Rose Marie Edillion
National Economic and Development Authority
Government of Philippines
Mary Jane De la Rosa
National Economic and Development Authority
Government of Philippines
International Labour Organization
International Labour Organization
サイドイベントレポート “Strengthening Environmental-Social Links in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): Reflections from the Asia Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development (APFSD)”
Almost two years ago, the Chinese government initiated an ambitious campaign to limit exposure to air pollution and hazardous waste by closing and/or relocating pollution-intensive and chemical facilities located in heavily populated areas. In the less than a year, more than 150,000 companies were either shut down completely or moved to areas that limited human exposure to their dangerous emissions and byproducts. From the perspective of many environmental policymakers, the campaign was a resounding success. Air quality has improved markedly in cities such as Beijing and Shijiazhuang. In targeted areas, the number of “chemical platforms” located near human settlements has also been reduced.
However, viewed through a holistic sustainability lens, the campaign may score lower marks. The closure and relocation of plants may do little to alter the production and consumption patterns that give rise to pollution—not to mention sharply increasing greenhouse gases (GHGs). Further, though much publicity accompanied China’s pollution control efforts, there has been less attention focused on the fate of workers who lost jobs due to the tightening of environmental restrictions. The pollution and hazardous waste campaign underlines the critically important but underappreciated links between the environmental and social dimensions of sustainable development.
At the recently completed Asia Pacific Sustainable Development Forum (APFSD) held from April 25-27 in Bangkok, Thailand, the linkages between environmental and social issues featured prominently on the agenda. Held under the theme of “Empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality,” this year’s APFSD placed social issues front and center by assessing progress on education (SDG 4), decent work and economic growth (SDG 8), inequalities (SDG 10), as well as governance (SDG 16) and partnership (SDG 17). The APFSD also concentrated on climate change (SDG 13)—a goal that influences and is influenced by many other environmental and social, and economic dimensions of development. Over the three days of APFSD, a wide variety of stakeholders explored how to leverage synergies and avoid trade-offs between environment and social issues.
This briefing note focuses on how this could be achieved by development banks, governments, business, and organised labor. It draws heavily on the content and insights of participants of the side event convened by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES), the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). After presenting the key points and the overall storyline in the side event, the briefing note pulls back to make connections to the broader themes discussed at APFSD.
2. Environmental and Social Issues: Making the Link
Following opening remarks that pointed to the interdependencies between environmental and social issues, the side event turned to an introductory presentation from the ADB on “Supporting Implementation of Environment-Related SDGs in Asia and the Pacific.” That presentation drew upon a stocktake of 15 countries’ responses to demonstrate that many of the environmental issues are not receiving sufficient attention in development plans in Asia and the Pacific. This inattention is not due to a lack of awareness of environmental imperatives; rather it tended to result from institutional, financial and operational (particularly data) challenges of working on the range of issues that cut across what are related targets. For example, the stocktake for SDG 12 (responsible consumption and production) showed a tendency to prioritise managing waste and chemicals rather than making the connections to green procurements policies that could help curb those same unwanted byproducts. Taking an integrated approach within and across SDG 12 was much needed*1. The technical assistance project also profiled a growing number of decision-making tools and techniques in a tool compendium that could help facilitate this integration*2. Further, to demonstrate their application, it has opened to a second phase that works with Mongolia, Viet Nam, and the Philippines to help ensure the environment is not left behind by working with policymakers to employ these tools for a more integrated approach to environmental and related issues.
One of the countries that is moving ahead with the second phase of the ADB TA is the Philippines. The government, through the National Economic and Development Authority, formulated its Philippine Development Plan 2017-2022, which is geared towards the long-term vision ?“Ambisyon Natin 2040”, and has integrated the 17 SDGs. One of the priority strategies outlined in the Plan is the promotion of sustainable consumption and production (SCP), through the implementation of SCP-related policies and initiatives. This includes, for example, promotion of sustainable tourism and strengthening the implementation of the Philippine Green Jobs Act, which can facilitate the attainment of economic goals and address environmental and social challenges, thereby contributing to the well-being of Filipinos. Moreover, the government also noted that although several initiatives exist at the ground-level, there is no overarching policy framework that can integrate and harmonize all SCP-related actions and activities. In view of this, the development of a national framework and action plan on SCP, through the support of an ADB technical assistance project, can unify and strengthen SCP implementation in the Philippines. The ongoing plan formulation draws upon evidence-based decision-making tools, such as the IGES SDG Analysis & Visualization Interlinkages Tool, which aid in identifying important connections between SCP and other SDGs and targets. Further, the SCP Action Plan is envisaged to identify strategies, complemented by enabling mechanisms, that can facilitate the replacement of linear with more circular consumption and production patterns, and support more sustainable lifestyles and behaviors. The formulation of the said Action Plan adopts a deliberate consultative and broad-based participatory process, with involvement of all key SCP stakeholders and partners in the country. This is to ensure inclusiveness of the strategies and generate wider support and commitment in the eventual implementation of the action plan.
