SUSTAINABILITY ACROSS HUMAN, NATIONAL

AND GLOBAL SCALES
Three Keystones and Fire
T. Chuluun and S.Oyun



In the Mongolian nomadic culture, three keystones (tulgyn gurvan chuluu) symbolize sustainability: three
big stones are necessary to stabilize a pot for cooking over the fire). From this point of view, world
economic development was not sustainable because it happened at the expense of environmental
degradation and greater inequality with polarization of society. The Earth’s life-support system (as a
foundation), human wellbeing and national economy, represented by the three keystones, have to be
balanced. Fire symbolizes prosperity in the Mongolian culture. A set of three keystones and fire may
symbolize prosperity of people, nations and humanity in sustainable ways.
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SUSTAINABILITY ACROSS HUMAN, NATIONAL
AND GLOBAL SCALES:
“THREE KEYSTONES AND FIRE”

T. CHULUUN
National Development Institute, Mongolia
S. OYUN
Visiting Fellow, School of Global Environmental Sustainability, Colorado State University

Global sustainability is becoming an issue of collapse or prosperity for civilization, depending on whether
we can coordinate efforts at individual, national and global scales. The RIO-20 decided to introduce the
Sustainable Development Goals after 2015, when the Millennium Development Goals are completed, in
order to provide global sustainability. A key question is how to make the Post 15 development agenda able to
address sustainability across scales. A critical global governance mechanism is necessary to tackle global
systemic risks and direct Sustainable Development Goals post 2015 towards sustainability across scales.
Along these lines, we are proposing a Sustainable Development Index for ranking all countries and tackling
the most likely global systemic risks for the next decade. We also would like to share our efforts in
Mongolia, embracing green development and Sustainable Development Goals in the Post 15 sustainable
development agenda.
A newly proposed Sustainable Development Index (SDI) incorporates all three economic, social and
environmental dimensions: Shared Prosperity (GNI per capita & equity), Human Wellbeing (expected
longevity) and Safe Environment (carbon dioxide emission per capita). Sustainability across scales is
represented by expected longevity at the human scale, shared prosperity at the national scale, and reduced
greenhouse gas emissions at the global scale.
The Global Sustainable Development Index addresses sustainability at all these levels. At the global scale, it
leads towards the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and decreases income disparity, while growing
economy. The global benefits are clear: climate change risk will be reduced; and crime, violence, migration
and probability of wars overall will be reduced, increasing the peaceful environment. At the national scale,
economies will become greener and more equitable. At the human scale, global and national social and
environmental conditions will become favorable for human wellbeing. The middle class will become
stronger and poverty will be decreased tremendously, and perhaps even eradicated in the countries
successfully advanced in SDI ranking.
The integration of shared prosperity, human wellbeing and safe environment has greater meaning and value,
and leads towards sustainability for people, countries and the Earth system because society, the economy and
our environment are intrinsically interdependent. The intersection between shared prosperity and human
wellbeing addresses prosperity for people and the national economy, improving equality and quality of life.
The Green Inclusive Economy, proposed by the UNEP, is an interface between shared prosperity and a safe
environment. Increase of carbon productivity/intensity (GDP/GNI per CO
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unit emission), an increase or
decrease of CO2 emissions per unit of gross national income, and poverty eradication are key elements of a
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green economy. Wellbeing of people and planet, interaction of human activities and a safe environment
depend on health of human-environmental system.
We have ranked countries by the Sustainable Development Index and compared them to the ranking of the
countries by the Human Development Index (Human Development Report 2013). Dramatic changes
happened among the leaders according to the HDI ranking. Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland and Japan ranked
in the top 4 positions by the Sustainable Development Index 2012, while Norway, Australia, USA and
Netherlands were the top 4 countries by the HDI 2012. Sweden, Switzerland and Japan advanced 8-10 places
in the SDI compared with their HDI ranking. Meanwhile, the top 7 countries under the HDI rankings even do
not appear among the top 10 leaders in the SDI rankings. Only Germany and Norway stay close to the top 10
under/in the SDI ranking, taking the 12th and 14th spots.
Qatar, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, and the USA lead the list of the countries that dropped more than
100 places under the SDI relative to the HDI. The very high carbon emissions were the main reason for the
big drop in ranking, for instance, for Qatar, Trinidad and Tobago and the USA. However, the extremely high
inequity was the main reason for the big drop in ranking for Seychelles.
Comparison between the USA, Australia and Canada may give a better explanation for their changes in
rankings by the SDI relative to the HDI. The USA dropped by 102 places in rankings under the SDI relative
