The UN Sustainable Development Agenda and Its Relationship with Soft Power
Soft power, a phrase coined by Joseph Nye, is at the center of debates surrounding foreign aid and assistance. In Nye’s 1990 journal article titled “Soft Power,” Nye describes the strong shift in global powers.

The Shift to Soft Power

As the world grows more interdependent, there is a decline in the practicality of hard power — military might as a form of international governance and conquest. In our technologically advanced era, the strength of power no longer solely lies with resources, land and power of military, but rather in a nation’s soft power. Soft power can refer to a multitude of actions, and can be defined by multiple factors:

  • Technology
  • Education
  • Economic Growth
  • Cultural Ideology

The extent to which a nation can control the global political environment, the cultural standing and domestic relations with other nations, and identify common goals and standards, all work to strengthen soft power.

Soft power must be developed over years, and in many instances, may be like walking a tight rope as nations compromise and work to maintain positive diplomatic relations along the way.

In a technologically advanced time where we move toward a global economy, hard power is becoming more expensive as it works to decrease the legitimacy of a nation’s leadership and can undermine its control over other nations in the global sphere. If other countries admire the values, culture and prosperity of a powerful nation, that nation can use soft power to co-opt rather than coerce compliance.

The U.N.’s Response: 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda

The United Nations (U.N.) was formed in 1945 when 50 countries met in San Francisco to create the United Nations’ Charter. Since their first meeting, nearly 200 countries are now member states of this esteemed organization.

In late 2015, the U.N. convened at the General Assembly for the 70th session; here the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda was introduced. The “Preamble to the Agenda” outlines the resolve to promote prosperity and peace across the planet, ending the “tyranny of poverty” with a desire to “heal” the planet.

Sustainable development is the idea of developing and progressing forward, without damaging the future potential for progress, prosperity and growth. With this agenda, the U.N. and its 193 member countries agreed to the three core elements of sustainable development:

  1. Economic growth
  2. Social Inclusion/Equality
  3. Environmental Protection

All three of these goals are interconnected with one another and cannot succeed without the other. These core elements contribute to the development of soft power as it works to strengthen the U.N.’s standing in the global sphere and promote global peace.

The Relationship to Soft Power

Furthermore, the eradication of poverty is stated as necessary for the growth and prosperity of nations and is ranked number one out of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Within the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, there are five areas of critical importance on the U.N. Sustainable Development Agenda:

  1. People: desire to end world hunger and poverty with an emphasis on equality.
  2. Planet: sustainable management of resources supporting the needs of present and future generations.
  3. Prosperity: desire for all people to enjoy prosperous lives where progress can occur in harmony with the environment.
  4. Peace: hard power loses its place as the U.N. fosters peaceful societies. They make it clear: no peace, no sustainable development. No sustainable development, no peace.
  5. Partnership: highlights the importance of the interlinkages and solidarity between nations. Through common goals for peace and prosperity these goals can be reached.

The Fight for SDGs

The focus of the U.N. and its 193-member states to co-opt other nations into common goals is the epitome of soft power. This peaceful but necessary force will work in the U.N.’s favor to ensure the U.N. achieves its 2030 Agenda, pushing for a more prosperous and peaceful world where all of humanity is seen and treated as equals.

– Kelilani Johnson

Photo: Flickr

accomplishments of ONEThe ONE Campaign is an advocacy organization of more than nine million people around the world taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. The accomplishments of ONE have been achieved through their work of raising public awareness and educating policymakers about the importance of smart and effective policies and programs to save those in the poorest countries. They engage in grassroots and direct advocacy with policymakers and key influencers around the world in support of such policies and programs.

Four of the major accomplishments of ONE include:

  • Helping secure at least $37.5 billion in funding for historic health initiatives, including the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance.
  • Helping secure legislation in the U.S., Canada and the EU on transparency in the extractives sector to help fight corruption and ensure that more money from oil and gas revenues in Africa is used to fight poverty.
  • Successfully advocating for official development assistance, which has increased globally by $35.7 billion between 2005 and 2014.
  • Helping to get new U.S. legislation passed on energy poverty, such as the Electrify Africa Act of 2016.

