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Exploring the link between asia-europe connectivity and sustainable development

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Asia and Europe have made connectivity between people, businesses and institutions a top political priority in the frame of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) intergovernmental cooperation forum. In the ASEM context, policy leaders agreed that improving connectivity between countries should contribute to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Connectivity is a complex concept involving multiple dimensions. Yet in order to provide clear data-driven evidence to support policymaking on Asia-Europe sustainable connectivity, this concept calls for a measurement framework. The mismatch between the politically adopted definition of sustainable connectivity and existing metrics, led to the development of the two indexes described in this paper. Taken together, they help to explore and understand the relationship between connectivity and sustainability. The results suggest that connectivity and sustainability policy agendas have the potential to mutually reinforce one another. Higher values in connectivity are strongly associated with higher values in the social dimension of sustainability. There are evident gaps between European and Asian nations in terms of connectivity and sustainability. However, both continents are underpinned by the common challenge of reducing the environmental impacts of connectivity without neglecting economic/financial sustainability aspects, while at the same time ensuring that benefits will accrue to society at large.
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Exploring the link between asia-europe connectivity and sustainable develop‐
William Becker, Marcos Domínguez-Torreiro, Ana Rita Neves, Carlos Tacão
Moura, Michaela Saisana
PII: S2590-051X(21)00010-1
Reference: RESGLO 100045
To appear in: Research in Globalization
Received Date: 19 February 2021
Revised Date: 13 April 2021
Accepted Date: 13 April 2021
Please cite this article as: W. Becker, M. Domínguez-Torreiro, A.R. Neves, C.T. Moura, M. Saisana, Exploring
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Exploring the link between Asia-Europe
connectivity and sustainable development
Exploring the link between Asia-Europe connectivity and sustainable development
William Becker
European Commission, Joint Research Centre
Marcos Domínguez-Torreiro
European Commission, Joint Research Centre
Ana Rita Neves*
European Commission, Joint Research Centre
Carlos Tacão Moura
European Commission, Joint Research Centre
Michaela Saisana
European Commission, Joint Research Centre
* Corresponding author.
European Commission, Joint Research Centre, Via E. Fermi 2749, 21027 Ispra (VA), Italy
Asia and Europe have made connectivity between people, businesses and institutions a top political
priority in the frame of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) intergovernmental cooperation forum. In the
ASEM context, policy leaders agreed that improving connectivity between countries should contribute to
achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Connectivity is a complex concept involving multiple
dimensions. Yet in order to provide clear data-driven evidence to support policymaking on Asia-Europe
sustainable connectivity, this concept calls for a measurement framework. The mismatch between the
politically adopted definition of sustainable connectivity and existing metrics, led to the development of the
two indexes described in this paper. Taken together, they help to explore and understand the relationship
between connectivity and sustainability. The results suggest that connectivity and sustainability policy
agendas have the potential to mutually reinforce one another. Higher values in connectivity are strongly
associated with higher values in the social dimension of sustainability. There are evident gaps between
European and Asian nations in terms of connectivity and sustainability. However, both continents are
underpinned by the common challenge of reducing the environmental impacts of connectivity without
neglecting economic/financial sustainability aspects, while at the same time ensuring that benefits will
accrue to society at large.
Asia; Europe; connectivity; sustainability; composite indicators
Enhancing connections between Asia and Europe for peace, stability, economic prosperity and
sustainable and inclusive development has become a major agenda item in high-level political and
diplomatic forums between the two continents. Asia and Europe have made mutual connectivity between
people, businesses and institutions a top political priority with a firm commitment to work towards
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Sustainable connectivity is the new name of the game. The
concept has been coined in the frame of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) [1], an intergovernmental
process to foster political dialogue and cooperation between 51 European and Asian nations, including
Australia and New Zealand and two institutional partners: the European Union (EU) and the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) (Box 1).
Box 1 List of members of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).
In 2017, political leaders endorsed a joint definition of connectivity [2] underlying that Asia-Europe
relations must contribute to the materialisation of the principles, goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development [3]. They also agreed to mainstream connectivity in political, economic, digital,
institutional, and people-to-people dimensions, into all ASEM cooperation frameworks [4]. Moreover, the
EU has put forward sustainable connectivity in its 2018 Connecting Europe and Asia Building blocks for
an EU Strategy. The EU strategy has set out an approach to connectivity which is sustainable,
comprehensive and rules-based, with policies that should be economically, fiscally, environmentally and
socially sustainable in the long term [5].
Connectivity strategies can be found in a number of other intergovernmental organisations. The
Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) was one of the first to issue a formal connectivity strategy in
Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) members
European group of countries: Austria; Belgium; Bulgaria; Croatia; Cyprus; Czech
Republic; Denmark; Estonia; Finland; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Ireland;
Italy; Latvia; Lithuania; Luxembourg; Malta; Netherlands; Norway; Poland; Portugal;
Romania; Slovakia; Slovenia; Spain; Sweden; Switzerland; United Kingdom.
