Tag Archives: SDGs

Ecological Services, Ecological Economics: Looking at the Sustainable Development Agenda

DEVIKA SINGH

All of the seventeen SDGs have a common underlying factor – they are all dependent on natural resources. This importance finally given to the environment and natural resources comes a little late. The complete dependence of human existence on the environment and natural resources is reflected in the SDG Agenda, which places natural resources as the underlying driving factor behind all seventeen goals. The importance thus denoted to our natural environment is ‘too little too late’. The SDGs build up on the Millennium Development Goals, which also had a commendable agenda and targets set, few of which were actually met. Between 2000-2015, due to the haphazard management and implementation of the MDGs, the situation actually worsened in some areas.

An Ecological Economics Perspective

The SDGs, picking up and dusting off the failures of the MDGs reorient their agenda to urgently address the most pressing and inescapable issues. The Agenda is focused on action on climate change, sustainable production, growth and consumption so that the environment, which is our provider, is not sucked dry before the next generation of people come along. The SDGs also work on the principle that sustainable development is the responsibility of all – the developed, the developing and the least developed. While making provisions to encourage financial support from the developed to the developing, the planning and implementation of sustainable and environment friendly policies, strategies and action plans falls entirely on each individual nation. The coming of the SDGs finally marks the realisation amongst leaders of the world that the whole world is connected and must be seen as a single unit, for environmentally destructive policies or actions in one corner of the world don’t remain isolated in that corner. Their consequences spread to every other corner in a ripple effect. An earthquake with its epicentre in Indonesia can cause a tsunami of destructive proportions off the coast of India. Increasing greenhouse and carbon emissions in North America can cause the Himalayan glaciers to melt at an unprecedented rate, causing floods in Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. Right now, there is no proper predictability mechanism which can tell us the boundaries of and the effects a person or community’s actions can have on others. The SDGs thus finally acknowledge the fact that human existence and human action is not in isolation, but has a deep impact on other humans, other living beings, and the environment. The SDG Agenda thus works with addressing environmental concerns as the broad base sphere, intrinsically linked with social needs and economic activity (as opposed to all other agendas before this).

At the apex of this pyramid, or right at the centre of this functionality, and intrinsic to its proper and successful functioning is the basis of global partnerships, global exchange of resources – be it technology, knowledge, financial, etc. Goal 17, the final goal, aims at revitalising global partnerships for sustainable development.

The problem of climate change and environmental concerns remains a wicked problem as the trade-off appears to be between that of exclusive development and growth vs. inclusive development and environmental sustainability, between efficiency and equity. However, most policies and growth plans fail to give due credence to the value of ecological services. Ecosystem services range from providing basic life support necessary for survival, such as, the provision of fresh water on/below the ground, oxygen in the atmosphere, climate control for the planet, the regulation of water by forests, stratospheric ozone shield, etc. The value of these services is infinite, but the price attached to them is zero. Ecosystem services also contribute to the economy – sourcing of raw materials and energy from nature, basic needs (water, fuel, fiber, fodder, sanitation, waste treatment) and livelihoods (agriculture, mini industries, crafts), food and medicines, removal of waste, environmental balance. Ecosystem services also contribute to the economy through adventure sports and recreation, eco-tourism, jewellery, etc.

Quantifying Ecological Services

In 2000, the Rural Industries Research and Development Corp, Govt. of Australia estimated the annual value of pollination to be US $ 1.3 Billion. It is noteworthy that 35% of human food comes from plants pollinated by wild pollinators. The Ecological Society of America estimated the price of pollination in the USA to be $ 5.7 – 8.3 Billion and the value of crops to be $ 24 Billion. In 2000, the replacement of chemical pesticides (would save money and lives) was valued at US $ 54 Billion per annum, and this does not include the health costs saved. Forty percent of pharmaceuticals are derived from natural products, and in 2003, the sales of pharmaceuticals were valued at US $ 480 Billion. In 1999, the global value of ecological services was estimated at US $ 33 Trillion (with the range being from US $ 16 – 54 Trillion). This estimation was done by eighteen international economists from the US, Netherlands and Argentina (published by Nature). The global GDP for 1999 was approximately US $ 20 Trillion. The estimation of the value of the ecological services was taken by accounting for the value of coastal zones, open ocean, wetlands, forests, lakes/rivers and other miscellaneous. This doesn’t even cover the entire range of services provided by our ecosystem.

The Shift in Perspective

The ratification of the SDGs marks the acceptance of, if only in a limited manner, a shift in thinking. This shift is at the level of surveying, quantification and qualification of data, policy planning and strategizing and dissemination of that knowledge. This shift can be portrayed through the flowcharts below.

