The human factor in the global environmental debate

The human factor in the global environmental debate

The human factor in the global environmental debate


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The human factor in the global environmental debate


of Green

Global Perspectives on

the Green Economy

The Moral Universe The needed return of Sun, Wind and Water to our moral equation

The Natural Economist Measuring the true costs and benefits of economic development

It’s Not Easy Being Green Why UNEP’s Green Economy is not the panacea it is hoped to be

Economics, Growth and Energy A sustainable economic future won’t be neoclassical

Green Economy & Sustainable Hegemony Do we exist to serve our economic systems?

Magazine of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change

Human Dimensions

spring 2012 • issue 1


40 67


Feature Articles

8 Green Economy & Sustainable Hegemony —At the start of the 21st

century, people have come to serve their economic systems, instead of

the other way around. That isn’t sustainable and it isn’t smart.

Andréa Hawkes and Nicolás Kosoy

17 What’s in our countries’ coffers? — The Inclusive Wealth Index goes

beyond the conventional captial measures to provide a comprehensive

picture of the wealth of nations.

20 Green Growth & Innovation —Home-grown technology and innovation

in the developing world are key to achieving sustainable growth.

Frans Berkhout

24 White, red, purple, orange, silver, blue, yellow, brown —A Green

Economy isn’t always just green.

60 It’s Not Easy Being Green —Why UNEP’s Green Economy is not the

panacea it is made out to be and will lead neither to economic growth

nor to the emissions reductions necessary to combat climate change.

Peter A. Victor and Tim Jackson

78 Sustainability: Reassessing what we count & measure

Opinion editorial accepted to Project Syndicate

Partha Dasgupta and Anantha Duraiappah

2 Human Dimensions

IllUstratIoNs aNd Photos Louise Smith



12 The Natural Economist —Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University

on the challenges of measuring the true costs and benefits of economic


Sir Partha Dasgupta

70 Greening the Urban Jungle —With more than half of the world

population living in cities, urban planning must adapt to new models

of sustainable development. Xuemei Bai explains how governments and

institutions can catch up to technology in the race to save the planet.

Xuemei Bai

Writing Contest

38 Winners —We invited young scholars to take part in a scientific writing

contest and have their work published in this first issue of Dimensions.

40 The Moral Universe —The needed return of Sun, Wind, and Water to

our moral equation.

Joy Merwin Monteiro

46 Economics, growth and energy in the Green Economy —Neoclassical

theory can no longer frame our perspectives for a sustainable economic


Andrew Fanning

54 Greening the Economy —An alternative paradigm to sustainable development

and poverty eradication.

Amandeep Kaur

Human Dimensions




5 editorial

6 Community news

7 events Calendar

53 Did you know that?

68 opinions

72 Green economy Crossword

74 references


23 on the day the Green economy

finally arrives.

52 The new rose-coloured glasses.

67 But how will we get there?




spring 2012 • issue 1

editor Carmen scherkenbach


Copy editors Ali Daniel Velazquez Carmona,

and maja spasovska

Graphic Designer Louise smith

puBLisHeD By

secretariat of the international Human

Dimensions programme on Global en-

vironmental Change (unu-iHDp)

united nations university

un Campus

Hermann-ehlers-str. 10

53113 Bonn, GermAny

Human Dimensions magazine features

the activities of the international Human

Dimensions programme on Global

environmental Change (iHDp) and its

research community.

Human Dimensions is published biannually.

sections of the magazine may

be reproduced with acknowledgement

to iHDp. please send a copy of any reproduced

material to the iHDp secretariat.

This magazine is published using

funds by the German Federal ministry of

education and research and the united

states national science Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed

herein do not necessarily represent the

position of iHDp nor those of its sponsoring



Human Dimensions is available free of

charge, both online and in print. subscribe

to receive all future issues of the

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unu.edu/article/subscribe, or write to

secretariat@ihdp.unu.edu to order individual

hard copies.

onLine ArCHiVe

This issue and all future issues of Human

Dimensions will be available online

and as pDFs. please visit our archive at

www.ihdp.unu.edu/article/dimensions CovEr artwork Louise Smith

2 Human Dimensions


Welcome to IhdP’s newest product Dimensions.

With this magazine we hope to engage a wide range

of readers who are interested in the human dimensions

of global environmental change and global

sustainability. Dimensions will be IhdP’s premier

dissemination outlet for key findings from its portfolio

of projects. But it will also solicit articles and

contributions from key scientists on selected topics

in order to provide a broader and more diverse

range of views on the issues under discussion.

We at IHDP believe that there is no single

answer to a problem as complex as the human

dimensions of global environmental change and

global sustainability. As knowledge facilitators, we

see Dimensions as a platform for vibrant debate,

inviting a spectrum of views and opinions – even

those that challenge our own. Our editor welcomes

readers’ responses of which a selection will

be published in the following edition.

This first issue takes on the Green Economy—

a term that has been gaining traction over the past

several years and will be a main point of discussion

at the upcoming Rio+20 meeting. The Green

Economy has been touted as the new economic

model to address the social, environmental and

economic crisis we face today. It touches equity,

sound environmental management and new engines

of economic growth. These are all key terms

that resonate well with the future we envisage for

our children and ourselves.

The recent report from the UN Secretary

General’s High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability

has also identified the Green Economy as

a new economic model for the future. This issue

comes at the right time to spur a lively discussion

among the scientific community on what precisely

the Green Economy is, and what it should

Human Dimensions

look like. The United Nations has taken the lead

in suggesting the idea. It is now up to the scientific

community—not only economists but also

anthropologists, sociologists, physiologists, behavioural

scientists, ecologists, climatologists and

others—to actively engage in the design of such

an economy. We need a paradigm shift, or what

ecologists call a step shift, and to move away from

the incremental model which has in essence led us

to where we find ourselves today.

I hope you enjoy reading Dimensions and welcome

your feedback for its improvement in the


Anantha Duraiappah

Executive Director of the International

Human Dimensions Programme on

Global Environmental Change





VisiT us onLine



At www.ihdp.unu.edu you

can stay up-to-date with

the comings and goings of

the entire Human Dimensions

community. news on

scientific advancements,

research tools, project

progress, new faces and

more are always available

in the Community section.


uGeC projeCT resuLTs

u.s. scientists call for integrated study of carbon


The carbon cycle science community in the united states has recently finished

its planning process for carbon cycle research for the upcoming decade.

This reassessment was initiated by the u.s. Carbon Cycle interagency Working

Group (CCiWG) and Carbon Cycle science steering Group (CCssG) in 2008.

The planning process is culminating in the publication of the new u.s. Carbon

Cycle science plan, which was is intended to provide guidance for u.s. research

efforts on the global carbon cycle for the next decade.

electronic copies of “A u.s. Carbon Cycle science plan” are available at


CALL For pArTiCipAnTs & pApers

regioresources 21

regioresources 21 started in 2012 to establish a permanent cross-disciplinary

dialogue on sustainability features in planning, decision- and policymaking on

multiple scale levels. The conference series intends to provide an overview on

the most recent questions and innovative solutions and to facilitate the intellectual

exchange and methodological transfer between different disciplines

addressed in regional resource management, planning, decision-making and

policy support. The 2012 conference will be organized by Global Land project

(GLp) and the european Land-use institute as an endorsed project in GLp, and

will be held from 21–23 may 2012 at Dresden university of Technology. The

deadline for submissions is march 30th. For more information see http://regioresources21.eli-web.com/.

esG opporTuniTies

Governance Capacity-building

earth system governance as a research object is quickly emerging, and as a con-

sequence, the number of academic programmes on bachelor, master and doctoral

level related to earth system governance steadily increases. iHDp’s earth

system Governance project also organizes, endorses and provides teaching

to summer schools and capacity-building events and programmes. members

of the scientific steering Committee and staff of the international project office

also give guest lectures around the world. An overview of all earth system

Governance capacity-building and teaching activities is now available at www.


iHDp sCienTiFiC CommiTTee

professors ruth oniang’o and Dan Ariely join iHDp

scientific Committee

We are excited to announce the addition of two eminent scholars to the

iHDp scientific Committee: The Honourable professor ruth oniang’o,

and professor Dan Ariely. Both professors oniang’o and Ariely will bring

valuable insight and expertise to iHDp’s work in addressing the human dimensions

of global change, and we are delighted to welcome them to the


4 Human Dimensions



VisiT us onLine

Key dates for

human dimensions


our online events calendar

is a collection of the most

important events in the

research community. Find

an appropriate venue to

debut your findings, or

have your event shared

with our community of

social scientists at: www.


Human Dimensions



COST Workshop


13th Swiss Global Change Day

An event to bring together the

whole global change community

to discuss ongoing transdisciplinary

problems, scientific highlights

and future research.


The workshop focuses on Global

Environmental Risk Governance

under Conditions of Scientific

Uncertainty: Legal, Political and

Social Transformations.


lund Conference on Earth

System Governance


organized by the earth system

Governance project, to be the

green governance event of 2012.


