The EU and Sustainability

 

The EU and Sustainability

 

At the Prague European Summit I was invited to last week, sustainability was on the program three times. The most relevant session was Towards a More Sustainable and Prosperous European and Global Economy through Trade and Investments, pictured below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I asked Panelists like Sabine Weyand, Director General for Trade at the European Commission, to define Sustainability. She defined it as actions the EU is taking, including mutually reinforcing Twin Transitions (Green and Digital) to foster a carbon-neutral EU by 2050 and the three pillars of sustainability, namely:

  • 1st pillar is ‘climate and environment,
  • 2nd, a zero carbon economy (including biodiversity), and
  • 3rd, social sustainability (equity by member states and internationally).

These were followed by several panelists mentioning the issue of member countries needing to support and fund these. One would think that funding would be gratefully accepted and reciprocated given the astonishing €338bil the EU already spent across Europe, eight times the size of the Marshall Plan.

The panelists of these sessions sketched out ambitious plans. I researched this oft-promised “EU Green Deal” to understand its scale, if the sustainability of results (which I work on ex-post), the sustainability of our global ecology, and/or sustainability in terms of business functions resides, if at all. The results of this cursory research did not make these clear. But ambitions are massive. 

EU Green Deal

The European Green Deal began when the EU Parliament adopted the EU Climate Law in 2021, which makes “legally binding a target of reducing emissions 55% by 2030 and climate neutrality by 2050. This moves the EU closer to its post-2050 objective of negative emissions and confirms its leadership in the global fight against climate change.”

 

SIDENOTE1: Given that our lawsuit against the Czech Republic government for not meeting its Paris Agreement commitments just failed and the Ministry of the Environment successfully claimed that reducing emissions by only 26% was enough (rather than the EU’s target of 55%), I wonder how much of these ‘legally binding’ targets will actually be met…

 

Turning to what I could find of the 1st and 2nd pillars (as the 3rd was missing from Green Deal online documents which I found other than mentions of a ‘Just Transition’):

 

  1. AID FUNDING (SDGs)

The EU as a leading global partner for the funding the SDGs & Paris Agreement

The EU seems to be shifting from the SDGs which appear to be bilaterally funded, although ‘collectively’ claimed. “The EU and its Member States are the leading donors of official development assistance (ODA) globally. In 2022, they collectively provided €92.8 billion (based on preliminary OECD figures), which accounts for 43% of global assistance.” So what progress is that generating? Not much:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SOURCE:https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/report/2023/progress-chart/Progress-Chart-2023.pdf

 

SIDENOTE2: And since we’re talking about climate, can the EU or other donors aid-fund functioning weather stations? They have 5% of the number the US and EU do which massively limits mitigation: https://africanarguments.org/2023/11/without-warning-africa-lack-of-weather-stations-is-costing-lives/

 

  1. SUSTAINABLE FINANCE FOR CLIMATE, ENVIRONMENT, AND ECONOMY (the 1st 2 pillars of the mentioned Sustainability)

So, for the EU, where I now live most of the time, sustainable finance plans seem to be off to a good start. Nearly 2/3 of the promised €300 billion has been secured in only two years. Notably, this is 1/3 of the EU’s planned €1 Trillion, including private investments. Two German policy researchers, Findeisen and Mack, question their achievability. “Europe needs to spend an additional €350 billion on climate action every year until the end of this decade…to reach its 55% greenhouse gas reduction target by 2030.” Furthermore,shortcomings of [Investment Plan] InvestEU in combatting climate change can be addressed and why it is no substitute for fresh public spending at EU level.” (See the excellent brief including concerns about the Sustainable Europe Investment Plan, outlined below. This overview of the EU’s Investment plan has broadly planned outputs (e.g., ambitions, financing, research, mobilizing), outcomes (e.g., energy generated, building new energy sources, restoring ecosystems, and building food systems and mobility), and impacts (e.g., a sustainable future):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52020DC0021&rid=7

 