Asian group of countries: Australia; Bangladesh; Brunei Darussalam; Cambodia;
China; India; Indonesia; Japan; Kazakhstan; Korea; Lao PDR; Malaysia; Mongolia;
Myanmar; New Zealand; Pakistan; Philippines; Russian Federation; Singapore;
Thailand; Vietnam.
Institutional partners: European Union; Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
2015, the APEC Connectivity Blueprint [6], which aims “to reach a seamlessly and comprehensively
connected and integrated Asia-Pacific through the pillars of Physical Connectivity, Institutional
Connectivity and People-to-People Connectivity”.
Meanwhile, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has a Masterplan on ASEAN
Connectivity, which aims “to achieve a seamlessly and comprehensively connected and integrated
ASEAN that will promote competitiveness, inclusiveness, and a greater sense of Community” [7]. It
focuses on five key areas, sustainable infrastructure, digital Innovation, seamless logistics, regulatory
excellence, and people mobility. This is similar to the ASEM definition, although with arguably less focus
on sustainable development, particularly in environmental and social aspects.
The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) shows its multi-billion dollar grand plan to strengthen
China’s connections to Asia, Europe and Africa. Although the BRI emphasises mutual gain, it is a
Chinese investment programme rather than a multilateral connectivity agreement.
Connectivity, in the international context, is effectively a rebranding of globalisation and has become
a buzzword for intergovernmental organisations. Globalisation became a hot topic from the late 1980s
onwards, and several definitions can be found in the literature [8], [9]. The term globalisation was used to
describe not only the process of intensification of external influences on economic, political, social and
cultural domains, but also the formation of transnational structures and single global markets. Yet while
globalisation has become a loaded term which is associated with aggressive capitalism and the
homogenisation of cultures [10], the term “connectivity is less associated by these issues.
Nevertheless, there are some drawbacks associated with connectivity. At the 2019 World Economic
Forum, world leaders discussed the problems of an ever more connected world with perceived
inequalities which have fuelled populism and distrust [11]. Moreover, the COVID-19 pandemic has clearly
shown the risks of connectivity, and the need for safeguards and careful reflection on its impacts.
The politically adopted definition of connectivity for the Asia-Europe context [2] is used as a basis for
this study. It casts connectivity as a broad concept, ranging from physical infrastructure (transport, energy
and information and communication technologies), financial cooperation and economic/trade links to
political, institutional and human connectivity, including education and research, tourism and cultural
exchanges. The definition underlines the link between connectivity and sustainable development, while
upholding the spirit of peace, development, cooperation, mutual benefit, a level playing field,
inclusiveness and fairness.
Clearly, connectivity is a complex concept, involving multiple dimensions which may vary from one
definition to the next. Yet in order to support effective evidence-based international policymaking,
connectivity must be explored and measured, to the extent possible. The tools used in this study,
composite indicators (or indexes) are well-established approaches in policymaking, advocacy and public
debate. They aim to measure complex multidimensional concepts which are not directly measurable and
cannot be captured by a single indicatorwell-known examples include the Human Development Index
[12] and the Environmental Performance Index [13]. Composite indicators make large and complex data
sets accessible by summarising patterns across a number of indicators which may be otherwise invisible.
They are complementary tools that provide a ‘big picture’ overview and can effectively stimulate public
debate and policy discussions [14].
Composite indicators measuring globalisation and connectivity can already be found in the literature
since at least the year 2000 [15]. Among the most well-known of these are the A.T. Kearney/Foreign
Policy Globalization Index [16] and the KOF Index of Globalization [17]. Other globalisation indexes
include the CSGR Globalisation Index [18], the Maastricht Globalisation Index [19], the McKinsey Global
Institute Connectedness Index [20], the DHL Global Connectedness 2016 [21], the New Globalisation
Index [22] and the A.T. Kearney Index of Global Cities [23]. All of these indexes, with the exception of the
latter, which focuses on cities, assess globalisation at the national level, with a particular focus on
economic, communication and digital links, as well as movement of people in terms of tourism and
migration. Political and institutional links are also present, but to a lesser extent, while social aspects such
as culture, education and research are poorly addressed. Notably, the link to sustainable development is
largely overlooked in existing indexes: the Maastricht Globalisation Index is the first to include the
environmental domain, by including the Ecological Footprint of a country’s trade as a share of its
biocapacity [19]. The issue of sustainable globalisation is discussed in the literature [24], [25], but specific
measurement frameworks are still seldom addressed [15].
The mismatch between the politically adopted definition of connectivity and the existing globalisation
indexes led to the development of a new assessment framework presented in this paper, consisting of a
Connectivity Index and a Sustainability Index. These indexes aim to jointly measure sustainable
connectivity with the following distinctions: a) they follow the broader ASEM definition of connectivity,
which puts specific emphasis on political and institutional domains as well as on people-to-people
connections; b) they link connectivity to sustainable development, in particular to the SDGs, and; c) they
cover a specific group of European and Asian countries (ASEM) which have a particular interest in
studying their interconnectionsthis led to the use of bilateral data specifying flows and connections
between country pairs in the ASEM group. This indicator framework and indexes are interactively
available at the ASEM Sustainable Connectivity Portal
, an online data platform. The present article aims
to bring these tools to the attention of the academic community, as well as providing a deeper insight and
analysis into the results. Specifically, the overall patterns of connectivity are investigated, and its
relationship with sustainable development and other factors such as land area, wealth and economic
Overall, this work aims to support Asian and European countries with an overall picture and
framework to support the ongoing policy debate on sustainable connectivity. This paper proposes a new
assessment framework for sustainable connectivity and explores the relationship between connectivity
and sustainability, including the SDGs. This is described in the following Methodology section, while in the
Results section, the results are described and their implications analysed. Finally, some summary
comments and relevant policy messages are given in the Conclusions section.
