.”Others, more forcefully argue that Agenda 2030 is perhaps our last and only shot at stopping climate change.

Text by Ranjula Bali Swain who is a Visiting Professor at Misum specialized in sustainable development, sustainable energy, sustainable innovation, microfinance and development economics. 

Follow Ranjula on Twitter: @ranjbali