In conventional efforts to quantify and evaluate economic activity, the modelling and quantification took into account only the human social and economic interventions, entirely ignoring and disregarding the provision of valuable services by nature and the environment. This method of quantification is an indicator of the nature of production and consumption, as being entirely heedless of the environment which makes that activity possible. The chart below shows a shift inthis view. The shift is an inclusive one, where economic activity can’t be seen independent of the ecosystem services that provide and sustain that activity.

“A natural area will receive protection only if the value a society assigns to services provided in its natural state is higher than the value the society assigns to converting it to a more direct human use”

-Wright Environmental Science

In this approach of ecological economics, it is essential to develop local and specific indicators and targets with regard to the broader goals of the SDGs. A universal norm will not be effective and cannot account for the extremely diverse and intricately specific provisions and requirements of a country like India.

LOOKING AT INDIA

The effects of industrialisation, urbanisation and climate change are felt all the more strongly in India through fluctuations in the monsoon patterns, hotter longer summers, colder shorter winters, water stress, droughts and floods occurring simultaneously in different parts of the country. In a country which is largely dependent on the monsoon for its agricultural production and activities, these shifts have a large social, economic and political impact on the nation as a whole. The NITI Aayog is the coordinating agency for SDG Agenda in India. Since India is a diverse country with specific needs and a limited resource base, the preliminary role of the NITI Aayog is to coordinate data collection between the MoSPI and other nodal Ministries such as MoEFCC, DST and others. The coordination also extends to the Centrally Sponsored Schemes (CSS), including the ‘core of the core’, ’core’ and ‘optional’ schemes being implemented by the State Governments. This includes the State Action Plan on Climate Change (SAPCCs) that each state has to develop based on its regional and local conditions and requirements. The Niti Aayog has presently collaborated with RIS and other organisations such as WWF to hold National Consultations with the concerned Ministries on forming targets and indicators. This is a collaborative effort on part of Niti Aayog to remove the Ministerial and Departmental silos and bring a more cohesive framework for the sustainable growth agenda. Ecosystem services are a combination of natural resource and human effort, and thus, the human social and economic domain forms an integral part of the calculation of ecosystem services.

In the model shown below, ecosystem services are placed between natural and human systems. It identifies the benefits for people following from goods and services delivered by ecosystems while separating the benefits and values. It clearly indicates that ecosystem services stem from ecological structures and processes and from their functions within ecosystems. The quantification and modelling of ecosystem services is challenging. “In assessing trade-offs between alternative uses of ecosystems, the total bundle of ecosystem services provided by different conversion and management states should be included. Economic assessment should be spatially and temporally explicit at scales meaningful for policy formation or interventions, inherently acknowledging that both ecological functioning and economic values are contextual, anthropocentric, individual-based and time specific.”

There is a very delicate balance between different services produced within an ecosystem, the inter-relations between all of them and the degree of these inter-relations interact in a complex manner. Therefore, there is a trade-off between a single ecosystem service provision and other ecosystem services. This tradeoff is illustrated by Braat and Brink (2208) in the graph.

As the figure illustrates, with increasing degradation of the ecosystem (low biodiversity), the regulatory services gradually drop. These include water, air, climate, etc. Similarly, recreational and cultural services (tourism, etc.) also decline with a degrading biodiversity. Recreation benefits can be optimised in ecosystems with light use as these also provide a basic degree of accessibility and infrastructure. With regard to provisioning services, such as agriculture, gross output is maximised through intensive land use while net output will be lower.

An Expert Panel from the GoI in 2013 valued the Nation’s forests at US $ 1.6 Trillion. Mangroves in Gujarat, in 2007, were valued at INR 7,700 crores (Hirway, I., & Goswami, S., 2007), and Gujarat is one of the weaker mangrove belts in the country. The urban and rural unit value of vultures is at INR 6.9 and 5.8 Lakhs respectively (IUCN Study) and the value of six tiger reserves in India is placed at INR 1,49,900 crores (IIFT, Bhopal, 2015). The following map shows the increase/decrease in forest cover between 2009 and 2011 in India. As per the India State of Forest Report, 2011, released by the Forest Survey of India (FSI) on February 7, 2011, India’s total forest cover is now at 6,92,027 sq km. There has been a loss of 367 sq km of forest cover between 2009-2011.

