Home page

Review of content of workshop sessions entitled, "Leading issues in sustainability", by SEEL-Systems Engineering Economics Lab, sponsored by Agence Presse Européenne (APE) 6th December, 2020.

Below we report on the day session 10:00-13:00 and 14:30-17:00.
Summarized by Nevit Turk, APE Economics correspondent.

Failing Sustainable Development Goals

The UN's 2019 Sustainable Development Report

notes that:
  • SDG 10 (inequalities)

  • SDG 12 (sustainable consumption and production)

  • SDG 13 (climate actions)
are going backwards (failing).

As of 2019, four years after the launch of Agenda 2030, over 65% of the indicators for SDG 12 and SDG 13 have not yet been specified.

How then are development teams in low income countries expected to be able to prioritize actions for their econonomic sectors?

And now under the conditions created by thr Covid-19 pandemic.

In this all day workshop the leading issues facing the Agenda 2030 project portfolio were reviewed. Solutions to project failures and the lack of advance in countries meeting their Sustainable Development Goals, based on a decade of systems development at SEEL, were described.

Agenda 2030 was launched in 2015 establishing 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) subject to 230 indicators. The 2019 Sustainable Development Report noted that economic growth was associated with rising inequalities especially with regard to incomes, with declining sustainabilty of production systems and patterns of consumption and worsening outcomes for climate in the form of temperature rises. Therefore three of the most important SDGs are not advancing they are going backwards (see box left).

A decade of analysis and development of solutions by SEEL and the Open Quality Standards Initiative (OQSI) identified a series of significant problems facing those wishing to address SDGs. Conventional guidelines on project cycle management published by international development and aid organizations, for example, World Bank, Europen Commission's EuropeAid, UK's DfID and Sweden's SIDA still provide guidance that has been surpassed by the needs under Agenda 2030 to address SDGs.

Agenda 2030 has made what were previously cross-cutting issues into mainstream SDGs. On the other hand
SDGs linked to agriculture

coordinated sector-based strategies have been dissected into themes or goals which involve cross-sector issues. For example, agriculture that employs over 65% of the world's population does not feature as a sector but rather as strands contributing to different SDGs reducing hunger, increasing food production and contributing to nutrition and health.

This complexity is illustrated by the cascade of SDGs all of which link backs to inequality, sustainability and climate change as well as all having some direct or indiract relationship to agriculture. For example SDG06 relating to clean water and sanitation requires anakyses that acknowledge that about 80% of water consumption is the agricultural sector and yet there are no indicators linking this SDG to agricultural consumption.

The Club of Rome 1972 MIT publication, "The Limits of Growth" summarized the main issue facing the human race as an inability of renewable natural resources to maintain a carrying capacity to support the production of essential needs of a growing population.

Frost in the State of Parana in Southern Brazil, occurring on average every 4 years in the areas south of the 23rd parallel South during the period 1965 through 1995. This resulted in falls in yields in the following years. At the time Brazil produced 60% of the world coffee production so this was a serious issue given the inelasticity of demand for coffee generating significant price rises and market instability.

Therefore, coffee production was moved to bioclimatic zones further North and closer to the Equator, with less frost incidence. However, with global warming, for example in lower altitude regions of North East São Paulo State, farmers experienced a period during which coffee yields began to fall quite dramatically. The farms experiencing this evolution were applying their variable inputs as recommended and the varieties were adapted to the region (AEZ) and as recommended by the best current professional advice via extension. However, the reason for the dramatic fall in yields was climate change-related rises in ambient temperature. In the coffee plant flowering period, which starts around April to flower maturity in around June in the Southern Hemisphere, the ambient temperature, on occasions, had exceeded 33oC. This temperature is fatal for the coffee flowers which are extremely delicate. As a result, there was no pollination or fruit formation (berry) and therefore no production of green berries or only a very low yields gathered from plants at higher altitudes and which had not been exposed to the 33oC temperature.

As a result, coffee production migrated to cooler higher altitudes in the State of Minas Gerais.