Given the multidimensional and non-measurable nature of sustainable connectivity, a composite
indicator approach was used. Properly constructing a composite indicator is a delicate process, including
a careful definition of the concept, a thorough review of existing indexes and available data, expert and
stakeholders consultation, statistical analysis, robustness checks, visualisation and interpretation of
results [14].
Connectivity can be measured by using either intensive or extensive approaches. Intensive
connectivity measures a country’s connectivity in relation to its size, while extensive connectivity
measures a country’s connectivity in absolute terms. For instance, a country’s trade in goods can either
be measured in absolute terms by simply considering its imports and exports with other countries
(extensive approach), or by accounting for its size by dividing these flows by its GDP (intensive
approach). In order to have an objective comparison across small and large countries, the scaling of
variables according to an appropriate size measure, e.g. population, income, etc., is usually required and
this was the approach adopted in this study.
Conceptual framework
The basis of sustainable connectivity is a definition which was agreed at high political level across
Asia and Europe. By following this definition, the resulting framework is ensured to be politically aligned
and therefore highly relevant to policymaking in the Asia-Europe context. Moreover, the framework and
indicators that were eventually selected in this work were assembled with the engagement of a number of
international experts and stakeholders who were invited to attend two dedicated consultation workshops.
The experts were selected based on their expertise in particular fields of connectivity and sustainability,
as well as to represent a balance between European and Asian countries, with the intention of including a
variety of viewpoints and improving the robustness and acceptability of the framework.
The definition of connectivity includes economic, people-to-people, political/security, institutional and
physical types of connectivity. Cutting across all of these concepts are the notions of fairness, openness,
mutual benefits, and the fact that ASEM connectivity should contribute to the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development.
The inclusion of sustainability in the framework required careful consideration. The SDGs are very
broad, and different forms of connectivity may contribute positively or negatively to SDGs. Indeed, some
(arguably most) forms of connectivity may have a mixed effect, e.g. contributing positively to social
sustainability but negatively to environmental sustainability. It is therefore very difficult to identify a basket
of uniquely sustainable forms of connectivity. The final approach that was adopted was to separate
connectivity and sustainability, and build two separate indexessee Table 1.
Table 1: Description and structure of the ASEM Sustainable Connectivity Indexes.
Measures physical
infrastructure in terms of
transport, energy and
information and
communications technology,
mainly between countries
rather than domestic
Measures the trade in
goods and services and
financial flows.
Measures political relations
with other countries.
Measures the regulatory
environment, namely
measures to facilitate trade
and investment as well as
agreements to facilitate the
mobility of people.
Measures the mobility of
people in education, tourism
and migration, the
collaboration in research
and innovation, and the
exchange of culture and
Measures the domestic
environmental status of a
Measures elements related
to poverty, inequality,
education, gender balance
and inclusive and open
Measures financial
sustainability, economic
growth, research
expenditure and youth
* Indicators for which bilateral data is available, i.e. data which measures connections and flows between pairs of countries of the ASEM
The Connectivity Index provides a standardized measure that captures a wide range of cross-border
connectivity outcomes and facilitators. It is divided into physical, economic/financial, political, institutional
and people-to-people domains, comprising a total of 30 indicators. Connectivity is measured relative to
the size of each country (using e.g. value of trade per unit GDP) allowing an objective and policy-relevant
comparison across small and large countries. The Sustainability Index, on the other hand, measures the
state of a country’s sustainability, and focuses on those aspects that are expected to be more strongly
linked to connectivity and global challenges. The index is structured into three pillars following the ‘triple
bottom line framework environmental, social and economic/financial sustainability, including a total of
19 indicators. The Sustainability Index framework incorporates indicators related to 11 out of 17 SDGs
(Figure 1).
Correspondence between the SDGs and the ASEM Sustainability Index
Figure 1: Sustainable Development Goals addressed in the ASEM Sustainability Index.
Together, the two indexes are used to assess where countries lie in terms of sustainable
connectivity, and explore the relationship between connectivity and sustainability. This arrangement has
the advantages that it avoids the controversial problem of defining which types of connectivity are
sustainable, it delineates high levels of connectivity from high levels of sustainability and vice versa, and it
allows an analysis of the relationship between connectivity and sustainability, which is not well explored in
the literature. Indeed, it can form the basis of more detailed impact assessments of connectivity on
The Connectivity Index was also compared to the Sustainable Development Goals Index and
Dashboards (SDG Index) [26] to give a detailed assessment of connectivity on individual SDGs. The SDG
Index provides an assessment of countries’ performance on each of the 17 SDGs using a total of 88
indicators. The SDG Index score reflects the countries’ distance from achieving the SDGs and varies
between 0 (worst performer) to 100 (best performer).