Resilient Cities 2012

3rd World Congress on Cities

and Adaptation to Climate

Change, aimes to provide the

keys to smarter infrastructure.


REAl CORP 2012



“remixing the city” is a challenge

to manage and recombine

the elements which make our

modern cities in order to better

respond to change.


RegioResources Conference


The conference will establish a

permanent cross-disciplinary

dialogue on sustainability features

in planning, decision and

policymaking at multiple scales.


Adaptation futures


showcasing cutting-edge international

research, the conference

will focus on equity, risk, learning,

and finance for adaption.



Urban Environmental Pollution:

Creating Healthy, liveable Cities

The conference will explore the

urban environment and how we

can begin to create a healthy and

liveable environment in cities.


Rio+20 Conference


The united nations Conference

on sustainable Development

will be the paramount event

of the year. Aiming to secure

renewed political commitment

to sustainable development,

the Green economy is bound

to take center stage of the

high-level debates. outcomes

flowing from global change

partners’ planet under pressure

2012 conference, and the

findings in iHDp’s upcoming

inclusive Wealth report will

inform what is likely to be a very

heated discussion.



6 Human Dimensions

IllUstratIoN Louise Smith

FeATure ArTiCLe

he capitalist

system has

since its emergence

as a dominant


model faced scrutiny

and scepticism,

which has in

many parts of the

world reached a zenith

in the wake of a

global economic crisis

and after decades of environmental


Some would consider this

dangerous environmental

degradation an inevitable byproduct

of capitalism, 1 while others

would argue that the economic

system needs readjustments, but is

not in essence, responsible. 2 The recent

oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico provided both

sides with a would-be microcosm for the global

contest between economic growth and ecological

sustainability. Was it bad luck, inexcusable negligence,

or an inherent consequence of the economic


In recent years, the United Nations Environment

Programme (UNEP) has developed the Green

Economy Initiative as a response to growing con-

Human Dimensions

cerns over the lack of advancement in the sustainable

development agenda and its millennium

development goals. 3 This initiative aims at ensuring

the social acceptance of a Green Economy that

draws from new “green” technologies to secure

economic growth. UNEP claims that a Green Economy

will benefit everyone; however, in 1997, about

90 per cent of the “green” industries revenues and

profits were located solely in North America. 4 To

fully understand the limitations of adopting and

implementing UNEP’s Green Economy, one must

first understand the broader role of technology in

our societies.

In his 2010 book Technics & Civilization 5 ,

Lewis Mumford distinguishes three interweaving

phases in the history of industrialized technologies;

the eotechnic, the paleotechnic and the

neotechnic. The eotechnic period, from approximately

1000 to 1750 a.C.E., lifted some burden off

slaves and work-labor by harvesting and transforming

the powers found in natural resources

such as water, wind, wood and glass. It gave rise

to mechanical clocks, telescopes, affordable paper,

prints and printing press, magnetic compasses

and the scientific method, all of which have considerably

altered and benefited our communities.

The paradigm-shifting discoveries and inventions

of the eotechnic period paved the way for the paleotechnic

phase. The transition grew in Europe

in the 1700’s, and culminated in the worst social


conditions since the Middle Ages around 1870 in

England with a crisis exacerbated by the Iron Law

of Wages and a vastly increased population. Mumford

didn’t delineate the end of this period. Under

this type of development, quantity rules over quality;

economies of scale are possible; mines, mills,

glassworks and industries thrive. He described

this period to be bound by coal, iron and blood,

and calling it “carboniferous capitalism”; for civi-

“What is progress today

but a collection of

innovations as historical


lization was driven—and is, perhaps, still being

driven—by carbon consumption. Nevertheless, a

neotechnic phase has emerged out of the old barbarian

industry. To carry the meaning of the unchanged

rigidity of the economic system, Mumford

adopts the term “pseudomorph” to convey

the resilience of life that flows within.

“We have merely used our new machines and

energies to further processes which were begun

under the auspices of capitalist and military

enterprise: we have not yet utilized them

to conquer these forms of enterprise and

subdue them to more vital and humane purposes.”

(Mumford, 2010: 265)

Mumford understands the history of technology

and machines to be intertwined, and he

underlines the social and economic implications

of these new instruments that convert energy to

perform work, while being, unlike tools, partly automated.

These non-organic agents either stretch

and magnify the capacities of humans, or attempt

to minimize the natural processes of life. For example,

the all-pervasive technological advancement

of the clock has transformed our relation

to time: human lives and societies are now synchronized

to mathematical measurements, rather

than to the natural, celestial events that first gave

it meaning. This ubiquitous technology has provided

our economic civilization with obedience

and predictability in workmanship, inherently

benefiting a system where living humans become

objectified labour. 6 Interestingly, it can be ob-

served that anthropologically, we have bestowed

economy and work with valuative norms. The

search for immortality ranges between Calvin and

Faust: work becomes a guideline for valuing the

self, and transcendence is equated to profit within

5, 7

the omnipresent capitalist state.

As the business sector starts to deal with the

invasion of ethics within a consumption-driven

economy, its basis for existence is restated: innovation.

8 Indeed, the World Business Council for

Sustainable Development has reaffirmed its role

in the development of new “improved” products,

and the desire to influence consumer choice towards

these newly created products, for the betterment

of social and environmental issues. Although

there can be a great deal of hope in this

message, there is sanity in questioning whether

the wish for technological innovations will indeed

tackle the world’s major challenges for better, or

for worse, considering the free market approach.

Historically, many authors have made a point of

this bond between technology and capitalism. For

example, Joseph Schumpeter observed that capitalism

fosters innovation regardless of whether it

is a stated objective: “It is not the innovations that

have created capitalism, but capitalism that has

created the innovations needed for its existence,”

he writes. 9 As he further points out, “the development

of wants, which we observe in reality, is a

consequential creation of the economic development

that has already been present. It is not its

motor.” 10 In this light, we must reassess wants

in a greener economy, with preferences not as

given—such as within the neoclassical economic

paradigm—but as socially constructed. 11

In his book Small Is Beautiful: Economics As If

People Mattered12 , Schumacher brings attention to

the inability of the capitalist economy to ameliorate

human welfare. He questions the relevance

of the supremacy of technological advancement

when it is linked to degradation rather than to the

well-being of humans and their socio-ecosystems.

In other words, the increases in production due

to improved technology have created mountains

of waste and hordes of unemployed people. The

worth of individuals comes from their work of

creating waste, and has led neither to happiness

nor gratification, neither to equity nor to health. 13

And should this ongoing economic development—

green or otherwise—be seen as progress? What is

progress today but a collection of innovations as

historical advancements? The populist message of

UNEP’s Green Economy evades the deeper and more

troublesome questions of our economic system.

Further, the question is begged: does the

8 Human Dimensions

“green” in “Green Economy” entail little more than

replacing brown products with “greener” substitutes?

Is the crucial question of sustainability thus

addressed, and if not, how should it be possible in

the context of growth-oriented economies on a finite

planet with an ever increasing population?

William Stanley Jevons lived during the industrial

revolution—the “age of coal”. Being a keen

observer of his time, he noticed that although coal

was considered the ultimate (and ever-abundant)

commodity for energy, it soon became scarce, and

the volatility of prices increased. In his writings,

Jevons raises questions of consumption in relation

to a finite good. Jevons’ most well-known contribution—the

so-called “Jevon’s Paradox”—was his

recognition that gains in efficiency due to technology

have the effect of increasing consumption,

instead of reducing it. 14 Logically, this increase in

consumption corresponds to an increase in natural

resources depletion. 15 Examples of the Jevons

Paradox abound: in a research on the medieval

economic shift from the subsistence agrarian

economy to the institutional arrangements by the

monastic orders, Fraser discusses how communities

were formed under the pressure to become

more efficient. 16 The economies of scale during

this period gave birth to population

and economic growth, and

favoured innovation and tech-

nological advancement. Fraser

elaborates how this new arrangement

fostered vulnerability, exploitation

and power inequities,

thus promoting a macro-scale example

of the Jevons Paradox as a

result of the unlimited hunger for

efficiency. As a species, humans

must come to the realization that

the entire neoclassical paradigm

needs to be replaced with a new

and congruent paradigm, which

will enable our responsibility towards

a finite planet.

Even as we question the expense

our society is prepared to

pay in order to obtain technological

improvements, the discussion

should rather focus on what

benefits innovation will actually

impart. Science, innovation and

technics have a place in society,

yet under which paradigm will

these thrive? Similarly, how is

economic and political power going

to be freed from the vested

Human Dimensions

Andrea Hawkes

interests of the few? When Amartya Sen 17 writes

about development, he considers quality of life

and living conditions to be chief points to success.

