SDG 13: Climate Action

SDG 13 calls for urgent action not only to combat climate change and its impacts, but also to build resilience in responding to climate-related hazards and natural disasters.
Climate change is now affecting every country on every continent. It is disrupting national economies and affecting lives, costing people, communities and countries dearly today and even more tomorrow.

Affordable, scalable solutions are now available to enable countries to leapfrog to cleaner, more resilient economies. The pace of change is quickening as more people are turning to renewable energy and a range of other measures that will reduce emissions and increase adaptation efforts.

Climate change, however, is a global challenge that does not respect national borders. It is an issue that requires solutions that need to be coordinated at the international level to help developing countries move toward a low-carbon economy.

To strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, countries adopted the Paris Agreement at the COP21 in Paris, which went into force in November of 2016. In the agreement, all countries agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees centigrade. As of April 2018, 175 parties had ratified the Paris Agreement and 10 developing countries had submitted their first iteration of their national adaptation plans for responding to climate change.

Global temperature

Carbon emissions have been steadily rising over the past decades, leading to increases in global temperatures. The period from 2011 to 2015 was the hottest on record, with sea ice reaching its lowest level in history and coral bleaching – resulting from increased sea surface temperatures – threatening the world’s coral reefs.

The landmark Paris Agreement, signed in April 2016 by 175 Member States, attempts to mitigate climate change and accelerate and intensify actions and investments needed for a sustainable, low-carbon future. Central to the agreement is the need to strengthen the global response to keep global temperatures from rising no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue further efforts to limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Paris Agreement requires parties to identify their “intended nationally determined contributions” (INDCs). Progress on the Paris Agreement will be tracked every five years through a global stocktaking exercise.

Adaptation component

As of 4 April 2016, 189 of the 197 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change had submitted 161 INDCs (the European Commission submitted one joint INDC). Of these, 137 included an adaptation component. They realized the urgent necessity to adapt to climate change, and are thus starting to design and implement adaptation initiatives of various types, scales, and coverage.

These initiatives seek to manage anticipated climate change risks at the national, sub-national, local/community levels. Some focus on developing system-wide local capacities aimed at analyzing, planning, and implementing a range of priority actions that strengthen the resilience of key stakeholders and institutions against anticipated climate change risks

Some countries stressed that adaptation was their main priority, since they see the potential impacts of climate change as strongly linked to national development, sustainability and security. Parties referred to virtually every sector and area of the economy in the adaptation component of their INDCs.

The top three priority areas were water, agriculture and health, which coincide with the top climate hazards that Parties identified – floods, drought and higher temperatures. Many parties also referred to vector- or water-borne diseases as a hazard that will require adaptation.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

In June a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) focused on the Near East and North Africa region. Even though drought is a familiar phenomenon in the region, over the past four decades, droughts have become more widespread, prolonged and frequent – likely due to climate change. The region is not only highly prone to drought, but also one of the world’s most water-scarce areas, with desert making up three quarters of its territory.

Yemen is one of the poorest countries in terms of water resources. Agriculture is the largest sector of the economy which means that water is an important factor in life in general.

Recently, Yemen suffered from increased drought frequency, increased temperatures, and changes in precipitation patterns leading to degradation of agricultural lands, soils and terraces. And Yemen is also home to coffee plants and the dry weather actually contributes to its sweet taste.

All this surrounded by a civil war that started in 2015. As in so many other cases, no single country, and to this extent, no single person, can be judged by only a handful of factors, the whole picture is much more complex.

Coffee Trails in Yemen

The story of a journey around coffee and the port of Mocha

“Coffee is about what you build together. It’s about journeys, it’s a miraculous adventure. It crosses cultures, boundaries, and messy politics to go from the producer’s hands all the way to us. And in this cup, it brings everyone together. “

Mokhtar Al-Khanshali, Founder of Port of Mokha


SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Sustainable Development Goal 12 encourages more sustainable consumption and production patterns through various measures, including specific policies and international agreements on the management of materials that are toxic to the environment. Their implementation will help to achieve overall development plans, reduce future economic, environmental and social costs, strengthen economic competitiveness and reduce poverty.

Sustainable consumption and production include the promotion of resource and energy efficiency, of sustainable infrastructure and providing access to basic services, as well as the creation of green and decent jobs to ensure a better quality of life for all.

Sustainable growth and development require minimizing the natural resources and toxic materials used, and the waste and pollutants generated, throughout the entire production and consumption process. It is necessary to continue to address challenges regarding air, water and soil pollution.

