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Means to an end

By Zhou Weisheng | China Daily | Updated: 2019-07-30 08:15

Belt and Road Initiative can play key role in achieving the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda

Among the 65 member countries involved in the Belt and Road Initiative, five countries are low-income countries (whose annual income per capita is less than the World Bank standard of $1,005); 18 countries are lower-middle-income countries (between $1,006 and $3,955); 23 countries are higher-middle-income countries (between $3,956 and $12,235) and 19 countries are high-income countries (above $12,235).

Overall, there is great heterogeneity in terms of the level of economic, technological and social development among the Belt and Road countries. To implement the initiative, immediate and long-term challenges both at home and abroad must be overcome, including economic issues (such as poverty), regional environmental issues (air, water and soil pollution, management of waste and other public hazards), and global environmental protection (global warming, biodiversity, desertification, ozone layer depletion and trans-boundary pollution). Sustainable development is the key to addressing these issues.

Sustainability is a concept as old as time. For example, this concept is found in biology in the forms of maximum allowable cut and maximum sustainable yield, and in Asian philosophies such as the belief that man is an internal part of nature, and that the Tao follows the way of nature. Sustainable development was defined as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" for the first time in 1987 in a report titled "Our Common Future" by the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development. Sustainable development as a concept has since met with increasingly wider acceptance.

Sustainability science began to take shape as a trans-disciplinary science at the beginning of the 21st century. It studies the interaction between three systems - the economic system based on resource endowment; the social system based on countries and the human system based on human development. It aims to find ways to repair the relationship between the three systems and achieve growth in all three in order to solve pressing global issues such as global warming and address the consequences of excessive production.

The 2015 United Nations Summit attended by over 150 heads of state saw the adoption of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals as the guiding framework for global development. The SDGs have 169 targets, such as eliminating poverty, ending hunger, ensuring health, promoting welfare, addressing climate change, improving water-use and energy efficiency, promoting effective use of energy in consumption and production and enhancing international cooperation and partnerships.

The Belt and Road Initiative promotes the free flow of the factors of production, effective allocation of resources and deep integration of markets to achieve the coordination of economic policies among the countries involved in the Initiative; expands international cooperation in terms of scope, level and depth and collaboratively seeks to build an architecture of regional economic cooperation that is open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all. While the Belt and Road Initiative is imperative for stepping up reforms at home, it also provides a platform for member countries to find solutions to economic, social and environmental issues at home through international cooperation in an effort to achieve the SDGs.

In this sense, the UN's SDGs and the Belt and Road Initiative are mutually reinforcing. The success of the Initiative will lie in whether it helps achieve the SDGs. In order to implement the Belt and Road Initiative and achieve the SDGs, we must learn the hard lessons of excessive production, consumption, emissions and pollution. With this economic model, we ended up with more pollutants than the environment could handle, more non-renewable resources were depleted than the renewable resources we were able to extract, and even the latter are dwindling.

Therefore, it is important to establish an international cooperation model that is based on market rules and shared benefits and risks as we implement the Belt and Road Initiative. It is also essential to carry out rigorous environmental evaluations and the Plan-Do-Check-Act assessment system in order to heed Japan's lesson, also known as "ODA public hazard". In the 1970s and 1980s, Japan moved some of its polluting companies to developing countries, exporting public hazards alongside official development assistance projects. In other words, when designing and implementing the Belt and Road Initiative projects, we must aim for the following: maximize resource efficiency; minimize the environmental impact; achieve harmony between human beings and nature; build a society of harmony and trust and create better and smarter social, economic and technological systems.

The Belt and Road Initiative projects require investment, technological progress and capacity building, and attention must be paid to whether these projects can help the member countries to alleviate poverty; clean up public hazards and protect the global environment. At the same time, being the largest developing nation and emerging economy, China must also share its development experience with other developing countries and help the latter with capacity building. For example, China could set up a North-South University within the framework of the United Nations based on the shared principle of equal emphasis on development and the environment, cultural diversity and sustainable development. This could help train regional and international leaders who can put into practice sustainability, including senior public officials and senior managers.

Setting up a North-South University could help address the unique and common issues faced by developing and developed nations alike. It would be tasked with achieving the visions of countries and nations; overcoming the challenges facing all of humanity; understanding world history and the international community; teaching multidisciplinary skills such as languages, communication, negotiation, leadership and multiculturalism and developing culturally competent leaders to contribute to global governance and educating global talent who can help achieve the UN's SDGs.

The author is a professor at the College of Policy Science at Ritsumeikan University, and the director of the Research Institute of Global 3E in Japan. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Means to an end

(China Daily 07/30/2019 page13)

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