High UN officials calling for sustainable economic “far-reaching vision” Reply

During the opening of the Development Dialog on “Macroeconomic Policies for the Future We Want,” United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and the President of the General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, both stressed that future policymaking should be focused on job creation and protection of the environment.

Jan Eliasson called for a “far-reaching vision” and said that it is important to discuss integrated policies that aim at “sustained, inclusive and equitable economic growth.”

Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser then highlighted that it was particularly important to give full consideration to an effective integration of macro-economic policymaking into the development agenda that must be developed after the 2015 term of the Millenium Development Goals effort.

At the end of the gathering, participants agreed an outcome document which called for a wide range of actions, such as beginning the process to establish Sustainable Development Goals.

Link: UN News Centre

Inclusive Wealth Report 2012: UN’s new approach to measuring the sustainability of countries Reply

The United Nations University International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (UNU-IHDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in collaboration with the UN Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development (UNW-DPC) and the Natural Capital Project have released a new report, titled “Inclusive Wealth Report 2012” (IWR 2012) at the Rio+20 conference.

The report is first in a series of biennial reports aiming to track the sustainability of countries using a newly developed measure, the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI). The IWI aims to go beyond the present generation of short-term economic and development measures, such as the gross domestic product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI). The IWI has been developed to capture the full wealth of nations by looking into country’s capital assets, including manufactured, human and natural capital, and its corresponding values.

In the Inclusive Wealth Report 2012, twenty countries were assessed using the IWI over a period of 19 years (1990-2008). Together they represent more than half of the world population and almost three quarters of world GDP and include high, middle, and low-income economies on all continents.

Some of the key findings of the IWR 2012 included:

  • 70 percent of countries assessed  present a positive Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI) per capita growth, indicating sustainability.
  • High population growth with respect to IWI growth rates caused 25 percent of countries assessed to become unsustainable.
  • While 19 out of the 20 countries experienced a decline in natural capital, six of them also saw a decline in their inclusive wealth, thus following an unsustainable track.
  • Human capital has increased in every country, being the prime capital form that offsets the decline in natural capital in most economies.
  • 25 percent of assessed countries, which showed a positive trend when measured by GDP per capita and the HDI, were found to have a negative IWI.
  • The primary driver of the difference in performance was the decline in natural capital.

Based on these key findings, the report offers a set of recommendations to national-level policy-makers. It calls on countries to:

  • Build up their investments in renewable natural capital
  • Mainstream the Inclusive Wealth Index within planning and developing ministries
  • Support/speed up the process of moving from an income-based accounting framework to a wealth accounting framework
  • Move away from GDP per capita
  • Establish research programs for valuing key components of natural capital, particularly ecosystem services.

The next issue of the Inclusive Wealth Report is expected to be released in 2014 with a special focus on social capital.

Link: UNU-IHDP Inclusive Wealth Report news

The World Bank calls for Inclusive Green Growth Reply

The World Bank has released a new report, titled “Inclusive Green Growth – The Pathway to Sustainable Development,” at the Global Green Growth Summit in Seoul in early May.

The report challenges governments to change their approach to growth policies, measuring not only what is being produced, but what is being used up and polluted in the process. It argues that sustained growth is necessary to achieve the urgent development needs of the world’s poor and that there is substantial scope for growing cleaner without growing slower. It also noted that green growth requires improved indicators to monitor economic performance.

The report focuses on 5 main points:

  • Greening growth – it is suggested this is necessary, efficient, and affordable, and critical to achieving sustainable development
  • Chief obstacles to greening growth, such as political barriers, entrenched behaviors and norms, and a lack of financing instruments
  • Multi-disciplinary solutions to overcome constraints and ensure progress
  • Green growth ‘variability’ – it is pointed out that strategies will vary across countries
  • Green growth not being inherently inclusive – it is highlighted that green growth policies must be carefully designed to be inclusive, by maximizing benefits for, and minimizing costs to, the poor and most vulnerable to avoid irreversible negative impacts

At the Global Green Growth Summit, the Government of Korea announced a partnership with the World Bank Group and pledged $40 million to further promote green growth.

Links: World Bank News

Our economies should aim to bring humanity inside ‘the doughnut,’ says Oxfam researcher Reply

Oxfam has released an interesting discussion paper in February 2012, written by its senior researcher Kate Raworth (with the support of colleagues) and titled “A safe and just space for humanity – Can we live within the doughnut?”

The paper presents a single visual framework – shaped like a doughnut – that represents a space in which humanity can thrive. This doughnut-like area is defined by a set of 9 planetary boundaries as proposed by a group of leading Earth-system scientists  in 2009 (published in Nature by Rockström et al., Sept 2009). Raworth combined this “Planetary Boundaries” framework with 11 social boundaries, based on the 11 dimensions of human deprivation that emerged from the issues raised by governments in their Rio+20 submissions.