In the meantime, where frost had been occurring in Parana State in the past, for the last 15 years there have been no frosts as a result of global warming. As a result, some coffee production returning to that State.1

In its basic form we are interested in "sustainability" in the sense of the renewable natural resources of the planet not being overwhelmed by the increasing consumption levels of a rising human population and the use of inappropriate technologies used to produce basic human needs.

The leading edge of the impacts of increasing climate change prejudice is the rise in temperatures regimes associated with seasons with above average temperatures. For example in the 4-5 year cycles in seasonal associations of different temperature and water regimes, the warmer occasions are the most destructive because these can result in the ambient temperature rising by up to 5oC above the average. Therefore in the case of the example of coffee flower destruction, this would have been initiated in a warmer seasonal variance year where coffee yields would have suffered but in the following years the temperature could be even less than average but in subsequent years the temperature rises would be correspondingly at a higher level affecting more of the crop and becoming more noticeable.

The typical attendant issues with the years experiencing a variance into higher temperature levels is that evapotranspitation also rises so that thousands of additional cubic metres of water enter the atmosphere leading to larger volumes of downpours causing additional damage in the form of mud slides, soil erosion and other forme of destruction.

We know that climate change in terms of global warming is occurring. Therefore the support of agriculture and communities needs to become more proactive in tracking the changing circumstances reflected in locational-state variables.

There is a need for more anticipation of likely changes such as the accelerating drying out of lowland regions as a result of accelerating evapotranspiration of water creating rising water deficits. This trend is resulting in millions of tonnes of addition water rising into the atmosphere within shorter periods of time and therefore leading to higher rates of cycling resulting in increasingly disastrous rain storms that dislodge soil on inclines that were previously stable. The incidence of mud slides and associated deaths resulting and the attendent suffering of families and communities from these events will increase.

In regions nearer the equator there will be a net loss of arable areas which equates with fall in carrying capacity. Hilton Pinto of CEPAGRI4, reports that in the absence of climate change, cropland in Brazil is projected to increase to 17 million hectares in 2030 compared to observed area of cropland in 2009. Due to climate change impacts, however, all the scenarios simulated, result in a reduction of cropland in 2020 and 2030. In the pessimistic scenario Brazil could have 10.6 million hectares less land allocated to agriculture by 2030 as a result of climate change with the South Region being the worst impacted losing close to 5 million ha by 2030.

In agriculture, agroecological zoning needs to become a dynamic process that is updated regularly to provide projections of where the optimised locations for different crops and specific genotypes will move to. This is an essential aspect of decision analysis to initiate rational processes of strategic planning. This can help prevent small farmers, with limited cash flow, from investing in the planting of perennial cash crops which, within a few years, are known to be destined to failure because of their location.

The UK-based Open Quality Standards Initiative (OQSI) working closely with SEEL (Systems Engineering Economic Lab) have developed an advanced agricultural project design system which being a Software as a Service cloud-based remote delivery is both Covid-19 proof and represents a significant advance on existing technical support for project teams and strategic planners.

The OQSI has developed a due diligence design procedure for projects known as 3DP. This covers all factors that need to be taken into account including the serious gaps in performance of the Agenda 2030 project porfolio. This also tackleds the wastage caused by project failures resulting from poor project design (over- and under-optimistic project designs).

The 3DP includes a critical path logic which helps project designers trade-off Economic Rates of Return (ERR) against Rates of Return to the Environment (RRE). This system tackles the income disparity issue directly through what are known as Options Benefit Analysis which like financial cost-benefit analysis enables project designers to change the benefit estimates in terms of finanancial return, real income levels, carbon footprints and carrying capacity.

This work makes use of models that help statisticians build into surveys ways to account for far more factors that influence crop yields so as to gather better quality information upon which to base farm planning. This approach is based on typologies linked to the rapidly advancing field of locational-state theory. Although most would refer to these models as very advanced AI the documentation provided and content of presentations makes no reference to AI but simply to decision analysis models. The family of models used are generally based on those developed at Stanford University in 1968. These early decision analysis models as well as the work identifying and developing locational-state theory was carried out by Hector McNeill a British systems engineer who is currently director of the George Boole Foundation. OQSI and SEEL are the respectively the standards and advanced IT divisions of this Foundation.