ONE highlights 17 global goals for sustainable development including quality education, gender equality and more.

Through the Promising Practices in Refugee Education initiative, a partnership of Save the Children, Pearson and UNHCR, ONE shows how the global community can improve access to education for refugee girls in three ways:

  • Promote more gender-friendly education systems
    ONE’s focus is to develop a curriculum that includes female role models, encourages children to pursue non-traditional professions and supports teachers to increase their awareness on gender inequality.
  • Strengthen digital literacy
    Digital skills need to be taught in the classroom and training programs in online research and popular software programs are necessary to supporting refugee youth’s education.
  • Explore opportunities to expand Canada’s private refugee sponsorship model
    By expanding this program, private sponsorship will allow more people to be resettled at lower costs for national governments.

The accomplishments of ONE are seen in their efforts to empower girls, women, refugees and people in poverty through education, legislation and advocacy. Their goals, policies and programs are a key part of the global fight to end poverty.

– Julia Lee

Photo: Flickr

Waste-to-Energy in Ethiopia Increasing Electricity and Decreasing WasteIn Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, a landfill the size of 36 soccer fields is being turned into renewable energy, meeting the needs of 30 percent of the city’s electricity. The landfill, previously the only waste disposal site in Addis Ababa, made the news in 2017 due to an onsite landslide that killed 114 people. The new energy plant, known as Reppie Waste-to-Energy in Ethiopia, plans to turn 80 percent of the city’s waste into energy each day.

Waste is turned into energy through incineration, a process already popular in many European countries. About 25 percent of European waste is turned into energy and there are over 100 waste-to-energy plants in both France and Germany. Strict European Union emissions standards ensure that no harmful emissions from the incineration process enter the atmosphere, standards that the Reppie project will be held to as well.

Electricity is produced directly from the burning of waste. As garbage is burned in a combustion chamber, heat is produced. The heat boils water, creating steam, which in turn produces energy in a turbine. The emissions that occur in this process are cleaned before they enter the atmosphere, making this a renewable and sustainable source of clean energy.

The Reppie facility came into development out of a partnership between the government of Ethiopia and several international partners, including Chinese and Danish companies. This partnership came together to tailor the needs of the new energy plant to sub-Saharan Africa, as opposed to the waste-to-energy plants already operating in Europe.

The Ethiopian project further protects the environment and its citizens from harmful toxins that are released into groundwater supplies and the atmosphere at landfill sites. Methane is a harmful greenhouse gas that adds to the negative effects of climate change and is typically produced at landfill sites; this project will reduce methane emissions, as well as save space and generate electricity.

In addition to providing energy to three million people, the Reppie project plans to make an additional three million bricks from the waste and recover 30 million liters of water from the landfill. These materials will be additionally used to benefit the population of Addis Ababa. Furthermore, the plant will create hundreds of jobs for people who previously relied on scavenging at the waste site, a dangerous occupation.

In Ethiopia, only 27 percent of the population has access to electricity. While that number includes rural areas, in only urban areas such as Addis Ababa, the number rises to almost 92 percent. However, the Reppie plant is connected to the national grid and the introduction of waste-to-energy in Ethiopia will spread from urban areas and be able to serve rural areas as well, increasing access to electricity to all Ethiopians.

The Reppie Waste-to-Energy in Ethiopia will aid in reducing poverty conditions through increasing access to electricity, creating jobs and improving the environment to the benefit of human health. The plant will additionally be a model for similar plants across the continent of Africa. Already, seven other plants are being planned. These plants together will leave a lasting positive impact on both the environment and the energy needs of people across the continent.

– Hayley Herzog

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in the PhilippinesThe Asian Food and Agriculture Cooperation Initiative (AFACI) created the Asian Network for Sustainable Organic Farming Technology (ANSOFT) project in 2009. In 2015, sustainable agriculture in the Philippines was recognized out of 11 participating ANSOFT nations with the “Outstanding Country” award.

ANSOFT looks to promote communication networks in terms of organic technology development, both nationally and internationally.  The project produces a database of successful organic farming techniques, pest and soil management, traditional practices and knowledge of natural resources.