Indicator selection and data collection
The selection of indicators and construction of the indicator framework was an extensive and
iterative process, drawing on numerous international data sources and original research. Roughly, the
process followed the schematic in Figure 2: starting from the ASEM definition of connectivity and a
literature review, a pool of about 200 candidate indicators was identified. These were then checked
against six criteria, as well as subjected to expert evaluation and statistical analysis.
Figure 2: Indicator selection flowchart.
The criteria that were used to accept or reject indicators for all pillars and both indexes (prior to
expert opinion and full statistical analysis) were as follows.
Relevance: Above all, indicators must be relevant to the concept of ASEM connectivity, to the
index and to the pillar in which they reside.
Data availability and accessibility: All indicators were required to have a high and recent data
coverage that spans all or nearly all ASEM countries (at least 80%), and to be publicly available
to the extent possible.
Indicator selection criteria
Relevance to the pillar/index
Data availability and accessibility
Value added
Data reliability
ASEM connectivity
Value added: Indicators should measure distinct concepts and overlap (conceptually) as little as
possible. Having multiple overlapping indicators adds little information to the framework but
increases its complexity and lowers its usefulness.
Data reliability: Data should come from a reliable source, ideally with a transparent methodology
behind its production.
Interpretability: Indicators should be meaningful and interpretable in order to be an accessible
tool for policymakers and researchers.
Differentiation: The indicator should be able to differentiate between countries by having a range
of values across countries (i.e. rather than having a large number of countries with the same
value, for example).
In general, data was obtained for the latest available year, with the implication is that the indexes use
data from different years (typically 2016/2017, with some few exceptions). This is necessary because
aligning the data from the same year would involve discarding a considerable amount of relevant and
recent indicators.
A particularity of measuring connectivity is that it suggests the use of bilateral data, i.e. data which
measures connections between pairs of countries. This data can be analysed at the bilateral level [27]
[28], but also integrated into the connectivity indexin total, 16 bilateral data sets were included. To
include this data, it was necessary to build a unilateral indicator from each bilateral data set. This was
done by summing the connections of each country with all other countries. In cases where the
connections were directional (e.g. trade), the sum included connections in both directions, where inflows
and outflows were weighted equally [29].
Aggregation (denominators, outliers, normalisation)
Prior to aggregation, indicators are denominated, treated for outliers and normalised onto a common
scale following the widely-accepted methodology of building composite indicators [14].
Indicators were scaled so that each had a minimum of zero and a maximum of 100, in order to make
them comparable. Finally, they were aggregated by taking weighted arithmetic means, following the
hierarchical structure shown in Table 1. Equal weighting was used, following the ‘budget allocation’
method, in which the group of experts was engaged in specifying weights at the pillar level during a
workshop. The results of this exercise revealed a fairly equal preference for each pillar.
Full details of the methodology applied to aggregate the indicators into an index can be found in [29].
Statistical analysis
A statistical analysis was performed on both indexes which aimed to (a) check the internal
consistency of the data set using correlation analysis, and (b) assess the robustness of the resulting
scores using uncertainty and sensitivity analysis.
Examining the correlations of indicators with the overall indexes, most connectivity indicators
correlate well with the Connectivity Index, with the exception of Technical Barriers to Trade (TBTs) which
is negative. On closer examination of the data, this is because EU countries have a large number of TBTs
compared to other ASEM countries, which runs contrary to other indicators in the same pillar, such as
import/export costs and visas. While this conflict of direction is not ideal from a statistical perspective, it
was decided that TBTs are an important aspect of connectivity that should not be left out of the
framework, so they were retained. Other indicators such as liner shipping connectivity index, foreign
direct investment, personal remittances, and embassies network, have low or slightly negative
correlations. Again, in the ideal case, all indicators would have a strong positive correlation. But recall that
the indicator framework here is not only for building aggregate measures, but also to inform users at the
indicator level. For this reason, and the fact that the indicators were deemed to be important to the
concept, the indicators were retained in the framework.
Throughout this study, correlations between indicators are frequently used to observe patterns and
connections between different variables. Correlation is a statistical measure which measures the
strength of the linear relationship between two variables. A high correlation value suggests that
higher values of one variable are usually associated with higher values of the other, or vice versa.
This implies that there is a relationship between the two variables. It is important to be clear, however,
that the existence of a relationship does not necessarily imply that one variable causes the other.
Correlation may be evidence of such causal links, but it may also be due to the two variables causing or
being caused by a third variable. In this study, correlations are taken to be hints that an underlying
relationship may exist, while a more detailed causal analysis is left for future work.
Asia-Europe connectivity
Figure 3 presents a summary of the Connectivity Index scores, broken down into their different
dimensions. European countries are more connected than Asian ones, with the notable exception of
Singapore. This difference is the most stark in political connectivity, where European countries tend to
participate more in intergovernmental organisations and are more aligned in their voting patterns in
United Nations General Assembly. In Asia, only Japan and Korea achieve the same average score of
European countries in the political domain, which is largely due to their extensive networks of embassies
and the fact that they tend to vote more towards the unified European pattern in United Nations
resolutions than other Asian countries.
