Sustainable development

Monday Memo: AQ’s Top Expected Stories for the Week of June 18

June 18, 2012

by AQ Online

Top stories this week are likely to include: G-20 economic summit in Los Cabos; Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro; the hemisphere reacts to Obama’s immigration policy shift; South Korea’s president and China’s premier embark on separate Latin America tours; and Humala’s approval hits a new low.

G-20 Summit Kicks Off in Mexico: The annual global economic and financial summit known as the Group of Twenty, or G-20, takes place today and tomorrow in Los Cabos, Mexico, after having been preceded by the B-20 business summit. The G-20 is comprised of the European Union members and 19 other major economies; together, they represent 90 percent of the world’s GDP, 80 percent of worldwide commerce and two-thirds of the globe’s population. The world will pay close attention to any developments from the summit, given the fragility of the eurozone and the apparent slowdown in China, which has led to a growth deceleration in Brazil and other economies dependent on Chinese manufacturing. AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “President Felipe Calderón has promised a major breakthrough on the economic crisis that has the world on edge. But can the G-20 really affect the deeper structural and confidence issues facing the global economy?”

Rio+20 Hits the Ground Running: Although the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, began last week, the high-level meetings take place from Wednesday through Friday after the G-20 concludes. Nearly 115 heads of state are expected to attend this environmental summit, which is the largest UN conference in history—with nearly 50,000 in attendance. However, U.S. President Barack Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will be noticeably absent. Will Rio+20 produce any tangible results? Notes Sabatini: “What was once considered the starting point of global discussions over environmental issues has unfortunately become just an anniversary. To inject this forum with the importance and urgency that is necessary to change the course of global environmental issues, the United States and other developed nations need to step up—this time for real.”

The Hemisphere Reacts to Obama Policy Shift: Friday’s surprise announcement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that the Obama administration will stop deporting young undocumented immigrants with no criminal records and who have completed some college education or military service sent shockwaves around the U.S. and beyond. While critics of the Obama administration, such as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, derided the move as “backdoor amnesty,” the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) praised the Obama administration for answering “the prayers of families across the nation by implementing a long-awaited change to the current immigration policy.” However, some in Latin America lament the timing of the directive. La Tribuna in Honduras believes that the policy shift “arrived late” for many Hondurans, with La Opinión concurring that the Obama plan came late for “many dreamers.” Says Sabatini: “While appreciated, it’s sad that it’s taken this long to get to an issue that should have been easy three years ago. Has the immigration debate sunk so low and political opportunism climbed so high that this is the most important pro-immigration piece of policy reform that can be passed today—and clearly for electoral reasons?” AQ Senior Editor Jason Marczak agrees: “The president’s executive action is a great moment for the 800,000 undocumented youth who grew up in the United States and will now be able to more fully contribute to our society. But why couldn’t this have been done in late 2010 when the DREAM Act was blocked in Congress? The beneficiaries of this policy could have been legally working without the fear of deportation for the last 18 months if action had been taken sooner.”

South Korean and Chinese Leaders to Visit Latin America: South Korean President Lee Myung-bak will attend the G-20 and Rio+20 conferences, and then depart afterward to Chile and Colombia later this week for bilateral visits. Further, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will pay official visits to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile, where he will meet with the presidents of those four countries and deliver a speech at the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) secretariat in Santiago.

Humala’s Approval Rating Hits New Low: Peruvian President Ollanta Humala’s approval rating has hit its lowest mark since he took office in July 2011, according to a new poll from the Ipsos Apoyo firm published yesterday. His approval rating stands at 45 percent while his disapproval rating is 48 percent. This is likely due to his stance on pushing forward with mining projects and invoking the emergency law to quash protests in northern Peru. Can he turn the unpopular tide? Sabatini says that “President Humala has failed to articulate how his outsider campaign and alleged commitment to social inclusion is different from his predecessors. In the absence of a defined, structured party system, Peruvian presidents are hostage to the vicissitudes of popular opinion—and this can be very dangerous.”