Here are more innovative projects underway in the region as the Philippines establishes its reputation as a leader in developing sustainable agriculture:

Empoldering technique bolsters agriculture

Empoldering, a method of reclaiming low-lying land from bodies of water by building up dikes and constructing drainage canals, has proven effective in the Philippines. After the technique was implemented, a 2008 study found that empoldering improved the fish, rice and vegetable production systems through better access to fresh water, as it creates a new upland microenvironment. The microenvironment serves as a seedbed and allows for the integration of fish into the rice crop.  The high-impact method helped increase food availability and employment opportunities in farming, thereby increasing food security for the region.

Pasali Philippines Foundation and “Brain Gain”

Sustainable Agriculture Programs of the Pasali Philippines Foundations are housed under the larger concept called “From Brain Drain to Brain Gain”, a strategy to alleviate poverty by investing technologies and skills learned nationally and internationally into local development. The Brain Gain concept focuses on food security, economic sustainability and environmental sustainability through climate change mitigation.

The Pasali Foundation backs sustainable agriculture programs that work toward infrastructure support, capacity building, seed banking and agroforestry, as well as addressing issues of land tenure and seeking the interest of microfinancing institutions.

Philippine Rural Development Project

In 2014, the World Bank approved financing for the Philippine Rural Development Project. The project focuses primarily on farming infrastructure that supports sustainable agriculture in the Philippines, including farm-to-market roads, bridges, greenhouses, fish sanctuaries, solar dryers, and facilities for pre- and post-production and harvest storage.

The project estimates a direct impact for nearly two million farmers and fisherfolk, and indirect impacts for 22 million citizens in the region. Currently in its fourth year, the project expects to achieve major increases in the household incomes of farmers and fisherfolk, as well as small business incomes and product values. The project also partners with the Global Environment Facility, whose focus is on the conservation and protection of selected coastal and marine areas in the region.

As recognized by AFACI and through the implementation of other ambitious initiatives, the Philippines leads the way in setting the standard for sustainable farming practices in Asia. Accordingly, sustainable agriculture in the Philippines may just set the standard for alleviating poverty in Asia as well.

– Jaymie Greenway

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable agriculture in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has become a developed country success story, according to the World Bank, with steady economic expansion and smart government spending over the last 25 years. Costa Rica is now a global leader for accomplishments and policies involving the environment, building a Green Trademark and pioneering the Payments for Environmental Services Program (PES), which promotes forest and biodiversity conservation, as well as working to improve sustainability in its agriculture.

Sustainable agriculture in Costa Rica is vital to this country’s success as it depends on agriculture for about 6.5 percent of its gross domestic product and 14 percent of its labor force relies on it for work. In 2012, Costa Rica’s agricultural system was threatened by farming practices that overexploit natural resources in order to maximize short-term profit.

Since the mass-produced cash crops of Costa Rica are popular exports such as coffee, bananas and pineapple, all of which required a extensive amount of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, Costa Rica’s agricultural situation created problems. The consequences of poor farming practices include depletion of soil, contamination of freshwater, deforestation and dangerous conditions for workers. Addressing this crisis led the country to put sustainable agriculture in Costa Rica at the forefront of change.

Organic farming has now become increasingly popular. Organic agriculture relies on specific technology like crop rotation, natural fertilizers and biological pest control. This is safer for the environment and the workers, solving both problems at the same time.

In November of 2017, new public-private alliances were formed in Costa Rica to open access to international markets with a focus on biodiversity and strengthening rural economies. These alliances included a Green Growth Program signed by the Costa Rica USA Foundation for Cooperation (CRUSA). The CRUSA five-year strategy will promote sustainable models for economic development that will “improve the quality of life of Costa Ricans while reducing environmental risks as a way to face the effects of climate change in our country.”

With the Green Growth Platform, the focus will be on converting 200 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) into green businesses, exporting food products, including organics and superfoods, to markets including North America, Europe, Central America and the Caribbean.

Although classified as a developed country, Costa Rica is far from perfect, with poverty rates neither declining or rising. But with sustainable and environmentally friendly agriculture on the rise, Costa Rica is marching toward its place as a great and prosperous nation.