to the HDI; Australia dropped 50 spots and Canada 36 places. Their carbon emissions per capita are high:
they are 17,6 metric tons per capita for the USA; 17 for Australia; and 14,6 for Canada. However, their Gini
index differs greatly: 45 for the USA, 30 for Australia and 32 for Canada. Both the high inequality and
emissions contributed to the big drop for the USA. The very large drop of the USA by the ranking of the
Sustainable Development Index relative to its ranking by the Human Development Index indicates that the
USA has both a responsibility and an opportunity to lead the world for global sustainability and national
prosperity.
Many countries with large lands are on unsustainable pathways, including emerging countries like China,
India, Brazil, and Russia. This indicates the importance of the Sustainable Development Index for guidance
towards global sustainability because the future of the planet will largely depend on which trajectory these
emerging economies would take in terms of their production and consumption. This is especially true for
India and China with largest populations.
Similar pattern of unsustainable development occurred in Mongolia over the last two decades – since the
transition to a new economic and political order. Mongolia has followed the Kuznets curve, degrading its
environment (air, water, land and biodiversity), and experiencing increasing income disparity and poverty
during the last two decades.
However, a new Government of Mongolia in 2012 has made a noble decision to reverse this trend. A new
Ministry of Environment and Green Development was upgraded as one of the core ministries. Ts. Elbegdorj,
Champion of the Earth, has promoted green development. All these factors created favorable conditions for
the policy reforms towards national sustainability.
Climate-compatible development, green economy, equity, cultural-natural integrity and governance for
sustainability are chapters of the green devlopment strategy, submitted to the Parliament by the Government
of Mongolia. Synergy of adaptation, mitigiation and development, emphasized as climate compatible
development, has high priority for Mongolia due to its high vulnerability to climate change. Green economy
was accepted as a tool for sustainable development. Equity is a bigger concept than just poverty eradication,
and it is also key element for building resilient society. Nomadic civilization to which Mongols have made
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a great contribution is a cultural foundation for the transformation of the country towards green civilization.
Education, science, technology, innovation and certain behavior change are amplifying mechanisms for
transformation. Finally, governance for sustainability is essential for successful transformation of social-
ecological systems.
Potential sustainable development goals for the post 2015 development agenda, but specific for Mongolia,
were incorporated into the green development strategy up to 2030. The Green Development strategy of
Mongolia has 8 goals and 39 targets, mostly measureable.
The traditional culture, way of life and people’s wisdom emerged and evolved during long human history,
including both indigenous knowledge in every corner of the world and modern technologies of developed
nations as a form of global wisdom around the world are critical for the transformation or renewal of social-
ecological systems in Mongolia as a developing country.
Mongolia was ranked below average by the 2012 Sustainable Development Index. Mongolia has to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions, improving sustainability and efficiency of production and consumption systems,
and increase equality, eradicating poverty in addition to supporting traditional economic growth and human
development in order to succeed in its sustainable development ranking in the world. Green development of
Mongolia and global sustainability would be interlinked even stronger if the Sustainable Development Index
is accepted in the Post 15 development agenda.
The Sustainable Development Index might serve as a mechanism in tackling 2 out of 3 of the most likely
global risks for the next decade, such as rising greenhouse gases and severe income disparity (IPCC Report
2014 and Global Economic Forum Report on Global Risks 2013). But first, the UN must accept it as a major
ranking index of the countries in its post-15 sustainable development agenda.
The adoption of the Sustainable Development Index will be a paradigm shift relative to the Human
Development Index, by calling for low carbon and equitable development across the scales. Therefore, the
Sustainable Development Index could replace the UN Human Development Index in order to address
development, not only at narrow human scale, but also with regard to more broad environmental
sustainability and social resilience at the global and national scales.
In the Mongolian nomadic culture, three keystones (tulgyn gurvan chuluu) symbolize sustainability: three big
stones are necessary to stabilize a pot for cooking over the fire). From this point of view, world economic
development was not sustainable because it happened at the expense of environmental degradation and
greater inequality with polarization of society. The Earth’s life-support system (as a foundation), human
wellbeing and national economy, represented by the three keystones, have to be balanced. Fire symbolizes
prosperity in the Mongolian culture. A set of three keystones and fire may symbolize prosperity of people,
nations and humanity in sustainable ways.
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