As development increases, one’s life should

get richer in the broadest sense. The exercise of

freedom must be bound by a set of plural capabilities

inherent to the political rights of democratic

participation. In other words, social exclusion, a

dysfunctional education system, the absence of

social safety nets and acts of violence, are all signs

of a profound misconception of development.

Why, then, is there an abundance of these characteristics

in the very same territory that is governed

by the Green Economy industries? As Sen

notes, economic growth may have helped tackle

some of these social issues, yet it cannot sustain

wealth for all; and, after all, economic growth is

not an end in itself. How will green innovation foster

not just economic growth but quality of life,

peace and fairness? How will green innovation and

the Green Economy foster equality? These are the

questions that must be asked as we look to disengage

ourselves from the paradigms of our current

existence, and make up for two centuries of shirking

our responsibilities to our environment, and

to our future. — [D]

Andrea Hawkes is a dance artist

whose concern for the ecological

and economical tragedies of our

time has led her to obtain a bachelor

in agricultural sciences at McGill

University in 2011. Throughout her

studies and professional life, Andrea

has found pertinence in cultivating

sensibility and awareness of the inner

and outer worlds. While working

with choreographers such as Dylan

Newcomb, Yasmine Hugonnet and

Sonya Biernath, she experienced

the power of vulnerability. Her own

choreographic works, showed in

Montreal, Toronto, Sherbrooke and

Rotterdam, often depict the human

character set by dramatic contexts.

As a teacher in the dance department

of CEGEP de Saint-Laurent,

her primary concern is to empower

her students with consciousness,

and the reality of interdependence.

prof. nicolas Kosoy

Prof. Kosoy’s specialization is in the

field Ecological Economics, working

with National Governments to

internalise positive externalities

such as ecosystem services into their

decision-making processes with

particular emphasis on equity implications

of commodifying nature.

Furthermore, he has been directly

involved in improving the capacity

of developing country stakeholders

in terms of the economic valuation

of ecosystem services. His research

interests comprise the study of economic

incentives for conserving nature,

the analysis of economic institutions,

environment and economic

history, among many others.



The natural


Sir Partha Dasgupta of Cambridge University

on the challenges of measuring the true costs

and benefits of economic development.

INtErvIEwEr Carmen Scherkenbach

DIMENSIONS: Professor Dasgupta, how

would you define the Green Economy in your

own words?

Prof. Sir Partha Dasgupta: By a “Green Economy”

we mean an economy where Nature’s worth

is included in the reckoning when people engage

in economic transactions. That said, I am not at

all comfortable with the expression “Green Economy”.

It suggests special pleading on behalf of the

environment, in a world where there should be no

reason for special pleading. Any sensible society

would regard Nature to be a scarce capital asset

and would insist on including its value in economic

calculations. But we are not sensible, so for the

moment we need to flag that point and try to drive

it home by talking of “green economies”.

As an example of what national accounting in

a Green Economy would look like, consider that every

year national statisticians produce an account

of the transactions that have taken place during the

year—consumption, investment, sectorally broken

up perhaps in investment in manufacturing, mining,

agriculture, education and so forth. Currently,

one big item that’s almost always missing in those

accounts is the exploitation of Nature. Our dealings

with Nature are not recorded. Green accounts

would include those transactions. So, for example,

in estimating aggregate investment undertaken in

the economy, green accounts would include the

DISinvestment that occurs when forests are depleted,

when fisheries are damaged, when mangroves

are destroyed, carbon is emitted, and so forth. In

Professor Dasgupta is

the scientific chair of

the Inclusive Wealth

Report, a project by

UNU-IhdP with support

from UNEP, that

seeks to provide with

a more comprehensive

indicator to measure

the wealth of nations.

See pages 15–17.

other words, the value of the services we enjoy from

Nature and the goods that we extract from Nature

would be included in green accounts.

D: Who will be the key actors and drivers in

the transition towards such an economy?

PD: The key actors are us—we citizens. In the aggregate

we consume too much in the West, in

a very wasteful, quite transparent manner. Our

consumption patterns are also biased towards

goods and services that make heavy use of Nature’s

products. That’s because Nature is typically underpriced,

usually priced at zero. We don’t pay for our

use of Nature the way we pay for other goods and

services. The irony is that manufactured goods are

underpriced because Nature’s services that were

put to use in their manufacture aren’t typically

paid for. Those services should be taxed if there is

no other means of ensuring payment for them. In

10 Human Dimensions

Photo Partha Dasgupta

a Green Economy, governments would include the

value of natural capital in arriving at public policies.

For those forms of natural capital that make for the

global commons—for example, the atmosphere

and the open oceans—the drivers of a global Green

Economy would be national governments themselves,

spurred on by citizens to take action. For the

management of global commons, there is really no

other option but international cooperation. The

transition to a green global economy has to involve

the engagement of all levels of society, from households,

right up to international organizations.

D: Are there implementation barriers standing

in the way of a transition? Do you think

it is a question of technologies or rather of

institutions, governments or nations?

PD: Well, it has to be the latter. The reason is that

technology doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Tech-

Human Dimensions

nologies are discovered, invented and introduced

into the market. The drivers of innovations are institutions,

and that means the true drivers are the

prevailing structure of incentives that people face.

It’s sad that for hundreds of years the technologies

that have been developed have been rapacious in

their use of Nature’s services. And there is a very

good reason for that: If you don’t pay for the use of

natural capital, or at best pay very little, innovators

are not going to economize on them, they will try

and economize on the use of the expensive inputs.

For example, if wages rise relative to the price of

manufactured goods, new technologies can be relied

upon to be more capital intensive. The flipside

of the coin is that if Nature is very cheap, the technologies

that entrepreneurs and inventors introduce

can be predicted to be exploitative of Nature.

We have driven ourselves into a corner by working

with technologies that are extremely intensive


“I am not at all comfortable with the

expression “Green Economy”. It suggests

special pleading on behalf of

the environment, in a world where

there should be no reason for special


in the use of the natural capital. Looking into the

future, societies need to steer their technologies

towards those that are more economical in their

reliance on natural capital. That can only happen

if we pay for Nature’s services, but will require a

big shift. Small changes won’t do because we are

locked into a whole pattern of production and

investment in knowledge which is exploitative

of Nature. A few of us economists have been collaborating

with ecologists in trying to understand

the character of the “regime shifts” that will be required

if societies are to become “green”. In 2003

my friend Karl-Goran Maler and I edited an entire

symposium in the journal Environmental and Resource

Economics on the subject of regime shifts.

It contained contributions by ecologists and economists.

I edited a second such symposium in the

same journal in 2008. But progress in this is slow

because the body of economic thinking is engaged

in other issues.

D: Is (per capita) GDP an adequate measurement

for economic growth or will new matrices

be needed?

PD: GdP is inadequate and misleading. Most

people who have warned us about the limitations

of GdP as an index of economic well-being have

pointed to its insensitivity to such ethical concerns

as inequality. Quite obviously, GdP doesn’t

reflect the extent to which a society is unequal.

But as an inter-temporal index of societal well-being,

GdP suffers from a different, deeper weakness.

It doesn’t account for the depreciation of capital

assets. GdP stands for Gross Domestic Product, so

the rogue word is “gross”. GdP doesn’t include the

depreciation of capital assets that accompanies

production and the passage of time. An economy

could experience high growth rates in GdP even

while the forests are being razed. Several countries

that should know better are doing just that. Brazil

is a good example of a country that’s destroying

the Amazon at a rate that should be unbelievable,

but isn’t. And Brazil is applauded regularly in such

influential magazines as the Economist for its high

GdP growth rate! The situation isn’t just ironic, it’s

tragic. It is also very bad economics.

There is a great deal of schizophrenia in

economic writings. The Economist, for example,

periodically publishes columns on this environmental

tragedy or that, when they occur. In those

same issues, though, the magazine can be relied

upon to spend pages extolling the virtues of those

economic policies that raise growth rates of GdP.

Taken together, their analysis never adds up. Unfortunately,

readers don’t seem to notice that. In

any case, social tragedies are the wrong place to

look for systemic societal errors. It’s like looking

only for famines when studying the nutritional

status of a population. If you do that, you miss out

on persistent and possibly widespread malnutrition

in the population.

So, yes, we do need new measures to assess

economic progress, but in fact we already have

them. A number of us in the social sciences (Kenneth

Arrow, Karl-Goran Maler, Kirk Hamilton at

the World Bank, and I) have developed the required

index. It’s an inclusive measure of wealth.

We should be estimating the wealth of nations,

not the GdP of nations. We have shown that societal

well-being increases if and only if, relative to

its population, an inclusive measure of that society’s

wealth increases. By inclusive wealth I mean

the sum total of the social worth of an economy’s

entire stock of capital assets: manufactured capital,

health and education, the science and technology

base, and natural capital. But because the

social worth of an economy’s capital assets depends

not only on the prevailing and anticipated

technologies and the capital base itself, but also on

the economy’s social character, estimating wealth

comprehensively would require the combined

effort of experts in many disciplines: ecologists,

demographers, economists, social statisticians,

anthropologists and political scientists, among

12 Human Dimensions

others. Recently, a number of us have tried to estimate

movements in the (inclusive) wealth of nations

in a number of countries. Understandably,

perhaps, the estimates are woefully crude. But we

should be patient. Even the GdP industry took decades

to grow into the influential giant it is today.