– Kailey Brennan

Photo: Flickr

Sustainable Agriculture in BrazilThe United States Department of Agriculture defines sustainable agriculture as the production of plant and animal products using practices that will appease human needs for food, increase the quality of the environment and enhance the conditions of life for farmers and ultimately society.

Agriculture is a crucial industry in Brazil, as the country has immense agricultural resources available to it. It is one of the world’s largest countries and contains a vast area of land, an ample supply of fresh water and an abundant variety of various species of plants and wildlife. The country’s wide range of atmospheric conditions, paired with its advancements in technological developments, has allowed for sustainable agriculture in Brazil.

This, however, has not stopped the rise of obesity that this developing country has faced. Approximately 20.8 percent of the country’s population over age 15 has been categorized as obese. About 25 percent of women and around 18 percent of men aged 15 and over are considered overweight in Brazil.  

The obesity increase has created a huge issue for Brazil’s public health system. Diagnoses of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease have skyrocketed. Doctors and weight specialists have identified this weight gain as occurring mostly among the poorest segments of the population, caused by the low cost of junk food and processed food.

In May 2017, Brazil became the first country to make SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound) commitments towards curbing obesity, as part of the United Nations Decade of Action on Nutrition 2016–2025.

The three commitments they promised to achieve by the year 2019 are to halt the rise of the rate of obesity in adults, lower the consumption of sugary beverages among adults by at least 30 percent and increase the number of adults who regularly eat fruits and vegetables by 17.8 percent.

Brazil has outlined the specific measures it will take to achieving these goals. These include, but are not limited to, reducing the price of fresh foods, providing loans to farmer families at a lower interest rate and providing direct transfers payments to poverty-stricken families so they can purchase fresh produce. The government has also made promises to create more sustainable agriculture in Brazil by vowing to increase public procurement of goods from family farmers.

The Brazilian people can play a critical role in creating sustainable agriculture in Brazil. Through their purchases, they are able to send messages to these producers and businesses about what they think is important for consumption. By promoting healthy, affordable diets made possible by Brazilian agriculture, the country can address multiple issues in a single effort. 

– Zainab Adebayo

Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in MadagascarMadagascar is one of the world’s most biologically diverse areas, but only 10 percent of its original rainforests are intact. These remaining pockets of vegetation are highly fragmented due to local and small-scale destruction. Conservation must be combined with sustainable agriculture in Madagascar.

The Madagascar Flora and Fauna Group (MFG) has joined forces with Dr. Christof den Biggelaar, Associate Professor at Appalachian State University, North Carolina, to develop the MFG Ecoagriculture Project. The program works by teaching farmers agricultural techniques that encourage sustainable development and food security while conserving biodiversity. For instance, composting is an easy and effective method for combating the universal issue of soil infertility in Madagascar. Other MFG activities include research and the creation of new markets.

Human population growth in Madagascar has led to severe deforestation, largely due to the implementation of tavy, or slash-and-burn agriculture. Tavy is used primarily in the clearing of land for rice paddies and cattle grazing. It leads to erosion and productivity losses by exposing fragile soil. Runoff into the ocean is bad for fish health, which harms the local fishing industry. Deforestation also contributes to planet-wide climate change. Farmers understand the problem, but in their daily struggle for survival feel powerless to stop it.

The System of Rice Intensification (SRI), or the Madagascar Method, has contributed to sustainable agriculture in Madagascar by increasing food security while decreasing environmental damage. For the last 25 years, Malagasy farmers have grown rice using intermittent wetting and drying of paddies rather than continuous flooding. Irrigating rice by flooding paddies suppresses weed growth, but at the expense of huge quantities of water. SRI uses less water, less land preparation and less fertilizer. With this method, young seedlings are planted individually with nutrients into wide rows of healthy, aerated soil. SRI results in rice with deeper roots that do not suffocate. These stronger roots create larger plants with heavier grains, thereby producing more grain per hectare while conserving water and reducing the environmental impact.