Since sustainable consumption and production aims at “doing more and better with less”, net welfare gains from economic activities can increase by reducing resource use, degradation and pollution along the whole life cycle, while increasing quality of life.

There also needs to be significant focus on operating on supply chain, involving everyone from producer to final consumer. This includes educating consumers on sustainable consumption and lifestyles, providing them with adequate information through standards and labels and engaging in sustainable public procurement, among others.

Material footprint

The material footprint is an accounting of fossil fuels and other raw materials extracted globally and used in a particular country. It reflects the amount of primary materials required to meet a country’s needs and can be interpreted as an indicator of the material standard of living or level of capitalization of an economy.

From 2000 to 2010, the material footprint per GDP of developed regions dropped as a result of greater efficiency in industrial processes. But at 23.6 kilograms per unit of GDP in 2010, it was still substantially higher than the figure for developing regions at 14.5 kilograms per unit of GDP.

As developing countries industrialized, the material footprint of the regions as a whole grew over this 10-year period. Non-metallic minerals showed the largest increase, rising from 5.3 to 6.9 kilograms per unit of GDP. This component represents almost half the material footprint of developing regions.

Material consumption

Domestic material consumption measures the total amount of materials used in economic processes. It is defined as the annual quantity of raw materials extracted from the domestic territory, plus all physical imports and minus all physical exports. It includes intermediate and final consumption until released to the environment.

Domestic material consumption per capita declined slightly in developed regions, from 17.5 metric tons per capita in 2000 to 15.3 metric tons per capita in 2010. However, it remained 72% higher than the value for developing regions, which stood at 8.9 metric tons per capita in 2010. Domestic material consumption per capita increased in almost all developing regions over this period, except in sub-Saharan Africa, where it remained relatively stable, and Oceania, where it decreased from 10.7 to 7.7 metric tons per capita.

The dramatic rise in the consumption per capita of raw materials in Asia, particularly Eastern Asia, during this period is primarily due to rapid industrialization.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

Whenever we think of production, the country which probably comes to our mind is China, that has become the factory of the world. “Made in China” labels are omnipresent.

China is a huge country with many faces. Factories are known to be located in Guandong province, and one of the cities there is Dongguan. This city itself is sometimes called “the world’s factory” due to its prosperous manufacturing industry.

Introduction to Dongguan

In 2018, the great majority of its population, 75%, are migrant workers and among these, women also play an essential role.

Factory girls, China’s female factory workers, often outnumber their male counterparts. Dongguan was known for having a higher number of women workers and these were in high demand and short supply in 2013.

Dongguan is also considered one of the homes of Cantonese culture, and particularly Cantonese Opera, appearing together with Kungqu and Beijing Opera on Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.


SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities

SDG 11 aims to renew and plan cities and human settlements in general in a way that
fosters community cohesion and personal security while stimulating innovation
and employment.

In 2008, for the first time in history, the global urban population outnumbered the rural population. This milestone marked the advent of a new ‘urban millennium’. Cities are hubs for ideas, commerce, culture, science, productivity, social development and much more. At their best, cities have enabled people to advance socially and economically. With the number of people living within cities projected to rise to 5 billion people by 2030, it’s important that efficient urban planning and management practices are in place to deal with the challenges brought by urbanization.

Many challenges exist to maintaining cities in a way that continues to create jobs and prosperity without straining land and resources. Common urban challenges include congestion, lack of funds to provide basic services, a shortage of adequate housing, declining infrastructure and rising air pollution within cities.

Population living in slums

As more people migrate to cities in search of a better life and urban populations grow, housing issues intensify. Already in 2014, 30% of the urban population lived in slum-like conditions; in Sub-Saharan Africa, the proportion was 55%, the highest of any region.

Globally, more than 880 million people were living in slums in 2014. This estimate does not include people in inadequate or unaffordable housing (defined as costing more than 30% of total monthly household income).

Concerted action will be needed to address this challenge and enhance resilience because cities, as hubs of opportunities, remain magnets for people seeking a better life, which however is not always the case. Providing adequate shelter for all is a high priority since slums have negative impact on GDP and on life expectancy.

Urban sprawl

As population growth outpaces available land, cities expand far beyond their formal administrative boundaries. Urban sprawl refers to the unrestricted growth in many urban areas of housing, commercial development, and roads over large expanses of land.

This urban sprawl can be seen in many cities around the world, and not only in developing regions. From 2000 to 2015, the ratio of the land consumption rate to the population growth rate in Eastern Asia and the Oceania was the highest in the world, with developed regions second.