D: How do you see a Green Economy fit into

the existing global trade system?

PD: That’s a terrific question. I wouldn’t be able

to give you a good answer if only because I’m not

an expert on global trade; but let me try. Yes, it

would have an impact on trade; more strongly,

it should have an impact on trade, because we

would want it to. If there are underpriced goods

that have a large content of green stuff (natural

capital) in them, a country that exports those

goods in effect exports a certain amount of its

wealth to the importing countries without being

paid for it. It’s as though the exporting country

cuts down its forests and gives them for free

to the importing countries. From an exporting

country’s point of view, that can’t be right. Of

course, it is nice for the importers because they

are getting goods on the cheap. Trade restriction

is therefore desirable; for example, the imposition

of green taxes in the exporting country. Yet,

the moment you say “trade restriction”, experts

on international trade start getting agitated.

However, green taxes don’t amount to disowning

free-trade, they amount to pricing goods and

services in a desirable way.

D: Can aspects such as new regulatory structures

or government subsidies, cause countries

to fall afoul of WTO obligations? Can a

Green Economy lead to protectionism?

PD: The problem with the wto is that it doesn’t really

want to understand green issues. The organization

isn’t willing to be engaged in environmental

issues except in the context of eco-labeling, perhaps.

I can’t imagine that the wto would disavow

the arguments I am putting forward here. It’s just

that they only pay lip service to green concerns,

they don’t make it central to their engagement. We

really need an overhaul of the international trading

system, taking cognizance of the fact that there

are huge chunks of every economy that are missing

from national accounts; more broadly, missing

from our economic calculations. But that’s just another

way of saying we are not really paying for our

use of natural capital. The world economy is subsidizing

the use of natural capital on a massive scale,

perhaps to the tune of 10–20 per cent of the market

value of world output.

Human Dimensions

partha Dasgupta

Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta is the Frank Ramsey

Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University

of Cambridge. He was formerly chairman

of the scientific board of the Beijer International

Institute of Ecological Economics of the Royal

Swedish Academy of Sciences, as well as professor

of economics and philosophy, and director of the

Program in Ethics in Society at Stanford University.

Since 2008 he has been Professorial Research

Fellow at the University of Manchester. He is

also the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large at

Cornell University and is currently President of

the European Association of Environmental and

Resource Economists. In addition to a number

of honourary fellowships, Professor Dasgupta is

a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy

of Sciences, and also a Fellow of the Royal Society

and the British Academy.

Professor Dasgupta has spent nearly most of

his professional life working on poverty and inequality

issues. His cutting-edge research covers

welfare and development economics, the economics

of technological change, population, environmental,

and resource economics, game theory, and

the economics of malnutrition. Much of his work

has involved investigating the areas of sustainable

development in which the interests of economics

collide with ecological and social issues. An important

area of his research has been the study of

social capital—for instance, the degree of mutual

trust and social networks that form a community.

Having grown up in India, he brings a unique perspective

to his field. Professor Dasgupta has also

been invaluable to the cause of capacity-building

among young scientists, especially in developing


In 2002, Professor Dasgupta was named

Knight Bachelor by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth

II for services to economics. He has won numerous

awards and prizes, including the 2002 Volvo

Environment, the 2007 John Kenneth Galbraith

Award of the American Agricultural Economics

Association, and the 2011 Zayed International Environment


Professor Dasgupta holds a B.Sc. (Hons.) in

Physics from the University of Delhi, a B.A. (Hons.)

in Mathematics and a Ph.D. in Economics, both

from the University of Cambridge. He was born in

Dhaka, Bangladesh (then in India).


D: Could you tell us about the most encouraging

and most disappointing development

of the Green Economy for you?

PD: Well, you are asking questions that come

pretty close to personal matters, because I take my

work very personally. It’s hard to be detached from

one’s work. I’ve been working on poverty, the environment

and population for over 30 years, but

haven’t had much impact on economic policy, nor

on academic economics. The widespread depletion

of natural capital, high population growth

in poor countries, wasteful consumption in rich

countries and the persistence of deep poverty in

the world are tightly interconnected, or so I have

concluded from my findings. But that work, much

of it theoretical and so should be uncontroversial,

has had very little effect on my fellow economists.

They still work with GdP and believe that technological

progress can be relied upon to make up for

ecological damage.

My work has had some impact on ecologists,

though; they seem to take my work seriously; and

I theirs. But that’s about it. Mainstream economics

has been going in a different direction. That

said, the shift to ecological concerns among economists

shouldn’t be expected to take place within

one generation; it can only happen gradually.

There is far too much intellectual capital in eco-

The shift to ecological concerns

among economists shouldn’t be expected

to take place within one generation;

it can only happen gradually.

There is far too much intellectual

capital in economic models that

ignore natural capital, so the incentives

are not right.”

nomic models that ignore natural capital, so the

incentives are not right.

One positive thing, although I don’t know if

it is too early to say how productive it is going to

be, is that some nations are beginning to taking

green matters seriously. The Indian government

is intending to create a system of green accounts

later this decade, and a commission has been constituted

by the Indian government. Its task is to

suggest the method that should be deployed to reformulate,

recreate national accounts. I was honoured

to be asked to be chair of the committee.

It’s an exciting venture for me, and very different

from anything I have done so far.

Another positive thing is that the young are

pretty conscious of Human-Nature interactions—

at least the young people I meet in England, in the

United States, the Continent and in India. But I’m

an academic economist, so I don’t have a feel for

the way political movements evolve. I don’t have

much understanding of it. But I do know that the

fact that young people are concerned about Human-Nature

interactions doesn’t mean it’s going

to make governments take Nature seriously.

There are also a number of very progressive

NGos focusing on green matters. However, there are

problems even there. Enthusiasm for green matters

can lead people to make statements that are overloaded,

exaggerated or emotionally laden. There

is nothing wrong with the latter—people are emotional

about many other things; but when it comes

to our dealings with Nature, emotionally-charged

statements can misfire. You must have heard all

those accusations leveled at “tree huggers”, “ecofreaks”,

and “anti-progressives”. There is a cultural

problem here, arising from an intellectual disconnection

in the body populous. We all care about

Nature but don’t want to hear uncomfortable facts

about contemporary Human-Nature interactions.

Because of the latter, we have lost decades. We

should have learnt a good deal more about the character

of Human-Nature interactions. For example,

development activists, such as Oxfam and UNdP,

have made population growth a taboo excepting in

the context of “reproductive rights”. The organizations

bang on about poverty, but are loath to study

the phenomenon in ways they haven’t themselves

been trained. As they are a powerful lobby, they are

able to block progress. As a result, the populationpoverty-consumption-environment

nexus remains

a near-empty slot—in academia, politics, and the

public. The socio-ecological pathways that make

for human regress and progress are studied with

biased lenses. That’s a great disappointment for me

and should be for us all. — [D]

14 Human Dimensions

FeATure: inCLusiVe WeALTH

The Inclusive

Wealth Report

The IWR is an initiative of UNU-

IHDP with support from the United

Nations Environment Programme

(UNEP) and contributions from the

UN-Water Decade Programme on

Capacity Development (UNW-DPC)

and the Natural Capital Project,

Stanford University. The project

aims at developing a comprehensive

report on the wealth and changes in

the wealth of nations, with a particular

focus on natural capital.

For decades, economists and

governments have used conventional

production indicators such as percapita

Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

or the Human Development Index

(HDI) to measure societies’ overall

“well-being”. Over the years, however,

such indicators have proven to

be insufficient: For instance, neither

GDP/capita nor HDI reflect the state

of the natural environment and both

FIGURE 1: Percentage change in per capita wealth








Brazil Base year 1990




















Human Dimensions

focus on the short term, with no

indication of whether current wellbeing

can be sustained.

The report features Inclusive

Wealth as a comprehensive measure

to track societal well-being. It offers

a capital approach to sustainability

by measuring the changes in the

capital assets worth of a nation, including

natural, manufactured and

human capital.

The main objectives of the IWR are:

• To carry out a comprehensive

analysis of the different components

of wealth by country and

their link to economic development,

particularly highlighting

the importance of natural capital.

• To provide with a measure to assess

transitions towards a Green

Economy. Changes in wealth

should be the relevant criterion

for assessing socio-economic







planning in the context of the

Green Economy.

• To become an indicator of progress

towards sustainable development

with the production of

bi-annual reports monitoring

the well-being of countries. In

the long-term, we expect Inclusive

Wealth to become an important

criterion in assessments

of societal progress.

• To formulate policies based

on the notion of asset portfolio

management. The ways in

which nations manage their

diverse assets and create productive

economic bases for the

future have critical implications

for long-term sustainable development.