The Way Forward

The biggest challenges that presents itself within the Indian context are the lack of indicators and gaps in defining relevant indicators, major gaps in data, lack of statistical data, ministerial and departmental silos, lack of financial resources, lack of political will and corruption. Another roadblock that presents itself is the gap in technical skills required for data analytics and research. While the government has issued innumerable schemes, yojanas and programmes, there are no frameworks for monitoring, progress, accountability and ownership. This results in a large paper trail with nothing to show on ground. The work required to achieve the SDGs is huge, and on all scales, and it requires effort from all levels of government. In order to move forward progressively, a basic requirement is the five ‘C’s – Coherence, Convention, Coordination, Capital and Convergence. This is across Departments, Ministries, organisations and local, state and the central government. Policy making and implementation needs to be approached in a holistic inter-sectoral manner by seeing the dependencies of each aspect of human life – social and economic, as dependent on each other and largely on the environment. One cannot be addressed in isolation, and even if it is, it will not stand the test of time even in the short term. For sustainable growth, development, production and consumption, and most importantly a healthy and productive environment, for these to reach our future generations; a cohesive, inclusive, convergent and sustainable policy that is followed through is of the essence.

(Devika Singh is pursuing the Master’s Programme in Public Policy at National Law School of India University. She can be reached at devikasingh@nls.ac.in)

References

SNRD Asia: https://snrd-asia.org/joint-task-force-sustainable-development-goals-is-on-the-move/

As presented by Dr. Ashok Khosla in ’Ecosystem Services and Sustainable Development: Economic Implications of SDG 15’ during the National SDG consultation at WWF – Delhi on February 8th, 2017

http://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/indias-forest-cover-declines-35917

Featured Image Source: Source: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/blog/2015/10/on-world-statistics-day-un-flags-importance-of-reliable-data-to-achieve-new-development-agenda/#prettyPhoto

 

Policy Brief | Literacy Without Learning

Sakshi Mehra

 

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Executive Summary

India has made significant progress in boosting school enrolment rates and increasing access to primary education as evident from the fact that enrollments have reached 96 percent since 2009 and 56 percent of new students enrolled between 2007 and 2009 have been girls. However the same has not reflected positively in dropout rates and levels of learning. Nationally 29 percent of children drop out before completing five years of primary school. Increase in school enrolment is not translating into higher learning outcomes and cognitive skills as measured by several studies.  

Reasons to be Worried

  • Annual Survey of Educational Research (ASER 2013) found that only 54 percent of class V children were able to do simple 2 digit subtraction.

  • In 2005, 50 per cent of children in Grade V were unable to read a simple Grade II level text. The number is virtually unchanged 10 years later in 2014.

policybriefloknitiTable 1: Grade 9 completion rates of children by their reading levels at age 8-11
Source: IHDS data for 2004-5 and 2011-12.

Policy Options

India’s education system has many challenges at all levels, but all of them will fail if children don’t emerge from their early years of school reading fluently. The current discourse on education reforms have been discussing the following alternatives

  • There is an active national debate to scrap the No Detention Policy (NDP), a policy that prohibits failing children in classes 1 to 8. It is believed that in the absence of a proper regulatory framework, this has unfortunately led to ‘no learning’ in many cases.
  • Another approach involves a detailed look at the financing structure of school development plans. Currently, all budgetary plans are made using DISE (District Information System for Education) data, which has no component for learning outcomes. A specific amount that can be used as a learning grant should be given to the states, which should be linked to clearly determine learning goals. School committees based on learning outcome plans should take expenditure decisions regarding this grant.
  •  I believe we need to look at investing our time and resources in an approach that is neither too myopic and shortsighted, nor so broad and long-term that the millions already in school remain excluded from its benefits. In this context, we must begin from correcting the deficiencies in the classroom. It has already been established by researchers over the past decade that the teacher is the most influential factor for achieving quality education. Unfortunately, despite Teachers’ salaries accounting for 90 percent of education expenditure, One in four government primary school teachers are absent and only one in two is actually teaching.

Influencing learning outcomes by improving the teacher’s performance may further be adopted in two different ways: –

  1. Financial incentives and sanctions for teacher motivation: It is the intangible factors such as enthusiasm and passion that are likely to account for a majority of the variation in value added by the teacher and students’ learning outcomes. Evaluation of teachers based on their contribution to students’ achievement or their true value addition should be made the basis for financial rewards and promotion decisions. Performance based incentives could prove to be an effective way to keep the teachers motivated and deliver optimally. A UNICEF paper on teacher absenteeism in India also talks about the scope to effectively enforce sanctions on erring teachers. (Saihjee 2011) Guarantee of a salary, accompanied by weak sanctions actually creates an incentive to be absent. Thus, addressing the moral hazard problem will provide a solution to the problem of academic underperformance.
  2.  A Teacher empowerment program: This approach delves into the root causes of underperformance of teachers by addressing the hindrances to perform to potential. Thus, empowering the teacher through institutional changes for a more conducive teaching environment is the key. The program aims to place power in their hands and facilitate its responsible use. Of all these options, I recommend that teacher empowerment be pursued.

