UN OWG-5 statements – SDG’s missing some signals

Last week was unusually successful for me at the UN, or felt that way.   The increasing openness of the process, and my good luck in finding socially acceptable ways to stay it, both helped me.  So I was able to bring small flashes of light to the deeper kinds of issues about “What to Do with the Earth” that the UN is continuing to expand it’s discussion of,..

toward defining the world’s “Sustainable Development Goals”  

It’s really an amazingly broad discussion of every aspect of how the “world we want” should work, a truly impressive effort, well, of course still leaving out the things that we are culturally blind to and at the same time feverishly looking for to save our necks in a terrible situation     Here are three of my statements for OWG-5, and capsule assessment of the UN’s Technical Support Team briefs for OWG-6 for framing everyones terms of discussion for the issues.

Yes, but can we REALLY now have energy and equity for all?
          1. Macroeconomics – of ever increasing inequity
          2. More Energy – for ever growing demand
          3. Mismatched measure – impacts missing from responsibilities
          4. Using the economy’s own steering not mentioned


1.  OWG5 Scheduled 11/25 intervention Macroeconomic Policy  (circulated) 

Promoting growth at the limits creates severe increasing, not decreasing, inequities

The great variety of urgent SDG’s being discussed are truly desirable, but can only be somehow addresses together.

Monday morning Bernbadette Fischler offered a model that seems consistent with cost estimates for doing all this, that the SDG’s might for a period cost 2% of the income of the over developed economies to kick start the growth of the underdeveloped economies.

Say that worked. We’d then have 100% of world population using modern technology, adding their earnings to their investments to drive more growth, and so ever increasing competition over the earth’s shrinking resources too, adding even more strain on both people and planetary boundaries.

So we’d still have a winners and losers game in which everyone is a loser, and so still need a new paradigm.

A comprehensive approach to investment decision making would not just count profits but also liabilities, in financial terms, using monetized business ESG balance sheets, in combination with normal financial balance sheets. Then everyone will see the real societal financial costs of making money today, that present or even past investors might be held responsible for.

Some will be direct liabilities, like Superfund cleanup costs. A realistic estimate of liability for bio-char to sequester CO2 until production declines, would presently be around 10%-20% of GDP. We should know that’s a cost we are incurring, when delaying action or making new investments using fossil fuels.

The comprehensive approach would imply investors have a fiduciary duty to make decisions to care for the environments and communities their profits come from, and can no longer profit at everyone else’s expense. It’s a commons view, proposing an SDG to “have the world work well as a whole”.

It would change our economic model to result in high profit low strain economies of a sustainable scale.

This is a commons view,
proposing an SDG for having the world work as a whole.

We would switch from driving ever growing competition to sustaining productive competition, basic homemaking a world economy, and making the earth a good home.


2.   OWG5 Major Groups AM session Wednesday, on Energy and Environment (222 words)

With the success of the SDG’s our economic model would still generate ever growing energy demand

We have a deep problem in treating energy as a supply problem, when it comes from the limitlessly growing demand model of our economy.   Not discussing that deep misunderstanding of the problem shows that the whole SDG discussion, however laudable many of the goals seem to be, is really not honestly looking at consequences.   The world data is  completely clear that growth uses proportional resources, it’s only the individual investment plans based on the models of the past and loose accounting of externalities that see no horizon to that, of our doubling our use of energy every 30 years double our rate of changing the earth and push all its boundaries ever harder.

There will be quite unavoidable major backfire effects for following that model of the past, and unavoidable future attempts at claw backs to pay for the disaster of misdirection our present plan calls for.


We could choose to take care for the world we built –
making the earth a good home, rather than repeat our error
of building and using ever more we can’t take care of.

I’ve done lots of study of that option over the past 30 years of developing new scientific methods for understanding it and the options available.

What the science community has yet to see its self interest in clarifying for the world


3. OWG5 intercessional with Stefan Schweinfest of UN statistical group, Follow-up

A Mismatch between measures of impacts and responsibilities

It was a great pleasure to briefly chat with you at your lunchtime presentation in OWG5 on last Wednesday (I think it was).   I passed you my brief one page poster on the core problem, https://synapse9.com/signals/2013/11/19/mismatch-of-impacts-n-responsibilities/, and joked with you about your “new flexibility” in finding a need for new kinds of statistical solutions.

The core problem I need to help you work on is twofold.   First, the **untraceable responsibilities** of business for **known environmental impacts** are not being accounted for, as far as I know, by any of the present common metrics being used.   That oversight actually makes all such units of measure scientifically undefined.  That’s a big huge scientific problem, not knowing what your measures measure.

Second, when accounted for, the untraceable responsibilities turn out generally **much larger than the traceable ones** (with some exceptions) so you really can’t draw any solid information from the measures, even to compare one to another, and particularly not financial responsibilities.

I think where it goes is toward developing a more comprehensive business balance sheet.  It would fairly and reasonably attribute responsibility for all impacts (both traceable and untraceable) to combine business financial accounts with monetized ESG impact accounts.   Then investors, consumers, businesses and regulators can all see clearly the societal liabilities being incurred by every business’s way of making a profit, which investors and businesses might well be held accountable for in the future.


4. OWG6 – Comments on Technical Support Team (TST) issues briefs

Neglect mentioning the normal forces that  steer economies…
and so also how we’d need to use them.

What really steers economies are

investors making choices for what to the economy should build for its future,

    • learning from what markets and cultures are discovering
    • about how to live in a competitive and finite world,
    • NOT governmental policies, but perceived profitability.


What we should be studying is

– what blocks our learning,

    • as we change what we do with the earth ever faster
    • use unbounded rules for money, detached from culture change and environments
    • build more and more we seem unable to take care of
    • asking societies to follow policies they have no means of following

– and how to remove barriers

    • to our cultures and markets learning how live creatively and sustainably
    • so investors will have a good guide to follow.


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