Other regions, such as South-Eastern Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, showed a decrease in that indicator over the same time period. Unfortunately, a low value for this ratio is not necessarily an indication that urban dwellers are faring well, as this can indicate a prevalence of overcrowded slums.

Unplanned urban sprawl undermines other determinants of sustainable development. For example, for every 10% increase in sprawl, there is a 5.7% increase in per capita carbon dioxide emissions and a 9.6% increase in per capita hazardous pollution. This illustrates the important interlinkages across the goals and targets of the SDGs.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

Given the manyfold challenges related to a sustainable management of cities, any help is welcome. In 2016 the Korea Research Institute for Human Settlements in association with the Inter-American Development Bank carried out ten case studies of smart cities, one of them in Singapore.

100% of Singapore’s population lives in cities and the country has the ambition to become the world’s first true smart nation by harnessing technology to the fullest with the aim of improving the quality of life, strengthening businesses, and building stronger opportunities. This is part of the Smart Nation Vision established in 2014 to tackle the main challenges of an aging population, urban density and energy sustainability.

The most advanced smart service is the Intelligent Transportation System.

These are great ambitions and impressive steps are being taken. However, when looking at the daily life of average people, the challenges they face take on a different angle on sustainability that of the importance of the small things and a life well lived in their accustomed settings.


SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities

SDG 10 calls for reducing inequalities in income as well as those based on sex, age, disability, race, class, ethnicity, religion and opportunity – both within and among countries.

The international community has made significant strides towards lifting people out of poverty.  The most vulnerable nations – the least developed countries, the landlocked developing countries and the small island developing states – continue to make inroads into poverty reduction.  However, inequality persists and large disparities remain regarding access to health and education services and other assets.

There is growing consensus that economic growth is not sufficient to reduce poverty if it is not inclusive and if it does not involve the three dimensions of sustainable development – economic, social and environmental.

Fortunately, income inequality has been reduced both between and within countries. At the current time, the per capita income of 60 out of 94 countries with data has risen more rapidly than the national average.

To reduce inequality, policies should be universal in principle, paying attention to the needs of disadvantaged and marginalized populations. An increase in duty-free treatment and continuation of favoring exports from developing countries could be helpful, in addition to increasing the share of developing countries’ votes within the IMF. Finally, innovations in technology can help reduce the cost of transferring money for migrant workers.

Income equality

Target 10.1 seeks to ensure that income growth among the poorest 40% of the population in every country is more rapid than its national average. This was true in 56 of 94 countries with data available from 2007 to 2012.

This was especially true in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Asia, where 88% and 67% of countries, respectively, saw gains for the poorest 40% of households. That said, faster growth for the poorest does not necessarily imply greater prosperity, since nine of the 56 countries experienced negative income growth rates over this period.

Reducing inequality requires transformative change. Greater efforts are needed to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and invest more in health, education, social protection and decent jobs especially for young people, migrants and other vulnerable communities.

Labour share of GDP

The labour share of GDP, which represents the proportion of wages and social protection transfers in an economy, provides an aggregate measure of primary income inequality.

The share of GDP that is attributed to labour has been trending downward over the past 15 years as processes have become more mechanized and capital assumes a growing share of GDP. While the labour share of GDP fell from almost 58% in 2000 to just over 55% in 2015 for developed regions, developing regions experienced a slight improvement to 55%. Stagnating wages across all regions contributed significantly to these results.

Over this period, the labour share of GDP only increased in Oceania and Latin America and the Caribbean, where it was at 48 and 52%, respectively in 2015. Eastern Asia saw a flat growth of labour share of GDP and continues to maintain the highest share in the world at 61.4% of GDP.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

In economic research regarding global inequality, the year 2013 brought to life a graph which became known as the “elephant graph”.

The chart uses World Bank data to show how income was distributed globally from 1988 to 2008. The paper from the researchers Christoph Lakner and Branko Milanovic included this chart that represents the global population (on the x-axis where the number 100 indicates 100% of the population) and the growth of income per percentile (on the y-axis where income growth reached a high of 80% in some cases).

This means that several groups of people experienced an important growth in their income, but also a decline in the 70 to 80 percentile and very little growth in the 80 to 90 percentile. This is basically due to the fact that the global middle class increased, in particular people in East Asia (especially China) and South Asia (especially India), and that in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa people finally escaped extreme poverty. Another reason is the increase in income among the ultrarich, who live mainly in rich countries in Europe or North America.