The first Inclusive Wealth Report

will be officially launched at a

joint UNU-IHDP and UNEP side event

at Rio+20 in June 2012.

Preliminary findings will be presented

at the Planet Under Pressure

Conference in London, March 26-29,

2012. — [D]

India Base year 1995


























Figure 1 presents an overview of the changes in per capita wealth, including its three main components: human, manufactured and natural

capital. GDP is additionally displayed as conventional measure of progress. Changes are presented having a fixed base year, in this case 1990.

Results show that while the change in GDP per capita between 1990-2008 was 34% and 120% in Brazil and India respectively, Inclusive

Wealth Index (IWI) had only an increase of 3% for Brazil and 9% for India. Even more, natural capital had a decline of 46% and 31% for Brazil

and India accordingly. These negative trends were however offset by the building of produced and human capital in both countries.




FeATure: inCLusiVe WeALTH


in our



The Inclusive Wealth Index goes

beyond the conventional captial

measures to provide a comprehensive

picture of the wealth of


To truly measure wealth we need to incorporate

more than just produced capital into the equation.

The Inclusive Wealth Index adds the value of

human capital, natural capital, and ideally, social

capital into the calculation. Presenting a comprehensive

insight into the wealth of nations the index

considers the various capital assets that create

and sustain the needs of present and future generations

over time.

Human Capital


Natural Capital


Pasture Land



Fossil Fuels

Produced Capital


Buildings and Structures

16 Human Dimensions

IllUstratIoN/Photo Louise Smith

Human Dimensions


FeATure ArTiCLe

Green Growth

& innovation

Home-grown technology and innovation

in the developing world are key to

achieving sustainable growth.

Frans Berkhout

Two key themes at this year’s Rio+20 United Nations

Conference on Sustainable Development in

Brazil are the Green Economy and green growth.

Several weighty reports have been published in

recent months in the run-up to the conference.

One observation is that these reports actually say

very little about green economic growth, in the

sense of changes in the structure and quality of

economic activity through time. It seems clear that

greener growth will be based on new technologies,

industries and behaviours, and that an analysis of

green economies therefore needs to be concerned

with how a radical reshaping of current “brown”

economies might take place. Research about such

sustainability transitions was at the heart of IhdP’s

Industrial Transformation (It) project (1999–2010).

In its final phase, the It project was especially concerned

with the question of sustainability transitions

in rapidly-growing economies in Asia, with

lessons for Latin America and Africa.

Growth and development

Urbanization and growth in emerging economies

in Asia, Latin America and Africa have major

implications for global sustainability. These rapidly-growing

economies generate large new demands

for natural resources and are making major

contributions to global environmental problems,

including climate change. Conventional models

of development suggest that demand for resources

and the pressure of pollution will continue to grow

for the foreseeable future. These models hold that

growth occurs through a series of stages, eventually

leading to long-run convergence with developed

economies in their economic structure, rates

of growth and productivity—the process of catch-

up. 1 2 3 4 Such economic convergence

is assumed to be mirrored in environmental

convergence, measured by the

resource- and pollution-intensity of

national economies. This is captured

in the Environmental Kuznets Curve

hypothesis 5 6 which argues that there

is a relationship between income per

capita and environmental quality at

the national level. The end result for

latecomer countries that succeed in

catching-up would be patterns of

resource- and pollution-intensity

equivalent to high-income countries.

Such models of economic and social

change, and the predictions that

flow from them, have led to growing

academic and policy interest in alternative growth

models that could lead to a faster transition to

more resource-efficient and low-pollution development

pathways in latecomer countries (so tunnelling

through the Kuznets Curve). This would

generate social benefits, for instance by reducing

health costs associated with environmental pollution,

economic benefits by lowering the resource

intensity and costs of development, while also

forming the basis for modernisation and growth

through the creation of new industries and leading

sectors. It is clear that technological innovation

and capability-building will play a key part in

generating and anchoring new, more sustainable

production and consumption in latecomer countries.

the theoretical challenGe

But the analytical task is complex, and it turns

around three rather different questions. First, is

what we have termed environmental convergence

inevitable? Second, what economic or other factors

could explain such non-convergence? And third,

are these factors a feature of economic, social and

institutional development of latecomer countries?

In essence, the question of environmental convergence

is related to the question of whether economic

growth is coupled (or not) to resource consumption

and environmental pollution. If growth

can be decoupled from resource-use and pollution,

then there need be no environmental convergence

across countries. Latecomer countries would then

achieve economic convergence in terms of their

productivity, structure and income per capita, but

having followed a very different resource- and pollution-pathway.

Typically, technological capabili-

18 Human Dimensions

ties and innovation are viewed as key intervening

factors in enabling such decoupling and so avoiding

environmental convergence.

But if innovation plays this role in avoiding

environmental convergence, conventional

growth models would predict that it would originate

in developed, high-income countries and be

transferred to latecomer countries through trade

and investment. In other words, the source of

technology—the key factor which might enable

decoupling—is exogenous to developing countries.

The main reason is that firms in latecomer

countries are not viewed as having the capacity

to generate, innovate and diffuse new technologies.

What Abramovitz called “social capabilities”

to absorb technology, attract capital and participate

in global markets need to be built up

in these countries before firms can be in

a position to move from imitation to innovation.

Theoretically, this holds for environmental

technologies, as for all other technologies.

But this line of argument generates another bind.

If countries are dependent on external sources

of technology and primarily concerned with absorption

and imitation, then the opportunities

for decoupling may be limited, at least until later

in the process of development, once innovative

capabilities, regulations and markets have been

built-up. The preliminary investments made by

firms in capability-building and imitation, and of

governments in the necessary institutional settings

for innovation, appear to tie latecomers into

economic, as well as environmental convergence

with more advanced countries. Theoretically

therefore, latecomer countries appear destined to

follow the same paths as countries that have gone

before them, with economic and environmental

convergence locked together.

escapinG the bind of “environmental


In the It project we explored whether

innovation and learning occurring in lateindustrializing

countries could contribute

to environmental decoupling and therefore

to more sustainable development

pathways, starting early in the development

process. The project was interested in alternative,

endogenous sources of innovation

that, set in the context of transnational flows

of knowledge and technology, could act to drive

environmental decoupling early in development.

The It project has shown that there is widespread

evidence of innovative activities in latecomer

Human Dimensions


Frans Berkhout

Frans Berkhout is Professor of Innovation

and Sustainability, and Director

of the Institute for Environmental

Studies (IvM) and the Amsterdam

Global Change Institute, both at the

vU University in Amsterdam, The

Netherlands. Until 2004 he was with

sPrU (Science and Technology Policy

Research), University of Sussex (Uk).

He holds a Geography BSc (University

of Leeds, 1983) and a PhD in Science

and Technology Policy Studies

(University of Sussex, 1989). He did

post-doctoral research at Princeton

University (Us). Among other advisory

roles, Professor Berkhout will

be a lead author in the IPCC’s Fifth

Assessment Report (2013/14). Professor

Berkhout has extensive research,

management and research training

experience across a number of fields.

His early research was concerned

with the economic, political and

security aspects of the nuclear fuel

cycle and radioactive waste management.

His more recent work has

been concerned with technology,

policy and sustainability, with a specific

focus on climate policy.

countries that have the potential for generating

radically new ways of providing for energy, mobility,

nutrition and shelter. 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 Unexplained

by conventional theory, these innovative activities

present a source of innovation that is endogenous

to latecomer countries at early stages of catchingup.

If these innovations lead to the creation of

novel, more sustainable technologies that diffuse

widely, an alternative source of innovation will

have been unearthed, calling into question the

dogma of environmental convergence.

The It work drew particular attention to the

role of “sustainability experiments” in developing

Asian contexts. We defined sustainability experiments

as planned initiatives that embody a highly

novel socio-technical configuration likely to lead to

substantial (environmental) sustainability gains.

Such experiments play a major role in “system

innovation” in socio-technical regimes in all social

and economic contexts. Regimes constitute

the social, institutional and technological fabric

within which economic activity takes place.

Change in socio-technical regimes is fundamental

to structural change in economies. Such regimes

are complex aggregations of technologies, rules,

practices and norms, generally exhibiting strong

inertia and path dependency. Change occurs over

the long-term, and includes interacting processes

of social, institutional and technological learning

and change; hence a discussion of socio-technical,

rather than just technical, change.

perspectives on Green Growth in

latecomer countries

By the completion of the It project in 2010,

its research had begun to demonstrate a number

of important features of radical, sustainable socio-

technical innovation in emerging

economies. First, actor networks

in sustainability experiments are

heterogeneous in composition,

including private, public and civil

society actors. This finding points

to a broader, more socially-embedded

model of innovation. Second,

regimes and landscapes are

relatively fluid in emerging economies

and societies, rather than

stable. This both creates space

for innovation, as well as generates

uncertainties. Third, learning

and technology diffusion between

experiments, niches and regimes

face multiple institutional barriers.