The author argues that “moving into the safe and just space for humanity means eradicating poverty to bring everyone above the social foundation, and reducing global resource use, to bring it back within planetary boundaries.” She also suggests that the “doughnut” provides an easy-to understand framework showing, for instance, that we need to eradicate poverty and inequity for all, within the means of the planet’s limited resources. The data on hunger, energy and income provided in the paper illustrate that bringing everyone alive today above the social foundation need not stress planetary boundaries and it is highlighted that the real source of stress is excessive resource use by roughly the richest 10 percent of people in the world.

The paper touches also on the aim of economic growth and traditional growth policies (based on GDP) in relation to the “doughnut” concept. The author argues that the economy’s over-arching aim should be to bring humanity into the safe and just space – inside the doughnut – and to promote increasing human well-being there. The paper concludes by stating that “the critical economic question is whether or not global GDP growth can be harnessed as a tool for moving into the doughnut – or whether a different approach to economic development is needed.”

This Oxfam Discussion Paper intends to encourage public debate and the author welcomes any feedback on this document. Comments can be added to the author’s Oxfam blog until 30 June 2012.

Links: Blog (with link to the download of the full Oxfam Discussion Paper)

Planet Under Pressure 2012 sets out the science for Rio+20 Reply

At the end of March 2012, London saw the largest gathering of global change scientists leading up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) at a conference titled “Planet Under Pressure 2012.” More than 3,000 delegates were present at the conference venue and over 3,500 attended virtually via live web streaming. The conference set out the scientific background and presented new recommendations for the Rio+20 conference, including:

  • Going beyond GDP by taking into account the value of natural capital when measuring progress.
  • A new framework for developing a set of goals for global sustainability for all nations.
  • Creating a UN Sustainable Development Council to integrate social, economic and environmental policy at the global level.
  • Launching a new international research programme, Future Earth, that will focus on solutions.
  • Initiating regular global sustainability analyses

The first State of the Planet Declaration was issued at the conference, reflecting the key messages that emerged from the Planet Under Pressure conference. The statement warns that scientific studies show that current human activities threaten the functioning of the Earth system which support continued well-being of the human civilization. It suggests that global sustainability must become a foundation of society and points out important areas of new scientific understanding in this area – including the adoption of the term ‘Anthropocene,’ a new epoch, in which many Earth-system processes and the living fabric of ecosystems are now dominated by human activities. The statement also highlights the need for further inter- and trans-disciplinary research. The authors see the Rio+20 conference as an opportunity for taking action and bringing outcomes on these topic.

As a part of the preparations for the conference, a series of nine policy briefs were produced by the scientific community, specifically targeting policy-makers in the Rio+20 process. The briefs provide information on the latest scientific thinking in nine areas of sustainable development relevant to the Rio+20 conference: Water security, Food security, Biodiversity and ecosystems, Transforming governance and institutions, Interconnected risks and challenges, Energy security, Health, Well-being, and Green economy.

The  Green economy policy brief, titled “A green economy for a planet under pressure,” attempts to set out the guidelines for the social and technological transformations needed for a new economic system, as well as the new ways in which we will need to measure and monitor this system. One of the key points highlighted in the brief is that our economic system has to start to respect planetary boundaries of the Earth and be in line with people’s well-being at the same time. Based on these two points, the brief calls for a re-design of trade rules, financial flows and investment to improve our natural, social as well as human capital. It also suggests that there is a need for a social transformation process and that we need to strive for post-consumerism and post-materialist society.

In order to achieve this ‘economic transition,’ the report calls on governments, organizations as well as the United Nations to lead and support this process. It is suggested, for instance, that the United Nations Statistics Office should support countries to move beyond gross domestic product and develop Inclusive Wealth Accounts as a new macroeconomic indicator to measure progress in human well-being.

The Well-being policy brief, titled “Human well-being for a planet under pressure: Transition to social sustainability,” examines the need for urgent, innovative solutions and sets out key messages and recommendations that will guide humanity on the road to a more sustainable socioeconomic and ecological future. The authors stress that both social and environmental sustainability are needed for overall human well-being, since these are closely connected. It is underlined that despite being complex, multidimensional and context-specific, well-being is currently measured by the economic community in very narrow terms, most notably by focusing on the gross domestic product (GDP).

The brief suggests that policymakers need to go beyond single measures and develop tools, methodologies and metrics that are multidimensional and nationally standardized, while simultaneously acknowledging differing contexts, universal rights and freedoms. The transition to a ‘Green Economy’ is seen as an important means for improving overall human well-being. The brief concludes that a trans-disciplinary research effort is needed in order to improve understanding of the links among comprehensive human well-being, ecological and socioeconomic systems and sustainable development.

Links: http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net, http://www.planetunderpressure2012.net/policybriefs.asp

UN High Level Meeting on Happiness in search of ‘a New Economic Paradigm’ Reply

Hundreds of representatives from governments, academia, non-governmental as well as religious organizations from all over the world gathered on April 2 at the UN Headquarters in New York to discuss the topic of  “Happiness and Well-being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” The participants of the meeting, convened by the Government of Bhutan, included the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as well as leading experts from the fields of economics, well-being and sustainability.  The notion of ‘well-being’ and ‘happiness’ in relation to the current economic system was discussed, along with the topic of measuring progress using alternative indicators such as the Gross National Happiness, pioneered by the Government of Bhutan, as well as others including New Economics Foundation (“nef”) and its Happy Planet Index.