Tags: Peru, Brazil, Mexico, Immigration, Environment, Sustainable development, ECLAC, China, G-20, DREAM Act, Ollanta Humala, South Korea, Rio 20, Wen Jiabao, Lee Myung-bak

Rio+20 Discusses Global Sustainability in Brazil

June 15, 2012

by Paulo Rogério

Please find the original text below, submitted in Portuguese.

The biggest UN event in history discusses new directions for global development.

From June 13 to 22, the city of Rio de Janeiro transforms into the “Green Capital of the World.” At least that's what the UN Conference on Sustainable Development—Rio+20—promises as it discusses the environmental issue on the planet.

The event takes place 20 years after the ECO 92: the genesis of an international framework on the subject, which also happened in Rio, and served as a landmark for great discussions as global warming and conservation of green areas. This year, high-level activities begin on June 20; parallel meetings have already gotten underway.

The organizers expect a series of debates to take place between civil society organizations, governments, universities, and the private sector. In an interview with UN Radio, Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs Antônio Patriota said, "By the end of the Rio+20 we will have an ambitious document, pointing directions and establishing guidelines for the coming years." Leaders are expected from 115 countries, making it the largest UN summit in history. Nevertheless, the absences of U.S. President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are expected.

The opening event was attended by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who stressed that the agenda of the environment should not be implemented only for rich countries but also developing countries. Dilma also defended an economic model that combines "preservation," "construction" and "growth."

The meeting participants believe that implementation of a global environmental agenda will be possible to draw at least 1.3 billion people out of poverty through economic inclusion.

For United Nations Environment Program Executive Director Achim Steiner, it is necessary to reconcile "economy and ecology so that they can generate transformational social outcomes," which, according to him, is already happening. Yesterday, June 14, the participants issued the first report called “Building an Inclusive Economy Green for All.”

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Tags: Brazil, Environment, Sustainable development, Rio+20

Rio+20: Accommodating New Global Donors

June 14, 2012

by Estefania Marchan

Heads of state from over 100 countries and tens of thousands of representatives from nongovernmental organizations and businesses will descend on Rio de Janeiro this month for the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development. With the slogan “The Future We Want,” participants will aim to put in place a universal framework to tackle the interlinked challenges of economic and social development, poverty eradication and environmental protection.

Leading up to the summit, however, negotiations are stalled amidst disagreements between developed and developing countries on what should constitute the roadmap to sustainable development. Developing countries are cautious to commit to a framework that might restrain their economic development, and developed countries—most battling severe economic crises—are reticent to include language that would require them to aid poorer nations with implementation, financing and the technology needed to meet agreed goals.

The deadlock is emblematic of a broader shift in the global power structure whereby developed countries, now less able to commit significant levels of resources to multilateral efforts, are leaving a void in global governance that emerging and middle-income economies are gradually beginning to fill. As these new actors rise to global prominence, however, the standoff also points to the difficult path we face in solving global challenges.

In an age fraught with economic malaise and fragmented political interests, can there truly be a unified vision of a future we want?

Rio+20 is unlikely to yield any binding international agreements, and most experts have already deemed the summit a failure. Even so, a look at how some of the largest emerging economies including India, China and Brazil are leveraging their growing economic heft as donors of development aid can provide a glimpse into the kind of future they envision for the world.