Such barriers are a general feature of system innovation

in which new rules of the game are often

necessary. The question is whether institutional

change is different in rapidly-developing contexts.

Fourth, we are only just beginning to understand

how global knowledge linkages influence the development

and growth of sustainability experiments

and niches. These linkages are crucial in freeing

growth theory from the nationally-based analysis

of innovation systems that appears so central

to the notion of environmental convergence. We

need to see experiments as located within transnational

flows of knowledge, technology and other resources.

And we assume that these flows influence

local capability development, stimulating the later

growth of firms and new industrial sectors.

policy implications

Much of the current debate about green

growth is still locked in a paradigm of catch-up,

north–south transfers of technology and the management

of intellectual property. This may have

reflected the state of the world in 1992, but twenty

years later and looking forward, the challenges are

different. The challenge in 2012 is to look for new

organizational contexts within which technological

and innovative capabilities are being generated

within and outside business firms, eventually to

become embodied in new markets and practices.

These may include networks of private and public

sector actors, such as those we now see cooperating

in sustainability experiments. Such

experiments, and the heterogeneity of the actor

networks which constitute them, are flourishing

across different sectors (including energy, food

and agriculture, and urban planning) in industrialized

as well as late-industrializing countries. Fa-

20 Human Dimensions

CartooN Louise Smith

cilitating and supporting the emergence of these

new socio-technical configurations and the hybrid

innovation systems they constitute should be a

key focus of green growth policies.

While many system innovation studies originate

from an analysis of the stickiness of incumbent

socio-technical regimes and the need to bring

fluidity into them to create space for innovation,

under conditions of rapid economic and social

change things may be less sticky. Under such conditions,

regimes and landscapes may be incomplete,

or in a state of rapid flux, offering multiple

spaces for novelty and innovation, while also contributing

to uncertainties that serve to limit learning,

investment and diffusion. Such uncertainties

may be compounded by failures in governance. For

instance, a critical uncertainty around many highly

novel innovations is barriers to market entry.

The capacity of regulators to generate new rules

Dimensions CArToon

Human Dimensions

is critical to the innovation and diffusion process.

Finding ways of dealing with institutional uncertainties

in emerging green innovation systems will

be a crucial task for policy.

Finally, local and global knowledge and technology

linkages are fundamental to the accumulation

of green technologies and capabilities, whether

in developing or developed country contexts. Such

links may exist through direct or indirect relationships

with foreign technical experts, overseas development

assistance and foreign suppliers of technology.

The relationships may be more reciprocal than

often assumed in the literature on catching-up,

with producers in industrializing countries becoming

producers as well as takers of knowledge and

technology. Biofuels in Brazil, and wind and solar

photovoltaics in China are good examples of worldleading

technological capabilities being established

in non-oECd countries. — [D]

On the day the Green Economy finally arrives.


pHoTo series

22 Human Dimensions

Human Dimensions



Walmart’s white roofs help reduce energy use

and have a lower heat island effect than a darker

roofing color. The skylights are part of the company’s

daylight harvesting system, which can save

an average of 800,000 kWh of energy annually.

24 Human Dimensions

Photo Walmart

Human Dimensions



Bjarnarflag Geothermal Power Plant in the North

of Iceland uses steam from the Námafjall geothermal

field to produce 3Mw of electrical energy from

one small steam turbine. Steam from this geothermal

field is also used for district heating in the area

and for the Kísiliðjan Diatomite Plant.

26 Human Dimensions

Photo (rEd) ThinkGeoEnergy Photo (PUrPlE) Pewari

Human Dimensions


Farmers in Tanzania dye chickens purple (safely)

to prevent them from being attacked and eaten by

hawks—a method which allows for sustainable,

free-range chicken farming through simple innovation.



The HarvestPlus* Maize Team uses biofortification

to improve the nutritional value of maize by adding

beta-carotene, which the human body converts

to Vitamin A. Millions of people lack Vitamin

A in their diets, leading to numerous disabilities,

including blindness.

*HarvestPlus is a programme of the Consultative Group

on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a World

Bank-based consortium of 15 research centres worldwide

devoted to enhancing agricultural productivity, particularly

in developing countries.

28 Human Dimensions

Photo HarvestPlus

Human Dimensions


30 Human Dimensions

Photo World Bank

Human Dimensions


Children assemble in their school courtyard in

Gansu Province, China, where a solar panel disc

heats a kettle. Solar power is a versatile, renewable

way of powering everything from cars to water

heaters, fountains, buildings and satellites.



Dutch artist Daan Roosegaarde’s Dune, now permanently

installed in Rotterdam, is an astonishing

hybrid of nature and technology: a sustainable

artwork using no more power than a single

60watt lightbulb. The visitor passes along a densely-planted

row of illuminated “flowers”, triggering

light and sound by his or her movement.

32 Human Dimensions

Photo (blUE) Craig A. Rodway Photo (yEllow) BASF

Human Dimensions


To help farmers keep fast-growing wild plants

away from crops in an environmentally compatible

way, BASF experts have developed a herbicide

which contains the active ingredient pendimethalin

enclosed in a microcapsule. The capsules only

settle where they are needed: on the leaves of the

weed or on the earth. Another advantage of the

polymer capsules: the bright yellow active ingredient

doesn’t dye the field anymore.



Coffee is the second largest commodity trade after

oil, with 2.25 billion cups consumed around

the world everyday, and its production involving

some 25 million farmers. A number of initiatives

seek sustainability along the entire coffee supply

chain “from farm to cup,” helping to bridge the

gap between certified sustainable coffee farms and

consumers across the globe.

34 Human Dimensions

Photo Sarah Maccans

Human Dimensions



Green economy

Writing Contest

We invited young scholars to take part

in a scientific writing contest and have

their work published in this first issue of


With the focus on the human dimensions of the

Green Economy and societal transformations in

mind, participants were asked to consider political,

technological, economic or social components,

e.g. equity, inclusiveness, and the compatibility of

these transformations with social, cultural and

political values. The submitted articles could focus

on, but were not limited to, new technologies,

changes to the design of markets, social changes,

including the adoption of different lifestyles, potential

implementation barriers, the long-run feasibility

of present high economic growth rates, or

alternative development pathways for a transition

towards a Green Economy. They were also asked

for their writing to be directed towards a wider

audience, including non-scientists interested in

the topic.

The contest was open to young scholars from

all over the world, while those from developing

countries were particularly encouraged to take

part. Judges were able to select three winners to be

awarded a cash prize. Information on the winners

and their submitted work are featured on the following

pages. — [D]

36 Human Dimensions

Photo (rIGht) Louise Smith Photo (lEft) provided by the Authors

About the


FirsT pLACe

joy merwin monteiro

joy merwin monteiro has an under-

graduate degree in electronics and

Communication engineering, follow-

ing which he completed two master’s

degrees, one in iCT for development

and another in Climate science. He is

currently a phD student at the Centre

for Atmospheric and oceanic sciences

at the indian institute of science,

Bangalore, india. He sincerely hopes

this will be his final academic degree.

Having the privilege to live in a society

where two civilizations, one modern

and another ancient, exist side

by side, joy is fascinated by the way

they interact with each other, thereby

showing each other’s strengths and

weaknesses. He hopes there are lessons

to be learnt from both, which will

contribute to the building of a more

sensitive people. To this end, one of

his pastimes is to try and understand

the implications of this interaction

of civilizations on material, social,

economic and philosophical planes.

His other pastimes tend to revolve

around music, sport and sleeping.

Human Dimensions


2 3

seConD pLACe

Andrew Fanning

Born in 1984, Andrew Fanning holds

dual citizenship in Canada and Guyana.

He is a masters in Development

economics candidate at Dalhousie

university, Halifax, and is currently

conducting his thesis research in

uruguay focused on the challenges

and limitations of estimating the local

monetary costs (and benefits) of

climate change in coastal ecosystems,

with support from the international

Development research Centre

(iDrC). Andrew’s research interests

fall broadly within the interdisciplinary

concept of “ecologically sustainable

economic development”, particularly

as related to climate change

adaptation in coastal zones. He is

also interested in rebound/backfire

effects from energy efficiency improvements

and their implications

for climate policy.


Amandeep Kaur

Amandeep Kaur was born in new Del-

hi, india in 1987. she holds a Bachelors

of Arts in mathematics with Honours

from Lady shri ram College for Wom-

en, university of Delhi and has gained

experience working for a consultancy

firm. Herein, she worked in a variety

of industries across different verticals

doing consulting assignments in

different fields. Amandeep interned

with ernst and young, Business Advisory

Team, Human Capital during the

spring and summer of 2011. she also

completed a master of Business Laws

from the national Law school of india

university, Bangalore and is currently

pursuing her mBA in Human resource

management from mDi, Gurgaon,

where she is among the top 5 per cent

students. in her free time, Amandeep

likes to read, write poems and stories

and volunteer in community outreach.