In the institutional domain, European countries have similar high scores, as a result of lower barriers
to trade in terms of costs and trade agreements as well as smoother flows of people thanks to visa policy
arrangements. For EU Member States, this can be largely explained by the Single Market and the
associated free movement of goods, services, capital and people. In Asia, only Korea and Singapore
have comparable scores to European countries. In fact, Korea has the largest number of connections via
trade agreements and Singapore scores high for its visa openness policy.
Figure 3: Connectivity Index overall scores.
The most connected countries are small in population size and land area, with high income per
capita, and typically European, with the exception of Singapore see Figure 4. The smaller internal
markets of small countries compel them to look outwards for trade, labour and investment, while larger
countries are more self-sufficient. Domestic markets in larger economies like Germany, United Kingdom,
France, Italy, China, Japan and Korea play a very significant role, making larger countries relying less on
international suppliers [30].
010 20 30 40 50 60 70
Lithuania (26)
Poland (25)
Portugal (24)
Spain (23)
Croatia (22)
Slovakia (21)
France (20)
Cyprus (19)
Czech Republic (18)
Finland (17)
Hungary (16)
Slovenia (15)
United Kingdom (14)
Estonia (13)
Sweden (12)
Germany (11)
Ireland (10)
Austria (9)
Denmark (8)
Norway (7)
Malta (6)
Netherlands (5)
Singapore (4)
Switzerland (3)
Belgium (2)
Luxembourg (1)
Physical Economic Political Institutional People to people
010 20 30 40 50
Bangladesh (51)
Myanmar (50)
Pakistan (49)
Lao PDR (48)
Philippines (47)
Indonesia (46)
China (45)
India (44)
Russian Federation (43)
Cambodia (42)
Mongolia (41)
Vietnam (40)
Kazakhstan (39)
Thailand (38)
Japan (37)
Australia (36)
New Zealand (35)
Malaysia (34)
Brunei Darussalam (33)
Korea (32)
Romania (31)
Bulgaria (30)
Greece (29)
Latvia (28)
Italy (27)
Figure 4: Relationship between the Connectivity Index and a) Country area and b) GDP/capita.
Connectivity and sustainability
Taken together, the Connectivity Index and the Sustainability Index help to understand the
relationship between the levels of connectivity and sustainability of ASEM countries. While causal
relationships will require further research, some patterns of association can be established.
Overall, higher levels of connectivity are associated with higher levels of sustainability (r = 0.57,
99.9% sig.) see Figure 5. However, there are several exceptions. Singapore and Luxembourg are both
intensively-connected countries with sustainability scores below the ASEM median, whereas Switzerland
has a similar level of connectivity, but is also the most sustainable country. In Asia, some of the most
connected countries (Malaysia and Brunei) also have very low sustainability scores, driven overall by low
social sustainability but also little use of renewable energy. The two countries with the lowest connectivity
scores, Myanmar and Bangladesh, have sustainability scores above the ASEM median, mainly due to
high environmental sustainability (low carbon dioxide emissions and domestic material consumption per
Overall however, the positive relationship between connectivity and sustainability is largely driven by
the social dimension of sustainability: the two are strongly correlated (r = 0.85, 99.9% sig.). This implies
that better connected countries are associated with better living conditions, more inclusive societies,
greater levels of education, less corruption perception, more freedom of the press and more presence of
international non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
On the other hand, the environmental dimension of sustainability shows no statistically significant
relationship with connectivity. Although wealthier and more connected countries tend to have more
progressive environmental policies, they also have higher per capita carbon dioxide emissions and
domestic material consumption. If the analysis is exclusively focused on Asian countries, these relations
are more pronounced, and connectivity is negatively associated with environmental sustainability. With
respect to economic/financial sustainability, while better connected countries have greater research and
development (R&D) expenditure and lower rates of young people not in education or unemployed, they
also typically have higher rates of private debt and a lower rate of GDP per capita growth.
Figure 5: Relationship between the Connectivity Index and the Sustainability Index and its constituents: Social,
Environmental and Economic/Financial. (Dotted lines represent the median and 25th and 75th percentiles. Red dots
refer to Asian countries, blue dots to European countries.)
From a regional perspective, European countries tend to occupy the upper right quadrant of Figure 5
(main plot), with higher connectivity and sustainability scores, while most Asian countries appear in the
lower left quadrant, with lower connectivity and sustainability scores. The exception is Singapore.
Of the three sustainability dimensions, social sustainability has the largest gap in average scores
15 25 35 45 55 65
Sustaina bility
Connectivi ty
15 30 45 60
15 30 45 60
15 30 45 60
Economic/fina nci al
Connectivi ty
between Asian countries (lower) and European (higher). The difference is largest in terms of poverty
levels and freedom of the press. When considering the environmental and economic/financial
sustainability dimensions, the average gap between the two regions closes. Asian nations like Myanmar,
Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines and Laos take the lead in the environmental dimension, which are also
the less connected countries according to the Connectivity Index. These countries present the lowest
values of per capita CO2 emissions and domestic material consumption. On the economic/financial
dimension, Myanmar and Bangladesh are ranked first, followed by European countries like the Czech
Republic, Romania and Slovenia.