Madagascar is the world’s leading producer of vanilla, accounting for 80 percent of world production. Haagen-Dazs has partnered with General Mills to invest $125,000 over two years to encourage sustainable agriculture in Madagascar. General Mills buys most of the vanilla that goes into Haagen-Dazs ice cream from the Sava region. It has prioritized vanilla as one of the ten most important ingredients to source sustainably. Smallholder vanilla farmers have benefited from education and training aimed at the production of a more sustainable and higher quality crop. The resulting improvements in yield quantity and vanilla curing have increased the incomes of local farmers, which in turn has had a positive effect on entire communities.

The problems facing Madagascar are daunting, but the Malagasy people are becoming better equipped to tackle them. People around the world can contribute to sustainable agriculture in Madagascar by enjoying the nation’s famous shade-grown chocolate and vanilla.

– Anna Parker

Photo: Flickr

Development projects help sustainability in Belize

Belize is a country in Central America, which is located south of Mexico, bordering the Caribbean Sea. Being the last British colony in the Americas, Belize gained independence in 1981. Its 400,000 citizens rely on agriculture, oil production, and fishing as the main sectors in its economy. Unfortunately, poverty remains rampant throughout the country. On the positive side, there are numerous development projects in Belize which have sought and continue to seek sustainability and growth within the country. Here are five examples

Youth and Community Transformation Project

Little more than a third of Belizeans advance to secondary school. The lack of education coupled with the stark number of children coming from single-parent families, nearly 25 percent, has contributed to poverty and high crime rates among youth in Belize. To combat this trend, Belize’s Ministry of Human Development has created the Youth and Community Transformation (YCT) project. The YCT project serves to bridge the gap between youth and much-needed social services. It seeks to improve literacy rates and teach vocational skills, as well as to provide access to other assistance programs throughout Belize.

United Nations Development Programme

Since 1982, the United Nations Development Programme has worked alongside the government of Belize. Its purpose is to provide support and resources to development programs maintained by Belize, including better access to water, access to sanitation and health services, as well as supporting the empowerment of local leaders in rural areas. This partnership has been very successful since its origin and recently celebrated 35 years of cooperation. More must still be done, however, and a recent 16 million dollar allocation will seek to fight poverty, address climate change and improve security by 2021.  

Belize City Infrastructure Project

The 1990s saw a massive need for improvement to infrastructure in Belize City. To this end, The World Bank provided 20 million dollars. The project sought to improve drainage systems and most importantly, roads. The improved roads allowed for better networks for the delivery of goods and services and boosted Belize’s capacity for the booming tourism industry. This project set up Belize City for future success through improved systems and infrastructure management.

Primary Education Development Project

In congruence with the Belize City Infrastructure Project of the 1990s, The World Bank allocated seven million dollars to support Belize’s primary education development plans. The Primary Education Development Project focused on primary education to Belizean children. This included new teacher training systems, improved facilities, and strengthened management which helped improve the national system. Like the infrastructure project, the Primary Education Development Project created immediate fixes to the broken educational system and has impacted policies to build upon it for generations to come.

Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy

Each of the above development projects in Belize shares the common vision for sustainability and continuous improvement. Belize’s 2016 Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy (GSDS) serves the same purpose on a national scale. This plan, built upon the existing plan to create sustainable growth and development called Horizon 2030, focuses on a three-year window between 2016-2019. With it, Belize hopes to cut poverty and hunger, increase access to quality healthcare and education, and improve Belize’s environment, infrastructure and economy. While Belize is facing a tall order with this plan, it has been proven that it can be done through evidence of the country’s history of successful national projects.

Belize remains a developing country. Poverty, hunger, poor health, and poor education are immense problems throughout the Central American country. While these development projects in Belize are certainly making an impact, more must be done to ensure long-term sustainability and growth.

– Eric Paulsen

Photo: Flickr

China Is Leading in Poverty ReductionChina is the world’s most populated country and has a culture that stretches back nearly 4,000 years. In recent years, its achievements in poverty reduction have been unprecedented. China is leading the world in poverty reduction, outpacing many other major nations in terms of national focus.