WriTinG ConTesT • FirsT pLACe Winner

The moral


Joy Merwin Monteiro

38 Human Dimensions

IllUstratIoN Louise Smith

Human Dimensions

e nergy

is a fundamental necessity for life, let alone a vigorous

society or civilization. This fact has been recognized

by humans for a very long time—Sun, Wind, Fire and Water (in

the form of rivers and waterfalls and rain), worshipped by most

cultures, are manifestations of energy in one form or the other.

The main difference between pre-industrial times and the present

day is that we have restricted our worship only to Fire, neglecting

the others almost entirely. Why this became the case,

and as humanity again pays due attention to the other Gods

again, what entities must again return into our moral equations,

is what this essay tries to describe.

Sun, Wind and Water are by nature non-constant but rhythmic

entities. The sun is up every day, but disappears during the

night, winds change according to seasons, some rivers dry up in

the summer and others flood during the rains and nobody still

understands perfectly how the rains come and go. Other important

aspects of these sources of energy are that they are diffuse

and not easy to store. Sunlight, wind and flowing water cannot

be stored by themselves, but must be converted to some other

form which can be stored. Such entities are normally called

“fluxes”, and they are the most natural form in which energy

is present around us. Even the purest form of energy that we

know, electricity, is a flux and has to be converted to chemical

energy in batteries before it can be stored.

The fact that these sources were hard to handle and diffuse

(or not concentrated) was counterbalanced by the fact that they

are for all practical purposes eternal. A European sailor planning

to come to India to trade had to plan his visit to catch the

monsoon winds, but he did not need to fear that these winds

would stop some day. If today is cloudy, you can sun-dry your

vegetables tomorrow. Pre-industrial society’s entire existence

revolved around recognizing this variability and developing

means to “harvest” this energy. Economic, social and cultural

activity revolved around this ebb and flow of energy. Agriculture,

wind/water mills were among the primary methods of

harvesting this flux of energy, converting it into stocks of energy

(in food grains) or using it immediately. The main issue with

these Gods, as mentioned above, is that they are quite moody.

Thus, those human activities that had to happen without break,

everyday, like cooking for example, could not depend on them.

It was Fire that came to our rescue.

Before moving onto the miracle of fire, it is necessary to

analyse the moral universe of a person in a pre-industrial society.

By necessity, a lot of objects in the world needed to be


The rhythms of nature which manifest

themselves in the movement

of the sun, the seasons, flowering of

plants, migration of animals, fruiting

of trees were very important. Any activity

that did not fit into this rhythm

was not desirable.”

incorporated into her moral decision-making, the way she

would decide something was “good” or “bad”. The rhythms of

nature which manifest themselves in the movement of the sun,

the seasons, flowering of plants, migration of animals, fruiting

of trees were very important. Any activity that did not fit into

this rhythm was not desirable. Restrictions on grazing, fishing,

hunting, leaving land fallow, plucking flowers and fruits at certain

times in the year are all indicators of the consciousness

that humans depend to a very large extent on natural cycles

over which they have no control. Therefore, any decision on the

goodness or badness of any activity depended on the season, the

time and the natural environment we found ourselves in. This

was not due to altruism or an abstract love for nature, but due

to sheer necessity.

Fire is unlike others in this pantheon. Rather than being

energy in itself, it is a signature of a source of energy. Not only

that, it indicates the presence of a highly concentrated source of

energy. Sunlight in itself cannot become fire, but when concentrated

through a lens or a mirror, it can become a very destructive

fire as Archimedes discovered. Fire also yields easily to his

worshippers, you can switch him on and off at will, once you

have mastered the art. Therefore, it was but natural that those

human activities that required constancy were built upon the

foundation of fire. As long as there was fuel available, fire was

there, regardless of time, region or season. It is therefore not

surprising that Prometheus, the one who gave fire to mankind

in Greek mythology, is treated as a great champion of mankind.

If Gods are defined to be the masters of humanity, then fire, in

giving us greater control over our own destiny, made us Gods.

The fundamental reason for this capacity of fire is that it depends

on stocks of energy already stored and not the eternal

fluxes that surround us at all times.

As humanity grew from being primarily agricultural to also

indulging in trade and commerce, the prominence of fire grew

very rapidly. The reason for this lies in the very nature of trade

and commerce—it is the movement of things, people, ideas

and cultures and all movement requires energy in one form or

the other. Controlling trade to some extent means controlling

the energy that drives it. For this reason, initial trade (and, by

implication, industry) was driven by animal and human (slave)

40 Human Dimensions

IllUstratIoN Louise Smith

Human Dimensions

power, firewood and sail boats. Mankind was making the move

from harvesting energy to “mining” it from forests, animals and

other, more unfortunate humans.

From the point of view of the enterprising businessman

or trader, constant movement (of something or other) was

required—movement implied trade and trade implied profit.

Not only was constancy attractive to the trader, but also to every

section of humanity: constancy implied security and it increased

the natural capacity of humans to build upon their ancestor’s

work. In this sense, it is a hallmark of civilization itself.

This demand for constancy was at odds with what we had to

work with—seasonal winds, disobedient labourers, lazy slaves

and rapidly depleting forests which simply did not grow back as

fast as we wanted.

It is from this point of view that the shift to coal (and later

to oil) must be seen. It reduced the necessity to include the multitude

of objects that previously entered our moral equations.

Mankind could finally look inward and achieve magnificent

progress without too many worries about what was happening

in the non-human world. This was the era in which both the

pessimists and the optimists, when discussing the future of the

world, were simply discussing the future of the human species.

Nature did not matter, for sooner or later we would completely

conquer it anyway.

Fossil fuel-based transport, electricity to drive industries

and homes, pesticides and fertilizers, which made agriculture

less of a gamble, all combined together to provide the constancy

we wanted and ensured a period of unparalleled prosperity and

population growth. A mining civilization had more or less replaced

the harvesting one. Fire was now our one and true God.

With fire came a profound shift in the way we worked and

viewed the world. Farmers who could previously grow certain

crops only at certain times of the year, could now grow them

all around the year. People who previously aligned work and

leisure with the sun and seasons now relied on casual leave,

medical leave and government holidays. We began to work all

year round, eat strawberries all year round and live in houses

that were maintained at 27C all year round. Corporations set

up branches all over the world, so that the sun never set on their

empires, forcing people to stay awake when they are supposed

to sleep and vice-versa. Like the Red Queen in Alice in Wonderland,

we had to keep running to stay in the same place. Constancy

was showing us that it was not all great, after all.

It is therefore not surprising that, gradually, what was

“good” and “bad” was decided by taking ever fewer objects into

consideration, the logical conclusion of which came to be enshrined

in the Homo economicus. To be fair, a life driven by coal

and oil does not provide one with the time to do otherwise.

Nothing but a severe jolt to the sensibility of humans could

shake them out of their breathless but optimistic race towards

an ever-receding perfection.

One by one, every resource that humanity has mined over

the past few hundred years has either withered away or stood

up in revolt. The first signs came when the humans being mined

for their energy and skill revolted under the banners of com-


“With fire came a profound shift in

the way we worked and viewed the


munism and socialism. The frenetic

movement that characterises our

era moved diseases, plants and animals

to places where they were not

known, not always with good results.

Agriculture is currently under

siege by stubborn insects that simply

refuse to be eradicated, no matter what is thrown at them. The

oceans are nearly empty of fish, and the sky full of gases which

threaten to heat our planet beyond the capacities of our best

air-conditioners. When you play with fire, it is unlikely you

won’t get burnt.

Slowly but surely, and somewhat reluctantly, humanity is beginning

to realize that an inward looking civilization simply cannot

survive forever. Those unsightly trees and insects will always

have to be part of our culture, no matter what we do. The first

few steps towards this consciousness have been taken (somewhat

ironically) by identifying the rhythms of the Sun, Wind, Water

and Life itself. Scientists are mapping out what are the best places

to harvest solar energy, what areas of the world have high wind

energy potential, hydroelectric potential and what places have

large biodiversity. Modifying crops to suit local circumstances,

using biological control for pests, understanding the response of

ecosystems to our activities are under way. In essence, what was

known before and conveniently forgotten, is being painfully relearnt

in a more “scientific” manner. Our moral universe is slowly

but surely being reclaimed from the wasteland to which it was

condemned for the past few hundred years.

However, as we are making this shift, a very fundamental

contradiction arises—our civilization, still predominantly

a mining one, wants to be driven by technologies that belong

to a harvesting civilization. We demand the constancy that we

have been used to for many generations, and which we idolize

as the epitome of civilization, but we hope this constancy will

be driven by technologies that are moody, uncontrollable and

unanswerable to anyone. This contradiction is manifesting itself

in many contemporary debates and concerns: Can organic

farming feed the world as it is designed today? How can solar

thermal plants run round the clock? How can we design an electricity

grid that is smart enough to provide constant power supply

when connected to solar and wind installations? How can

we design newer batteries and fuel cells to shelter us against the

vagaries of the Sun, Wind and Water? What are the “sustainable”

pollution levels that our skies and oceans can tolerate?