While the sustainability index here focuses on connectivity-related elements of sustainable
development, the analysis can be extended by considering the Sustainable Development Goals Index
and Dashboards (SDG Index) [26], which considers all of the 17 SDGs. Table 2 shows that 11 out of 17
goals are positively and significantly associated with connectivity, with more than half of those referring to
the social dimension of sustainability. There are three goals which are very strongly related to
connectivity. This is the case for Goal 3: Good Health and Well-being, meaning that better connected
countries are associated with better health conditions. Exceptions are for Australia, New Zealand, Japan
and Korea which score above 90 points in Goal 3, but are in the bottom middle positions of the
Connectivity Index. As for Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, there are some overlaps of
indicators considered on both the Connectivity Index and on this particular goal (Logistics Performance
Index, ICT-related infrastructure and scientific articles), which then explains the very high correlation. With
respect to Goal 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities, the indicators considered on the SDG Index
relate to air pollution, drinking water, public transport and household rent overburden, which leads to the
observation that better connected countries are associated with better urban living conditions.
There is a highly negative association between connectivity and Goal 12: Responsible Consumption
and Production, showing that better connected countries make greater impacts on the environment due to
their consumption and production patterns. In particular, this goal includes indicators related to waste,
wastewater and emissions (SO2 and nitrogen from both production and embodied in trade). In fact,
Luxembourg ranks first in the Connectivity Index, but takes the bottom position in Goal 12. The
Philippines (47th place in the Connectivity Index) tops the list for Goal 12, scoring two times higher than
Table 2: Strength of association (correlation coefficients) between the ASEM Connectivity Index and the 17
Sustainable Development Goals included in the SDG Index.
SDG Index Goals
ASEM Connectivity Index
GOAL 1: No Poverty
GOAL 2: Zero Hunger
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-being
GOAL 4: Quality Education
GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 6: Clean Water and Sanitation
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean Energy
GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequality
GOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
GOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and
GOAL 13: Climate Action
GOAL 14: Life Below Water
GOAL 15: Life on Land
GOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
GOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal
* all correlations significant at the 99.9% level, except those marked with dashes.
This paper presented an analysis of international connectivity between 51 countries following the
definition adopted by ASEM partners, and its links with sustainable development. Overall, the study
suggests that connectivity and sustainable development policy agendas have the potential to mutually
reinforce one another. In particular, higher values in connectivity are strongly associated with higher
values in the social dimension of sustainability. As a result, better connected countries are associated
with lower levels of poverty, more students in tertiary education, more freedom of the press, are more
inclusive to minorities, have a greater presence of NGOs and lower levels of corruption perception. The
data also shows that smaller, wealthier countries are the most intensively connectedlikely due to having
fewer domestic resources, production and human capital. Therefore, sustainable connectivity policies
should account for these differences in resources, needs and incentives, rather than adopting a “one size
fits all” approach.
When turning to the environmental and economic/financial dimensions of sustainability, no
statistically significant relationship was found overall, but increased connectivity is associated with higher
carbon dioxide emissions and a greater domestic material footprint, and this is more pronounced in Asia.
Clearly, connectivity has a complex relationship with sustainable development, and policy makers face
significant challenges in strengthening connectivity, while addressing sustainability in all its dimensions.
Today, there are evident gaps between European and Asian nations in terms of connectivity and
sustainability. European countries stand out in terms of institutional and political connectivity, which is
largely due to the common policies and legislation on the European Single Market, one of Europe’s major
achievements on the free movement of people, goods, services and capital. However, when it comes to
the economic/financial domain of connectivity, Asian and European nations are relatively similar. Of the
three sustainability dimensions, the social dimension has the largest gap in average scores between the
two continents, with European countries scoring on average two times more on social sustainability than
Asian countries. When considering the environmental and economic/financial sustainability dimensions,
the average gap between the two regions closes.
This study, complemented by the ASEM Sustainable Connectivity Portal
, is an initial endeavour to
define sound metrics to understand how countries are connected to each other and to identify in which
domains countries need to scale up further action in line with the goals of the 2030 Agenda for
Sustainable Development. By identifying gaps in sustainable connectivity, this research aims at
contributing to the policy dialogue among policymakers and other stakeholders. As outlined by actors in
the field [31], this work could benefit further from more focused studies and policy briefings to better
bridge the gap between science and policy. Further efforts at international level would also be necessary
to extend harmonised data collection processes so that more up-to-date data becomes available.