Much of the plan is, understandably, European-focused, yet we all know that the Global South is where the deepest needs and opportunities lie. Drilling down further to see investments, activities, and even results on the ground was both interesting and harder:

The inaugural milestone of the Global Gateway was the Africa-Europe Investment Package with approximately €150 billion of investment dedicated to bolstering cooperation with African partners. We have also started implementing Global Gateway in Asia and the Pacific and in Latin America and the Caribbean, where President von der Leyen announced a global investment by the EU and its Member States of over €45 billion. In 2023, ninety key projects were launched worldwide across the digital, energy, and transport sectors through Global Gateway to strengthen health, education, and research systems globally.”

So, as an Africanist and evaluative researcher, I looked into the EU’s reported figures (and results). Under Global Gateway, the EU has funded 33 projects in Sub-Saharan Africa, 11 of which are climate-related and another 7 that are transport-related. There are only short descriptions of projects without substantive partners, activities, or data, such as a €1billion “Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience in Africa“. Details would be instructive, to say the least. Research on African Voices regarding their projects unearthed one that should already be of concern: Namibia’s $10 billion Green Hydrogen project, which is to help 2.5 million people decarbonize. However, the tendering is not transparent, locals are in the dark, there are biodiversity concerns, and initial funding is missing. Much more transparent monitoring & evaluation data is needed to know it is on track. 

 

I also consulted African Voices regarding COP28 that are relevant to the EU’s Africa investments.

  • Funds are needed. Lorraine Chiponda. a Coordinator of the Africa Movement Building Space notes that “Africa receives a meager 3% of the total global climate finance and African countries still play a marginal role in the global finance system, making it a mammoth task to obtain funds for renewable energy investment.”
  • Africa has much to offer. Joseph Nganga is Interim Managing Director at the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) reminds us that “Africa, a region with a developing economy endowed with abundant natural resources, stands at a crossroads where strategic financial investments can steer its trajectory towards a prosperous climate-resilient future.”
  • Moreover, financing needs are clearly expressed, which the EU, for one, should listen to. “This year at the African Climate Summit, countries were united in their call for a series of finance reforms that would have a meaningful impact on their fiscal and policy space to address climate change. These include a reduction in borrowing costs and risk premiums; debt management, restructuring and relief; scaling concessional climate finance from multilateral developments banks (MDBs); and reforms to the global tax regime.Olivia Rumble is a climate change legal and policy expert and a director of Climate Legal

 

Much more is needed for equitable partnerships to address our increasingly desperate climate needs. While I was at the conference, the Copernicus Climate Change Service issued a warning that “For the first time ever, the planet globally exceeded a key warming threshold on Friday for the first time since at least the beginning of instrument records, new data shows. Simply put, a 2-degree rise in global temperatures was considered as a target for the end of the century and is considered a critical threshold above which dangerous and cascading effects will occur.” COP28 has a lot to accomplish.

Helpful? Let me know in the comments…

 

 

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Funding and Accountability for sustainable projects?

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Funding and Accountability for sustainable projects?

What are Sustainable Development Goals? ” the United Nations adopted the new post-2015 development agenda. The new proposals – to be achieved by 2030- set 17 new ‘sustainable’ development goals (SDGs) and 169 targets. Some, like Oxfam, see the SDGs as a country budgeting and prioritization as well as an international fundraising tool. They cite that “government revenue currently funds 77% of spending…aligned with government priorities, balanced between investment and recurrent and easy to implement than donor-funded spending…” National investments are vital, but how much has the world used the SDGs to target investments and foster sustainable results?