Official data on development assistance by so-called “emerging donors” varies considerably as countries lack transparency in reporting and have varied definitions for what constitutes aid. Still, even conservative estimates show that emerging economies are aggressively joining the ranks of international donors, backed by a philosophy that—at least theoretically—represents an alternative to that of traditional donors, specifically members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

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Tags: Brazil, Environment, Sustainable development, India, China, Development Assistance

The Arithmetic of Green Growth

June 12, 2012

by Patrick Love

Here’s one of the best ever openings to a paper in any academic discipline you care to name: “The economic changes that occurred in this country during recent years are sufficiently striking to be apparent to any observer without the assistance of statistical measurements. There is considerable value, however, in checking the unarmed observation of even a careful student by the light of a quantitative picture of our economy.” That’s Simon Kuznets in his unremarkably entitled 1934 paper National Income, 1929-1932. Three years later, he would present a report to the U.S. Congress that formulated such a “quantitative picture”: GDP, a single measure of the size of a nation’s economy.

Before GDP was invented (and it seems such an obvious, natural measure it’s hard to believe both that it was invented and invented so recently) governments did have some objective data on the state of the economy on which to base policy. In the 17th century already, William Petty established the bases of national accounting, essentially for tax purposes, although his Political Arithmetick also has many other lessons that are still relevant today, for example on how “a small Country and few People, by its Situation, Trade, and Policy, may be equivalent in Wealth and Strength, to a far greater People and Territory.”

Despite the centuries separating them, Petty and Kuznets were responding to a similar need to understand a changing situation. Petty’s concern was that although money rather than barter was starting to dominate economic transactions, national wealth was still counted as it had been for centuries in terms of gold and silver. In Kuznets’ time, the US government’s role in the economy was growing after the Great Depression, but as Richard T. Froyen points out, its interventions were being guided by a sketchy set of indicators such as freight car loadings or stock price indices.

The beauty of GDP was that it included so many different things in a single figure, and despite the suspicion and even outright hostility any innovative approach attracts, it became the standard measure of national economies following the 1944 Bretton Woods conference. The main criticism was, and still is, that it is not a measure of well-being since production can increase while leaving most people no better off in any way. Kuznets himself insisted that GDP was a quantitative measure and not meant to describe the quality of growth.

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Tags: Sustainable development

Monday Memo: AQ’s Top-Five Expected Stories for This Week

March 5, 2012

by AQ Online

What does AQ Online expect to be the anticipated headline grabbers for the week of March 5-9, 2012? The top-five stories include: Joe Biden’s Latin America tour; FIFA’s criticism of Brazil; Hugo Chávez’ health recovery; new presidential polls in Mexico; and the UN making further preparations for Rio+20.

1) Biden in Mexico and Honduras: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden arrived yesterday in Mexico, where he holds meetings today in Mexico City with Mexican President Felipe Calderón and the three presidential candidates for the July 2012 election. According to Tony Blinken, national security advisor to the vice president, Biden and Calderón will discuss a wide range of bilateral issues “in the spirit of equal partnership, mutual respect and shared responsibility.” Tomorrow morning, Biden travels to Honduras to meet privately with President Porfirio Lobo, and then will have lunch with the presidents of Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Costa Rica, and Panama. Much of Biden’s visit will center around the violence surrounding narcotics trafficking through Central America. 

Although Blinken said that the meeting in Honduras “provides an opportunity to reaffirm the United States' strong support for the tremendous leadership President Lobo has displayed in advancing national reconciliation and democratic and constitutional order,” AQ Editor-in-Chief Christopher Sabatini posits, “almost three years after the coup, Honduras has deteriorated politically and socially—and the region has largely walked away from it.”

2) Brazil-FIFA Row: After FIFA Secretary-General Jerome Valcke criticized on Friday Brazil’s lack of preparedness for the 2014 World Cup, specifically its lack of infrastructure and delayed construction timetables, Brazilian Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo has refused to communicate directly with Valcke. Rebelo called Valcke’s remarks—specifically that Brazil needs a “kick in the backside”—offensive and unacceptable. Expect this contention to further increase as the June 2014 kickoff date approaches, but more recently as Valcke lands in Brazil in the coming days.