One of the countries that is moving ahead with the second phase of the ADB technical assistance project is the Philippines. The Philippines National Economic Development Agency (NEDA) has structured its medium- and long-term development plans around the SDGs, but saw an opportunity in the ADB Technical Assistance to develop a sustainable consumption and production action plan. In so doing, it took from the technical assistance’s emphasis on employing evidence-based decision-making tools?for example, it employed the IGES SDG Analysis & Visualisation Interlinkages Tool*3 to identify the connections between SCP and many other desired goals. Further, it sees the SCP action plan as a means to replace linear with more circular consumption and production patterns, and supporting more sustainable lifestyles and behaviors to improve the environment. However, the SCP action plan does not only make the environmental-social links in its substantive provisions; it is also being designed through a deliberately consultative and socially inclusive process that further fortifies those connections.
The importance of drawing together environmental and social issues was also a point of emphasis in a presentation by IGES. It began with the finding, from a study published last summer, that across a wide variety of integrated solutions to climate change and other development priorities (transport, waste, air pollution, food/water/energy nexus), it was consistently important to have governance arrangements that incorporated business. Business was a key player in making linkages across issues*4. A more recent follow-up study of progress underlined a potentially complementary finding: namely, that some of the companies that are making strides on the SDGs are benefiting from being more inclusive in their own management practices. For example, companies that embrace diversity management and have more gender equitable hiring were also advancing the SDGs in their external operations. Hence, business not only needs to be included, but inclusive*5.
A similar message about the importance of inclusivity within businesses was echoed in the final presentation from the International Labor Organisation (ILO). The ILO’s work has underscored that the labour market is a major nexus between the environment, social and economic dimensions*6. It is also an integral part of realizing environmental sustainability with growing opportunities for decent jobs, which can come about by adopting a shift to more sustainable development models. Eco-friendly jobs?employment opportunities resulting from the expansion of low carbon and resource efficiency industries?are indeed projected to increase with the move away from fossil fuels. Such opportunities are particularly abundant in Asia: the ILO estimates that by 2030, as many as 14.2 million green jobs can be generated across the region if policies and initiatives to limit average global temperature increase by 2 Celsius are implemented*7.
Yet, vulnerable employment is still a stubborn challenge among almost half of the countries in the region*8. In this connection, it is important to note that not all eco-friendly policies and industries will necessarily offer decent work, and in fact, they may lead to negative employment impacts among countries that are already heavily invested in resource intensive sectors. For example, the recent plastic waste ban implemented by China may lead to growth in vulnerable and illegal employment in several parts of Southeast Asia where the waste industry ecosystem still has decent work deficits. Taking this possibility into account, there is an urgent need to ensure that governments, together with social partners, international organisations, and development partners, make a deliberate effort to guide a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies*9 that are inclusive of workers and other social groups, such as consumers. A just transition to a low-carbon sustainable development path will not happen automatically; it will happen by design of policies, strategies and initiatives to take up the considerable potential for creation of decent work, and which minimize the inevitable dislocation that may accompany it*10.
3. Concluding Thoughts
The side event described above followed a storyline that not only drew a line between environmental and social policies, but suggested that achieving that link depends upon the process guiding those decisions. To some extent, this same theme was heard in the larger plenaries at the APFSD. For example, during the opening plenary, several speakers highlighted the need for a “whole-of-society” approach to support more socioeconomically equitable and environmentally sustainable policies. At the same time, there was less attention to how a more inclusive process could lead to more integrated policies, as countries discussed their Voluntary National Reviews (VNRs) during the second plenary. In this case, the emphasis was more on process and less about substance. This is partially understandable as the APFSD is in many ways the curtain raiser on the international High Level Political Forum (HLPF), when countries formally present their VNRs. During the HLPF, countries are more likely to provide a more detailed assessment of what they achieved regarding specific SDG goals and targets. At the same time, the lack of attention to substantive matters is concerning given that progress on some of the SDGs featured at the APFSD, such as on inequality (SDG 10) and climate change (SDG 13), is not being made at the required pace across the region. In view of this limited progress, the HLPF offers a valuable opportunity for countries to emphasise the link between social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development, starting by including the voices of key stakeholders.
A more concrete suggestion that supports the above points involves reporting on climate change. The APFSD, as the follow-up and review platform of the 2030 Agenda in the Asia Pacific region, can ensure that equal importance and support are provided for climate actions (i.e. climate change adaptation and mitigation) among countries. For instance, the Forum could continue to provide an enabling environment for policy recommendations and knowledge sharing (e.g. technical and technological advancements) for the elements of SCP that are interrelated with climate change. One example is that SCP can contribute to enhancing social and environmental linkages in the SDGs. This would take place through promotion and adoption of an ecosystem-based adaptation approach in upland and coastal communities, and use of more sustainable practices and green/clean technologies that can help curb pollution and GHG emissions.
Nonetheless, there is still a strong need to reinforce the link between the environmental and social dimensions of development through policies and practices of various stakeholders. This is critical to address persistent development challenges and capitalize on synergies to achieve sustainable development in Asia and Pacific region. The importance of these environmental-social linkages underlines the need to shed more light on the ways various stakeholders can be included in policy and decision making processes to achieve substantive progress for people and the planet.