Using results data such as that of the sectoral SDGs, countries can also ensure accountability for the policies implemented to reduce global and local inequities, but we must learn from the data. Over halfway to the goal, data is being collected, and while there is robust monitoring by countries who have built their M&E systems, other countries are faltering. “A recent report by Paris21 found even highly developed countries are still not able to report more than 40-50% of the SDG indicators” and “only 44% of SDG indicators have sufficient data for proper global and regional monitoring”. Further, there is very little evaluation or transparent accountability. Some of the data illuminate vitally need-to-know-for-better-programming. SDG data shows good news that Western and Asian countries have done better than most of the world 2015-19… but there is a lot of missing data while other data shows staggering inequities such as these:

  • In Vietnam, a child born into the majority Kinh, or Viet, ethnic group is three and a half times less likely to die in his or her first five years than a child from other Vietnamese ethnic groups.
  • In the United States, a black woman is four times more likely to die in childbirth than a white woman.

So are we using the SDG data to better target funding and improve design? This is the kind of evaluative learning (or at least sharing by those that are doing it :)) that is missing. As my colleague and friend Sanjeev Sridharan writes on Rethinking Evaluation, “As a field we need to more clearly understand evaluation’s role in addressing inequities and promoting inclusion” including “Promoting a Culture of Learning for Evaluation – these include focus on utilization and integration of evaluation into policy and programs.” How well learning is integrating is unknown.

As a big picture update on the progress of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2021, with only nine years left to the goal: It’s not looking good. The scorecards show COVID-19 has slowed down or wiped out many achievements, with 100 million people pushed into extreme poverty, according to the IMF. Pre-Covid, our blog on sectoral SDG statistics on health, poverty, hunger, and climate, was already showing very mixed results and a lack of mutual accountability.

The private sector is ever-being pushed to fund more of such development costs, only marginally successfully, as public sector expenditures are squeezed. Yet the G20 estimates that $2.5 TRILLION is needed every year to meet the SDG goals. As we have seen at Impact Guild, the push to incentivize private commitments is faltering. “To ensure its sustainability, the private sector has specific interests in securing long-term production along commodity supply chains, while reducing their environmental and social impacts and mitigating risks… The long-term economic impacts of funding projects that support the sustainability agenda are, thus, clearly understood. However, additional capital needs to flow into areas that address the risks appropriately. For example, much remains to be done to factor climate change as a risk variable into emerging markets that face the largest financing gap in achieving the SDGs.” Further, if decreased funding trends continue, by 2030, at minimum 400 million people will still live on less than $1.25 a day; around 650 million people will be undernourished, and nearly 1 billion people will be without energy access. So we’re not meeting the SDGs, they’re being derailed by COVID in places, and we aren’t beginning to cost out the need to address climate change and its effects on global development…. so now what?

From: https://www.g20-insights.org/policy_briefs/incentivizing-the-private-sector-to-support-the-united-nations-sustainable-development-goals/

To ensure that giving everyone a fair chance in life is more than just a slogan; accountability is crucial. This should include a commitment from world leaders to report on progress on “leaving no one behind” in the SDG follow-up and review framework established for the post-2015 agenda and for the private sector to loudly track their investments across the SDGs. For as The Center for American Progress wrote, money and results are key: We must “measure success in terms of outcomes for people, rather than in inputs—such as the amount of money spent on a project—as well as in terms of national or global outcomes” and that “policymakers at the global level and in each country should task a support team of researchers with undertaking an analysis of each commitment.”

A further concern. While we seem to measure the statistics periodically and see funding allocated to SDG priorities, but there are few causal links drawn between intensity in investment in any SDG goal and sustained results. To what degree are the donations/ investments into the SDGs linked to improvements? Without measuring causality or attribution, it could be a case of “A rising tide lifts all boats” as economies improve or, as Covid-related economic decline wiped out 20 years of development gains as Bill Gates noted last year. We need proof that trillions of dollars of international “Sustainable development” programs have any sustained impact beyond the years of intervention.

We must do more evaluation and learn from SDG data for better targeting of investments and do ex-post sustainability evaluations to see what was most sustained, impactful, and relevant. Donors should raise more funds to meet needs and consider only funding what could be sustained locally. Given the still uncounted demands on global development funding, we can no longer hope or wait for global mobilization of trillions given multiple crises pushing more of the world into crisis. Let’s focus now.