These efforts can be attributed to Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has led a drive to eradicate the problem of extreme poverty. For the first time in over 30 years, its list of areas suffering from extreme poverty has been reduced. China removed 28 counties from its list of poorest places in the country. The number of Chinese people lifted out of poverty over the last 30 years accounts for more than 70 percent of the world’s total. Chinese Vice Premier Wang Yang said in a forum that “China is an active advocate and strong force for world poverty alleviation.” This combined with efforts within the country shows how China is leading in poverty reduction.

The government of China hopes to share its experiences and improve collaboration with other countries as part of its plan to follow the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Years of work have led to China closing in on its goals of achieving a moderately prosperous society by 2020, beginning with the baseline task of lifting all people out of poverty. So far, more than 10 million people have been freed from poverty each year since 2012.

In an interview with Xinhuanet, U.N. Resident Coordinator and Development Resident Representative in China Nicholas Rosellini said: “These achievements not only can benefit China but also bring experience to the world and make great contributions to global poverty reduction efforts.” He goes on to stress that without China’s contribution, there is no way to achieve the common goal of reducing global poverty and believes that China can achieve the goal of comprehensively eliminating rural poverty by 2020.

Additionally, the United Nations will provide systematic support for China’s poverty reduction work. Rosellini commends China’s contributions to world peace, as they contribute more troops to U.N. peacekeeping missions than any other permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. China has become the second-largest country to share U.N. peacekeeping costs.

Although the goals may seem somewhat optimistic, it is still significant that China is leading in poverty reduction around the world. There are many reasons for the U.S. to increase support for global poverty reduction. With less poverty comes less overpopulation, as the higher the death rate is for children in a region, the higher the birthrate. This is because when people know their children will survive, they have fewer children. In addition to this, history has shown that when people transition from barely surviving into consumers, it opens new markets and job opportunities for U.S. companies. In the United States, one out of every five jobs are export-based, and 50 percent of U.S. exports go to developing nations.

There are many positive consequences that can come from fighting global poverty and they should incentive other countries, like the U.S., to increase their support for reducing extreme global poverty.

Drew Fox

Photo: Flickr

The Launch of the European Fund for Sustainable DevelopmentThis past September, the European Union launched the European Fund for Sustainable Development (EFSD), a tool to support investment in the countries bordering Europe as well as Africa at large. The goal of the EFSD is to create stability through economic development, which may reduce the flow of displaced people across borders.

In many ways, the rationale behind the EFSD is similar to the one underlying the push for humanitarian safe zones by American politicians across the spectrum, from senators Tim Kaine and John McCain to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The goal of both is to shore up economic and aid resources for those who need them most, while stemming the tides of refugees that have sparked political tumult in both Europe and America.

But, while safe zones seem most suited to war-torn countries like Syria, the EFSD can potentially have a much wider reach in terms of where and how it can help.

The EFSD aims to use “public funding as a guarantee to attract public and private investment to create real jobs,” in the words of European Commission President Jean-Paul Juncker. Devex reports that this involves underwriting loans and guarantees by trusted financial institutions to any entity, public or private, that invests in development in Africa or the countries bordering Europe.

Lawmaker Claude Turmes of Luxembourg called the EFSD the “best EU initiate ever.” Its €4.1 billion in spending until 2020 is expected to generate €44 billion in investments. According to the joint website of the European Council and the Council of the European Union, that number could be doubled if member states match EU donations.

That money can have a big impact. The ONE Campaign reports that foreign direct investment in Africa is by far the lowest of any region. Just three cents of every dollar of global foreign direct investment went to the continent in 2016, and most of those funds went to resource-rich countries.

Accordingly, some worry that an EFSD focused more on reducing refugee traffic than investing in development will continue to funnel money to resource-rich countries bordering Europe, like Morocco and Tunisia, while neglecting more remote nations like Mali and Chad, which present riskier investments. ONE recommends that fragile states be made a priority when the EFSD Strategic and Operational Boards meet to set investment windows.

Sustainable development in Africa and other nations bordering Europe is only possible if funding is allocated strategically yet fairly. Energy investment stands to electrify the region, as investors feel secure enough to put their money into projects like wind farms and solar panels. Hopefully, the increased wealth will both build more stable societies and reduce the need for refugee migration.

Chuck Hasenauer

Photo: Flickr