At the meeting, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon highlighted that “GDP… fails to take into account the social and environmental cost of so-called progress. We need a new economic paradigm that recognizes the parity between the three pillars of sustainable development. Social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible. Together they define gross global happiness.” He also stressed the need for further discussions and real outcomes in support of sustainable development at the up-coming Rio+20 conference in Rio de Janeiro.

The meeting saw also the launch of the first “World Happiness Report,” published by the Earth Institute, which reviews the state of happiness in the world today and shows how the new science of happiness explains personal and national variations in happiness (Read more about the World Happiness Report here).

Links: http://www.2apr.gov.bt, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41685

Rio+20 zero draft submissions under the lens of the Green Economy Coalition Reply

The Green Economy Coalition (GEC) has analyzed 18 government sumissions to the “Zero Draft” text (The Compilation Document) for the upcoming Rio+20 conference in June this year (UN Conference on Sustainable Development, UNCSD). The aim of the analysis  is to “better understand how governments are responding to the concept of green economy in their different economic and social contexts.”

The analysis report, titled “Green Economy: ‘Everyone’s talking about it'”, notes that significant majority of governments are actively engaging with the concept of a green economy and that there already exist various policies and initiatives that could be deemed green economy (from the view of GEC). However, the report also shows that the definition and meaning of the term “green  economy” varies considerably among the governmental submissions, due to its interpretation along the lines of national priorities.

In general, nearly all governments agree that Green Economy is a means and opportunity for achieving sustainable development and must tackle poverty. However, developed countries focus mostly on resource efficiency, job creation and competitiveness, while developing countries highlight the need for poverty eradication and equity and BRICS (Brazil, Russian Federation, India and China) see Green Economy as a tool for shifting the production and consumption patterns of the industrialized countries, as well as for tackling poverty.

The GEC analysis also identified some of the most common practical themes emerging from the submissions, including:

  • Sustainable Development Goals
  • Alternative metrics to GDP
  • Explicit focus on job creating mechanisms
  • Focus on technology transfer and Intellectual Property rights
  • Need for natural capital to be valued in economic decision-making, and
  • Renewed framework for sustainable consumption and production.

The Coalition has also noted absence of some anticipated practical themes, such as Natural capital management schemes, Global financial market reform, and Explicit proposal for how to finance the transition at both the national and international level.

Link: GEC analysis of Rio+20 submissions

UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability: The global economy has to be transformed to achieve sustainability Reply

The United Nations Secretary-General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability published a report in early 2012 entitled “Resilient people, resilient planet: A future worth choosing”, detailing the panel’s vision and progress towards sustainable development (SD). The report contains 56 recommendations to put sustainable development into practice and to mainstream it into economic policy as quickly as possible.

One of the key points raised by the Panel is the requirement of transforming the global economy in order to achieve sustainability. Some of the Panel’s policy recommendations in this regard include: incorporate environmental and social costs in pricing, create an incentive road map that values long-term SD in investment and financial transactions, increase finance for SD, and expand how we measure progress by creating an SD index or a set of indicators (well, beyond the traditional GDP).

Link: http://www.un.org/gsp/

Green growth can help recover the global economy says OECD Secretary-General Reply

OECD Secretary-General, Angel Gurría, suggests in his February article “Green Growth: Making it Happen” that green growth can be seen as a new source of growth with the potential of helping the global economy to get “back on track.” He also highlights that green growth should go in line with sustainable development taking into account all economic, social as well as environmental aspects.

The article touches on the key environmental challenges in the areas of climate change, biodiversity, water, as well as health and environment identified in the “OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050” published earlier this year. It discusses the projections into the future and concludes that change in behavior and policy is needed. Some of the green growth policy change recommendations include: putting a price on pollution (including carbon emissions), phasing out environmentally harmful and inefficient subsidies (e.g. on fossil fuel production and use) and supporting green innovations at all levels (including green investments).

The Secretary-General invites all world leaders to action on sustainable development with the Rio+20 being a perfect opportunity and suggests that green growth can be part of the solution.

Links: OECD Secretary-General article, OECD Environmental Outlook to 2050

“Earth Debates” at the Natural History Museum, UK Reply

In the build up to the Rio+20 conference, a series of four debates were held at the Natural History Museum, UK. The debates, organised by a partnership of the Natural History Museum, Stakeholder Forum and British Council, focused on key issues at the heart of the Rio+20 conference green economy agenda. The four events, featuring discussions of a panel of leading UK experts, were titled: 1. “Ecosystem Economics – can we put a price on nature?” (25 March 2012), 2. “Beyond GDP – how can we measure progress?” (22 February 2012), 3. “Green Cities in a green economy – how to pioneer a sustainable transition?” (14 March 2012), and 4. “Food Security – how do we feed 9 billion in 2050?” (11 April 2012).

It is possible to watch the full debates at the website of the Natural History Museum.

Link: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/biodiversity/earth-debates