Why Teacher Empowerment?

It has already been established by researchers over the past decade that the teacher is the most influential factor for achieving quality education. Addressing teacher motivation through sanctions or financial incentives will not be as effective as desired as proven in several studies.

A study by National Bureau Of Economic Research conducted on New York City Public Schools suggests that there is no evidence that teacher incentives increase student performance. (G. Fryer, Jr, 2011) Similar studies conducted in the Indian States reveal the same trend. If anything, this may adversely affect learning levels by increasing stress levels on teachers and students, encourage a narrowed curriculum of teaching to the test and propel student exclusion. Despite the opportunity and incentive to be absent, the fact that 3 out of every 4 teachers opts to be present indicates that there is clearly more to the issue than merely a “free-rider” problem. Thus, the root problem does not stem from the teacher’s motivation level, but from the lack of institutional support that is necessary for the teacher to perform to his or her potential and these are what need to be fixed so as to empower the teacher to deliver better in the classroom.

Scrapping the no detention policy is likely to be counter-productive by increasing the chances of early dropouts.  Moreover, the decline in learning levels is erroneously being attributed to this policy, whereas data from 2005 to 2010 (before implementation of RTE that introduced NDP) shows the same poor results.

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What Needs to be done?

An insight into the following challenges substantiates the need for institutional changes for a more conducive learning environment that enhances teacher performance and thus reiterates the need for a teacher empowerment program.

  • A study by Sipahimalani-Rao highlights unauthorised leave in Government schools is actually a mere 3-4 percent of total teacher absenteeism as against an inflated projected figure of 24-25 per cent (Priyam 2015). The latter per cent is because teachers are sent on formal chores outside the school during working hours. These non-teaching tasks include management of mid-day meals, organising construction work in the school, maintaining data and so on. During elections, government schoolteachers are posted as booth-level officers on voting days, and they have to prepare, check and maintain electoral rolls prior to voting. Distraction from core responsibilities of teaching could not be more obvious.

Action item: Raising the amount of time teachers spend on the core job needs serious attention and a minimum benchmark for the same must be clearly demarcated.

  • To exacerbate the problem, there are huge teacher shortages (Rajasthan has close to 20percent single-teacher schools) and this further overburdens the teachers.

Action item: Filling the staffing gaps should be made a priority.

  • Despite 16,000 teacher training institutes, the passing rates of the 2015 Teacher eligibility Test (TET) was a mere 17 percent, which is an alarming indication of the underperformance of the teacher education system. The 2012 Justice Verma Commission has made remarks including lack of training in training institutes and exam results being manipulated (MHRD 2011) Low-cost private schools barely spend anything on teacher training.

Action items:

Making teacher training institutes more accountable

Teacher unions need to act as institutions of value to produce well-informed teachers with an enhanced capacity for consensual action for the common good.

Teachers also must be given special training to deal with the diversity amongst students, especially students from underprivileged backgrounds as social class also impacts learning abilities. 21 per cent of children from economically stronger backgrounds who could not read or recognise letters in the age group of 8-11 managed to complete Grade 9 as against 7 per cent of their counterparts belonging to economically weaker and poorer sections

  • A significant number of Indian teachers, especially government teachers are expected to miraculously teach in multi-grade classrooms in remote locations with few amenities. This is a clear Violation of the 1986 Policy Operation Blackboard norms, which mandates at least one teacher for each class/section and at least one room for each class.

Action item: Strict adherence to Operation Blackboard norms, of at least one teacher for each class/section and at least one room for each class. Pupil-Teacher Ratio (PTR) of 40:1 and 35:1 at primary and upper primary level respectively, as prescribed in the RTE, should be enforced.

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(Sakshi Mehra is a graduate student of Master of Public Policy in the National Law School of India University. She can be reached at sakshimehra@nls.ac.in)

Sources

Paper by Aarti Saihjee, Education Specialist, New York UNICEF-Penn Learning Programme on Social Norms July 2011

Teacher Incentives and Student Achievement: Evidence from New York City Public Schools Roland G. Fryer, Jr. Harvard University and NBER, November 2011

Manisha Priyam 2015 Contested Politics of Educational Reform in India: Aligning Opportunities with Interests: Oxford University Press

Justice Verma Commission on Teacher Education, Volume 3, 2012

 

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