In the Asia-Europe context, addressing sustainable connectivity is and will continue to be a major
agenda item in high-level political forums. The challenges of balancing sustainability with connectivity
may need to be addressed by rethinking the concept of “sustainable connectivity”. Currently, in practice,
this consists of promoting connectivity, with sustainability as an afterthought or added bonus rather than a
requisite. Truly sustainable connectivity should promote and focus on forms of connectivity that are
fundamentally sustainable, such as green investments, trade agreements containing rules on sustainable
development, zero-carbon shipping, international aid, increased exchanges of research and renewed
international cooperation on global issues such as climate change and marine pollution. These issues are
currently not the focus of major connectivity issues.Connectivity should be used as an instrument for
addressing global issues that contributes to narrow the sustainable development gaps among the world
regions. For this, it also becomes essential that the civil society is involved in connectivity-related projects,
so that their values and interest can be taken into account [31].
Meanwhile, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed new dependencies on connectivity and has given
fresh food for thought on how to build a connected world that is also robust and resilient to threats.
Clearly, safeguard mechanisms are needed, and deeper institutional cooperation at political and scientific
levels between countries to tackle such problems quickly and effectively. The time is right to bring science
and policy together to build back better our economy and our societies within our planetary boundaries.
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Declaration of Competing Interest
The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships
that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.
Credit Author Statement
William Becker: Conceptualization, Methodology, Investigation, Formal analysis, Data curation,
Writing Original Draft. Marcos Domínguez-Torreiro: Conceptualization, Methodology, Investigation,
Formal analysis, Data curation, Writing Original Draft. Ana Rita Neves: Conceptualization,
Methodology, Investigation, Formal analysis, Data curation, Writing Original Draft. Carlos Tacão
Moura: Software. Michaela Saisana: Writing Review & Editing, Supervision.
... The data of this research consists of key documents that establish the EU's connectivity policies as well as the communications that explain the policies to domestic and external audiences. In this study, most of the public EU documents and communications on the Global Gateway and some earlier, relevant communications on EU connectivity policies were analysed, totalling up to approximately one hundred pages of material, 8 with which a saturation point was reached in the final analysis phase. 9 While most of the data originate from approximately 1 year's time starting from July 2021, the results should be read as representing only a short period of time in 8 All data used does not indicate page numbers, whereby the number is an estimate. ...
... In this study, most of the public EU documents and communications on the Global Gateway and some earlier, relevant communications on EU connectivity policies were analysed, totalling up to approximately one hundred pages of material, 8 with which a saturation point was reached in the final analysis phase. 9 While most of the data originate from approximately 1 year's time starting from July 2021, the results should be read as representing only a short period of time in 8 All data used does not indicate page numbers, whereby the number is an estimate. Specifically, the data consists of the Joint Communication on the Global Gateway by the European Commission (1.12.2021 ...
... This is not, however, encouraged in the communications by the EU: almost none of the official communications include reflection on whether and to what extent partners are expected to agree on EUGG principles and values, or how the EU will address situations where visions differ. 24 It must be noted, however, that the "Europeanness" of many of the EUGG norms and values can be questioned, with green transition, for example, being a necessity (and hence, presumably an objective) in the partner states with or without a European push or conditionality [8]. "Transparency" as an objective constitutes another case as a seemingly universal concept that is however utilized to compete with the BRI investments. 25 From the perspective of the logic of cooperation, it is not even so much the potential incompatibility problem as it is the lack of reflection of universality and the lack of plans for local control over norms that minimizes the role of receiving partners to either refusing or accepting the connectivity cooperation. ...
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Data cables, ports, and mobility are a rising theme in geopolitical competition, and the European Union (EU) also aims to develop a cutting-edge product for the fund-deficit connectivity market. Incapable of competing with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the quantity of investments, the EU’s 1-year-old connectivity initiative Global Gateway aims to challenge it with quality, providing more democratic, secure, equal, green, transparent, and sustainable alternatives to lower-income partners. While the BRI has been accused of creating debt traps in the same context, this article analyzes whether there is a risk of the EU’s norm-diffusing policy also having an undermining effect on partners’ agency. Based on a systematic analysis of EU policy documents and strategic communications, the article identifies three categories for the EU’s norms promotion: firstly, the support for regionalism, secondly, the prescribing of standards of connections, and thirdly, the defining of values to be applied in connectivity projects. The article argues that the EU communications reserve a limited role for the partners to participate in or to have control over the processes where values, norms, and standards of connectivity are created. The approach, unlikely to serve the EU’s declared goal of equal partnerships, is rather found to respond to the competitive international context.
... To improve the connection for all locations throughout the world, it is essential to design and agree on a power network masterplan for the region's grid connectivity. The grid master plan should be created by the inclusion principle, considering stakeholders' concerns and demands [108]. Intergovernmental agreements: Multinational experiences of successful power pools exemplify the need for contracts among member nations to demonstrate each country's political commitment to fostering energy cooperation and integration within a defined time frame. ...
