sheng128_SAEED KHANAFP via Getty Images_borneo deforestation SAEED KHAN/AFP via Getty Images

Sustainable Development Is a Matter of Market Design

The world is not wanting for powerful technologies, funding, talent, or knowhow. The fact that these factors are not driving rapid progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals is a failure of governance – in particular, the absence of appropriate market structures and incentives.

HONG KONG – Southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago is very far away from Ukraine, and the indigenous people of Borneo – living in some of the most pristine jungles left in the world – do not leave much of a carbon footprint. Yet even they cannot escape the effects of war, inflation, and climate change. And one of our best hopes of building a better world – the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – is looking increasingly unattainable.

The SDGs are supposed to “end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all” by 2030. But the latest SDG report makes for grim reading. “Cascading and interlinked global crises” – including the COVID-19 pandemic, global warming, war, inflation, and polarization – are jeopardizing the SDG agenda, having already reversed years of progress toward eradicating poverty and hunger.

Our recent visit to Borneo highlighted the consequences of these failures for indigenous people. Most of the 112,000 Murut people live in barely-developed rural areas in the island’s northern inland regions – mostly in Sabah, Malaysia – where goods and people used to move either by river or along gravel roads.