3) Chávez in Recovery: The revelation by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez that the lesion he had surgically removed in Cuba was indeed a malignant tumor has fueled speculation about his long-term health outlook before and after the October 7 presidential contest against Henrique Capriles Radonski. According to Christopher Sabatini, “unfortunately, the president has refused to be transparent about his condition in the past” and that his admission of the malignant tumor “still raises a number of questions including the prognosis for his recovery, his treatment and some alternative plan should his condition take a turn for the worse.”

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Tags: Cuba, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Honduras, Sustainable development, Felipe Calderon, United Nations, Climate change, Hugo Chavez, Joe Biden, 2014 World Cup, Porfirio Lobo, Enrique Peña Nieto, Josefina Vázquez Mota, Monday Memo

Why Sustainable Development is the Best Option for the Future

February 24, 2011

by John Parisella

In the 1980’s, the World Commission on the Environment and Development, now called the Brundtland Commission, coined the term “sustainable development” to illustrate the links among economic, social and environmental objectives. Since then, science has added support for the vision expressed by the Commission; holes in the ozone layer and emerging evidence about man-made contributions to climate change have made the environment part of the equation for policies promoting economic growth.

While the debate in the 1980s was originally framed in win-lose terms, in recent years policymakers have come to realize that economic growth and environmental protection do not have to amount to a zero-sum game if tied to social progress. Unfortunately, the Great Recession of 2008 produced a political dynamic in our democracies and societies in which we are once again returning to a win-lose proposition when it comes to discussing how to stimulate growth.

At a time when the Supreme Court has already ruled on the power and jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency, current battles in the U.S. House of Representatives over these issues hark back to an earlier period. Even in a country like Canada, where the environmental community has made sustained progress in the last two decades, some are once again sounding the alarm about a pushback. This has led to an increase in combative dialogue with government policymakers.

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Tags: Canada, Sustainable development, Economic Development

Innovating and Creating Shared Value Get Respect

February 9, 2011

by John Parisella

Just recently, I came across an article in the Harvard Business Review written by renowned professors Michael E. Porter and Mark R. Kramer.  The authors lament the increasingly negative views toward business and capitalism of recent years and argue that companies must lead the effort to bring business and society back together.  In their view, those who use corporate social responsibility to enhance reputations, recognition and respect miss the point.  Porter and Kramer claim that businesses will gain the most respect if they embrace the concept of shared value, in which the creation of economic value meets social progress.  Furthermore, this concept has the greatest potential for launching the next era of growth and innovation.

Porter and Kramer acknowledge that adherence to shared value is far from the norm in business today.  While they offer examples of companies moving in the direction of combining economic and societal progress in their business models, such as Wal-Mart, General Electric and Nestle, they argue there is still much to change with education in business schools.

Listening to the recent State of the Union speech by President Obama convinced me that preparing for—or as he says—“winning” the future will require more than short-term job stimulus and deficit/debt-reduction measures.  It will require a new mindset very much in line with the Porter-Kramer vision. 

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Tags: Sustainable development, Health care, Economic Policy, Alternative energy and renewables

Aquifers, a Second Chance

November 5, 2010

by Nias Vahdat

Recent news on the management of water has not been very uplifting. Disagreements between countries that share water resources are leading to increasing conflicts over control of and access to this vital resource.

For example, the ongoing dispute between Nicaragua and Costa Rica over the San Juan River has reached such levels of discord that Nicaragua has suggested bringing the case to the International Court of Justice at The Hague for resolution. This is just one of the many global disagreements over water, which are bound to escalate as water availability continues to be on the decline.  But long-term planning and cooperation can help prevent future conflicts.
Everyday, one in three people around the world are affected by water scarcity. While populations grow worldwide, the demand for water increases twice as fast.  Conflict should then not come as a surprise. Fresh, clean water is need not only for drinking, but also for agriculture, recreation, energy generation, and many other uses.

Aquifers—renewable underground sources of water—may present an untapped resource to help satisfy our water demands.

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Tags: Environment, Sustainable development, land and water use