The data analyzed in this chart finished in the year 2008, so in the year 2018 a team of economic researches published the World Inequality Report to update this graph, taking into account the years 1980-2016. But it stopped looking like an elephant and was dubbed as the “Loch Ness monster”.

What exactly is the difference? If you compare the two graphs, you will see that in this second case the growth rate only reaches a 40% increase among most income groups, thus showing less increase for most of the global population. But the elephant trunk has now become Nessie’s neck, which means that there is an even higher concentration of economic growth in the top 1%.

There are different reasons behind this change in appearance, however, we should use this graph to remind us that the incomes of the world’s richest people have grown much more than any other population group in recent decades, and, that still, in absolute terms, the bottom half of the world’s income distribution has increased enormously.

You can revisit the posts for SDG 9 or SDG 7 where these differences can be observed in the different lifestyles in Puerto Rico and Papua New Guinea.

SDG 9: Industries, Innovation and Infrastructures

Sustainable Development Goal 9 addresses three important aspects of Sustainable Development: infrastructure, industrialization and innovation. Infrastructure provides the basic physical facilities essential to business and society; industrialization drives economic growth and job creation, thereby reducing income inequality; and innovation expands the technological capabilities of industrial sectors and leads to the development of new skills.

Investments in infrastructure – transport, irrigation, energy and information and communication technology – are crucial to achieving Sustainable Development and, waht is more, empowering communities in many countries. It has long been recognized that growth in productivity and incomes, and improvements in health and education outcomes require investment in infrastructure, which links this SDG to many others.

And we should not neglect the fact that technological progress is the foundation of efforts to achieve environmental objectives, such as increased resource and energy-efficiency. Without technology and innovation, industrialization will not happen, and without industrialization, development will not happen.


Manufacturing is a foundation of economic development, employment and social stability However, inequalities in the value added in the manufacturing sector point to the steep challenges faced by the most disadvantaged countries, as well as their potential for growth.

For example, in 2015, manufacturing value added (MVA) per capita was less than 100 US dollars a year in the least developed countries (LDCs) compared to 4,926 US dollars in developed regions.

In terms of GDP of developed regions, the share of MVA was estimated at 13%, a decrease over the past decade owing largely to the increasing role of services in these regions. In contrast, the share of MVA in GDP remained relatively stagnant for developing regions, increasing marginally from 19% in 2005 to 21% in 2015.

Those values hide substantial differences, with MVA contributing over 31% to GDP in Eastern Asia and 10% or less in both Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania. The least developed countries face particular challenges in industrializing. Although those countries represent 13% of the global population, they contribute less than 1% of global MVA.

Significant investment is needed in the LDCs to boost technological progress and economic growth, and to achieve the target of doubling industry’s share in the gross domestic product of these countries where agricultural and traditional sectors remain the main sources of employment.

Carbon dioxide emissions per unit of value added

As countries shift to less energy-intensive industries, cleaner fuels and technologies, and stronger energy efficiency policies, almost all regions have shown a reduction in the carbon intensity of their GDP.

The proportion of the world’s energy use covered by mandatory energy efficiency regulation has almost doubled over the last decade, from 14% in 2005 to 27% in 2014. More extensive deployment of clean technologies will increase the likelihood of achieving the proposed target of upgrading infrastructure and retrofitting industries to make them sustainable, with increasingly efficient use of resources and greater adoption of clean and environmentally sound technologies and industrial processes.

Here we have to remember, that this is the evolution of CO2 emissions coupled to GDP. But on a global scale, emissions increased from 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide in 1900 to over 36 billion tonnes 115 years later. And whilst data from 2014 to 2017 suggested global annual emissions of CO2 had approximately stabilized, data from the Global Carbon Project reported a further annual increase of 2.7% in 2018.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

The highest percentage of MVA in GDP can be found in Puerto Rico, where this figure has increased since 2007 when this country’s economy experienced a sharp downturn.

This sector in Puerto Rico produces mainly pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, and electronics. The real estate and tourism industries are also very strong. However, the unemployment rate is around 10%.

The last one hundred years have been quite rough for Puerto Rico, especially regarding its politics and the incidence of hurricanes on the island. But again, being such a paradisic spot, we can find different stories from devastation to beauty.

After Hurricane Maria in 2017, electricity was a great challenge for several areas in Puerto Rico.

Bird’s-eye view of Puerto Rico

There are also alternative stories, such as this of Sustainable Farmers.

And, last but not least, the most famous Puerto Rican is helping to promote the island.


SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Roughly half the world’s population still lives on the equivalent of about US$ 2 a day with global unemployment rates of 5.7% and having a job does not guarantee the ability to escape from poverty in many places. This is why promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all is an important goal that can also help achieve other SDGs.

This slow and uneven progress requires us to rethink and retool our economic and social policies aimed at eradicating poverty. A continued lack of decent work opportunities, insufficient investments and under-consumption lead to an erosion of the basic social contract underlying democratic societies: that all must share in progress.

Even though the average annual growth rate of real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita worldwide is increasing year on year, there are still many countries in the developing world that are decelerating in their growth rates and moving farther from the 7% growth rate target set for 2030. As labor productivity decreases and unemployment rates rise, standards of living begin to decline due to lower wages.

Sustainable economic growth will require societies to create conditions that allow people to have quality jobs that stimulate the economy while not harming the environment. Job opportunities and decent working conditions are also required for the whole working-age population.

Economic growth, especially among the least developed and other developing countries, is a way of reducing the wage gap relative to developed countries, thereby diminishing glaring inequalities between the rich and poor. And this growth will need to be accompanied by financial services and infrastructures that bring stability to the process.

GDP growth in the least developed countries

In the period 2010-2014, the global average annual growth rate of real GDP per capita was 1.6%, slightly below the rate achieved over the period of 2000−2004.

The growth rate of countries in developing regions was more than triple that of developed regions (4.1% versus 1.3%, respectively), yet the rates for both regions were below their historical averages. This suggests that much work remains to achieve the goal of sustained and inclusive economic growth.

The challenge is particularly steep for the least developed countries, whose per capita growth accelerated for a time, but has since slowed to only 2.6% on average during 2010-2014, less than half the target rate of at least 7% a year.

Labour productivity

Labour productivity (measured by GDP per worker) spurs economic growth. Growth in labour productivity in developing regions far outpaced that of developed regions, especially in Asia. Between 2010 and 2015, labour productivity grew by 0.9% per year, on average, in developed regions, while rising by 6.7% per year, on average, in Eastern Asia, the region with the fastest growth.

Despite rapid growth in some developing regions, the productivity of workers in the poorest regions is still only a small fraction of that of workers in the developed world.

Workers in Southern Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, are only about 5% as productive as those in developed regions, when measured as a percentage of GDP. Even the developing region with the highest labour productivity, Western Asia, has only about 40% of the labour productivity of developed regions, and this rate has declined slightly since 2000.

What does this mean and what does this look like?

According to the European Union, “economic growth contributes to society’s well-being by enabling people to make a decent living and to enjoy high living standards. While it is an important driver of prosperity, economic growth can also harm the environment that it depends on.”

Europe also considers it crucial for future wellbeing to pursue sustainable economic growth that tries to satisfy the needs of the present generation in a manner that sustains natural resources and the environment for future generations, according to the main premise underlying Sustainable Development.

One of the indicators to measure good living standards is the growth in GDP, as we have seen above. This number is commonly used as an important standard for measuring a country’s socio-economic development. It gives an indication of an economy’s potential to satisfy people’s needs, its capacity to create jobs and can be used to monitor economic development. But, there is an expanding awareness that focusing on GDP alone is not enough to achieve better lives for all.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) established its own indicator, the OECD Better Life Index, which shows a positive correlation between GDP per capita and wellbeing. However this relationship becomes weaker as a country’s income grows, suggesting that once income reaches a certain level, increased income is less likely to generate well-being.

The chart also indicates a higher performance by some countries when being evaluated by the Better Life Index than only on the basis of economic production per capita. This is the case for all the Nordic European countries but also for New Zealand. On the other hand,  there are countries that do better in GDP per capita than on average well-being,  for instance, the United States and Switzerland.

Denmark performs very well in many measures of well-being relative to most other countries in the Better Life Index. Denmark ranks above the average in many dimensions: housing, work-life balance, social connections, environmental quality, civic engagement, education and skills, jobs and earnings, work-life balance, health status, subjective well-being and personal security, but it ranks below average in income and wealth. 

Looking at numbers for another SDG, SDG11, we find a reason to believe that life in Denmark is perfect, since the proportion of the urban population living in slums was 0.0 % in 2016. But, at the same time, the average mean concentration of fine suspended particles of less than 2.5 microns in diameter (PM2.5) was about 10.12 micrograms per cubic metre. This is above the maximum level for safety set by World Health Organisation of 10 micrograms per cubic metre which indicates us the special attention we have to pay to the environment in these cases since it can affect our wellbeing, in this case, our health.

Typical Danish

Hygge and the secret to Danish happiness