The concerns about climate change mitigation, decarbonization in critical sectors, and environmental pollution reduction have instigated a global surge in the use of renewables. As distributed energy resources (DER) proliferate, the existing power grid may be transformed into a carbon-free power system, ensuring that everyone has access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy. However, there are some practical impediments and challenges in the transition of the global energy system. Hence, the present study aims to examine the benefits, technological advancements, problems, and solutions for establishing a global sustainable green grid. This study also provides a comprehensive literature review of strategic research direction relating to energy transition in various sectors; identification of major issues and challenges in renewable power network; investment requirements in clean electricity generation; operational challenges of 100% renewable integration into the power grids; and power pool interconnection issues for building a renewable energy system on a global scale. Through reviewing several emerging low-carbon technologies, this article offers insights into the feasibility and sustainability assessment of transnational clean electricity networks for supplying power throughout the world. The findings of this study highlight the potential of adopting variable renewable energy (VRE) systems in the development of a global eco-friendly grid. It also confirms that solar PV systems on a global scale of 8519 gigawatts would reduce 4.9 Gt of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and fulfill 25% of global electricity demand by 2050. The review affirms that intercontinental solar power infrastructure can ensure solar power supply to solar power deficient countries, allowing the world to move toward a sustainable and clean energy future. Finally, this work suggests future research opportunities for the global clean energy system.
... Switzerland's position, in turn, is a result of its high position in terms of both indicators mentioned above. It is also indicated that Switzerland should be considered as the country with the highest eco-innovation capacity among ASEM Member States (Becker et al., 2021). In the case of Asian countries, the leading position of Australia can be observed, even though it ranks relatively low in terms of both the potential to improve the country's competitiveness and the general innovation capacity. ...
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The development of eco-innovation is driven by globalisation processes, technological progress and climate change. It is also directly related to the pursuit of sustainable development, as well as to the reduction of negative impacts on the environment and the efficient use of natural resources. Monitoring progress towards sustainable development requires the systematic measurement of eco-innovation. An important theoretical and practical challenge is to develop methods and indicators to measure eco-innovation. Currently, there are different systems for measuring eco-innovation, which makes international comparative analysis difficult. The purpose of this article is to identify the strengths and weaknesses of measuring eco-innovation in selected European and Asian countries. The study uses a critical literature review as well as a comparative analysis and synthesis method based on the ASEM Eco-Innovation Index. The study provides evidence that there are a number of differences in eco-innovation between European and Asian countries. Measuring eco-innovation is particularly important in planning and implementing instruments to stimulate environmental innovation across countries.
... It is believed that sustainable development goals can be achieved by improving connectivity between countries (Profiroiu et al., 2020). In the context of globalization, its multiple dimensions must not negatively influence the environment, so that the benefits can be accumulated in support of society (Becker et al., 2021). Further progress can be manifested by increasing the degree of integration of strategic resources (D'Oria et al., 2021). ...
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Research background: The influence exerted by globalization manifests predominantly in field of employment. The challenges generated by this process are amplified by technological developments. Facilities of movement and establishment in various regions, and the new opportunities for conducting professional activities, have led to increased mobility of employment. Globalization has led to a growing interest of businesses to operate outside their own country. Purpose of the article: In the current context, the purpose of the article is to analyze whether in the field of employment there is a tendency to increase the share of persons employed in enterprises controlled from outside the EU in total EU employment. Methods: The article presents the comparative situation of the number of persons employed for enterprises controlled from outside the EU. The article also presents an analysis of the number of persons employed for enterprises controlled from inside the European Union. Findings & Value added : Following the analysis, there is an increase in employment in enterprises controlled from inside the EU in total EU employment. Also, depending on the economic activity, there is a higher distribution for the following economic activities: Manufacturing, Wholesale and retail trade, Administrative and support service activities, Information and communication, Transportation and storage. Regarding the comparative situation of the number of employed persons for enterprises controlled by all countries of the world for total business economy, except financial and insurance activities, a number of over 5 million employed persons was registered in 6 countries (Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Netherlands). Regarding the situation of the foreign control of enterprises by economic activity, controlled by all countries of the world for total business economy, except financial and insurance activities, at the level of the European Union the economic activities in which more than 10 million people are employed are: Manufacturing, Wholesale and retail trade, Administrative and support service activities, Construction, Professional, scientific and technical activities, Accommodation and food service activities and Transportation and storage.
... This will address the sustainability of the open border system to be in place after the COVID-19 crisis (Ikotun et al., 2021). In this context, the Sustainable Development Goals will be achieved by improving trade openness and business connectivity between countries, which in turn reduce poverty (See, Becker et al., 2021). ...
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We introduce the revised version of the KOF Globalisation Index, a composite index measuring globalization for every country in the world along the economic, social and political dimension. The original index was introduced by Dreher (Applied Economics, 38(10):1091–1110, 2006) and updated in Dreher et al. (2008). This second revision of the index distinguishes between de facto and de jure measures along the different dimensions of globalization. We also disentangle trade and financial globalization within the economic dimension of globalization and use time-varying weighting of the variables. The new index is based on 43 instead of 23 variables in the previous version. Following Dreher (Applied Economics, 38(10):1091–1110, 2006), we use the new index to examine the effect of globalization on economic growth. The results suggest that de facto and de jure globalization influence economic growth differently. Future research should use the new KOF Globalisation Index to re-examine other important consequences of globalization and why globalization was proceeding rapidly in some countries, such as South Korea, but less so in others. The KOF Globalisation Index can be downloaded from
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