That we can go back to a completely harvesting society is a

pipe dream, similar to the nineteenth century dreams of infinite

progress and complete social equality. But it is equally apparent

that unless our moral decision-making does not encompass at

least a larger part of our natural and social environments, we

cannot achieve what we cherish and aspire toward. The energy

industry has always sought to modify consumer behaviour

through prices. However, given that the largest consumers are

those that are also the most affluent, it is questionable how

effective this strategy will be in the future. It is unlikely that a

person living in a house with an a/C, goes to work in an office

42 Human Dimensions

IllUstratIoN Louise Smith

Human Dimensions

with an a/C and travels in a car with an a/C will even relate to

the symptoms of global warming.

Moral decision-making must include a notion of duties towards

other beings, human, non-human and even non-living.

Some actions must be performed simply because we consider

them to be our duty towards others. Our moral universe must

not be one forged in Fire, but also kissed by the Sun and caressed

by the Winds and Water. Most importantly, as these elements

come together in the glorious phenomenon called Life,

the survival and prosperity of all life must be embodied within

our notions of justice. Our happiness and survival depend on

an intricate web of causality that encompasses everything from

simple molecules to the well-being of the vast oceans. May it

never be thought of otherwise. — [D]

“Our moral universe must not be one

forged in Fire, but also kissed by the

Sun and caressed by the Winds and



44 Human Dimensions

IllUstratIoN aNd Photo Louise Smith

WriTinG ConTesT • seConD pLACe Winner

economics, growth

and energy in the Green


Neoclassical theory can no longer frame our

perspectives for a sustainable economic future.

Andrew Fanning

T he

term “Green Economy” has gained remarkable

resonance over the past few years,

including recent mention in the UN General Assembly

as “a means to achieving the end of sustainable

development”. 1 There are high hopes that

a transition to a Green Economy will put human

beings on track to avoid the worst of anthropogenic

climate change, and reverse accelerating

rates of global biodiversity loss, to name just a few

examples—the tip of the (melting) iceberg—of our

present ecological woes.

Much of the debate on the Green Economy

is focused on the human dimensions of transition

and especially on attempts to estimate the

costs and benefits (in monetary terms) of a “low

carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive” 2

Human Dimensions

economy. Numerous authors have pointed out

the deficiencies of neoclassical economic models

in accounting for the parts of life that lie beyond

the market in both the social and environmental

arenas. Some fundamental structural reforms far

beyond any public policy/discourse to date are

outlined if current and future generations are to

enjoy a similar or improved quality of life to the

levels enjoyed today.

environmental quality: a “normal”

Good or just plain Good?

Neoclassical economic theory determines

the optimal allocation of a given good in a market

through the equilibrium quantity of demand and


Linear throughput of energy driving the conventional circular flow of exchange

Available energy

LoW enTropy

The Ecosphere

Goods & services

spending on

Goods & services

Degraded and

Dissipated energy/matter


HiGH enTropy

Businesses The Economy HouseHoLDs

Wages, salaries,


Labour & investment

supply governed by the circular flow of exchange

between households and firms. It is the dominant

economic model used to shape the laws governing

current economic activities and is based upon

three central assumptions: I) people have rational

preferences among outcomes; II) individuals

maximize utility and firms maximize profits;

and III) people act in their own self-interest on

the basis of complete information. 3 Contemporary

branches of economic thought concerning

consumers, producers, welfare, labour, the environment,

etc. are built upon these assumptions

which have also led to many critiques of conclusions

based upon the simplistic behaviour of

Homo economicus.

In cases of market failure, mainstream economists

often see a role for government intervention

as a means to correct the inefficient market

allocation of the good in question. For environmental

economists, market failure occurs when:

I) there are negative externalities to production

(e.g. pollution); II) the environmental “good”

is non-exclusive and/or non-rival (e.g. public

goods); and III) there is uncertainty surrounding

environmental decisions (incomplete information).

At the same time, government policies are

also widely recognized for providing incentives

to pursue environmentally damaging production,

known as policy failure. 4

To address externalities, much work has

gone into developing monetary-based valuation

tools to quantify the costs borne by society of a

particular economic activity that are not paid for

in the production process. However, conceptual

and methodological challenges remain related

to the valuation of non-market ecosystem goods

and services, particularly stated preference meth-

5 6 7


To address market failure from open access

goods, the standard prescription of environmental

economics is to enforce property rights

through government intervention on the natural

resource in question. 8 However, it can be completely

rational for a profit-maximizing firm to

liquidate a renewable resource with a low regeneration

rate and then reinvest the funds into

something more profitable. 9 As well, conventional

economics is completely silent with respect

to evidence of community-led sustainable selfgovernance

regimes based on mutual trust that

effectively avoid “the tragedy of the commons”. 10

46 Human Dimensions

ecoloGical economics: beyond

price-based tools

Ecological Economics represents an interdisciplinary

attempt for researchers to come together

in order to explore new ways of thinking and acting

in the face of growing environmental degradation

caused by the current status quo. 11

A starting point of departure from mainstream

economic theory is the expansion of the

circular flow of exchange between households and

firms to include the environmental throughput of:

I) materials and high-quality energy (solar) as inputs;

and II) wastes and low-quality energy (heat)

as outputs (Figure 1). 12 This intuitive modification

shows that the economy is a subsystem of the finite

ecosphere thus undermining the neoclassical

view that the dominant actors in an economy are

firms and households that can be analysed separately

from the environment.

By analysing throughput, ecological economists

show that the “perpetual motion machine” of the

mainstream model ignores thermodynamic laws

stating that subsystems maintain out-of-equilibrium

order (survive) at the expense of the continuous consumption

and dissipation of available energy/mate-

13 14 15

rials from their host environment.

Ecological economists, like mainstream economists,

have also developed quantitative tools to

measure the human impact on the environment.

The major difference is the units of measurement:

ecological economists design their tools in the

units of the “host organism” (e.g. the ecosphere)

arguing that the monetary units of the “subsystem”

(e.g. the economy) are incapable of accurately

measuring the greater whole. Biophysical accounting

tools also suffer from conceptual and methodological

challenges. 16 One of the criticisms against

their effectiveness for policymakers lies ironically

in their avoidance of monetary units given that

national governments and the international organizations

that unite them are currently structured

according to the market-based assumptions of

mainstream economics.

contrastinG concepts of sustainability

Neoclassical economic models often imply

perfect substitution between the various forms of

capital (e.g. that they are equally valuable) so that

their criteria for sustainability rests on maintaining

total net capital stocks. 17 According to this logic, if

Country A degrades their environment but replaces

the monetary value of natural capital stock lost

Human Dimensions

“A starting point of

departure from mainstream

economic theory is the

expansion of the circular

flow of exchange between

households and firms to

include the environmental


with manufacturing capital stock, so that flows of

total output remain the same (or increase), then

Country A is behaving sustainably. In the literature,

this stance is labelled “weak” sustainability.

In contrast, a “strong” sustainability perspective

holds that natural capital stocks are not perfectly

substitutable and should be accounted for

apart from other forms of capital. This implies

that Country A was not behaving sustainably if

natural capital stocks decrease regardless of the effect

on manufacturing capital stocks and total output

flows. Let us now explore one of the most important

contributions to our currently unsustainable

path (weak or strong) for both capital stock depletion

and especially over-shooting the assimilative

capacity of the biosphere: energy use.

factorinG enerGy use into production

Energy consumption increased by a factor of sixteen

during the twentieth century. 18 In mainstream

economics, energy, if counted at all, is typically assigned

a low factor share in the production process

(~5–6 per cent) despite its intuitive importance in

daily life and the observation that four of the top five


most profitable companies in the world at the time

of writing are energy-exploiting companies. 19

enerGy and Growth in mainstream


Some economists began trying to incorporate

energy use into the conventional theory to

determine the causes of the large decreases in

productivity growth experienced as a result of the

oil crises of the 1970’s. 20 21 However, these studies

found that the factor share of energy implied by

their models (~5 per cent) did not explain the drop

in productivity from the oil crises. In fact, environmental

regulations put in place by the U.s. over the

1970’s explain more of the decline in productivity

growth (16 per cent) than the quadrupling of energy


Neoclassical economic theory is unable to

answer a crucial question: what causes economic

growth? The Solow model (1954) is the most widely

used growth model in neoclassical economics and

finds that “total factor productivity”—another

name for the part of output growth computed as a

residual that cannot be explained with the conventional

factors: manufacturing and human capital—

is typically larger than manufacturing or human

capital and attributed to “technical progress” and

country-specific “endowments”. 22 Developments

of endogenous growth models have been no more

successful in solving the “growth paradox” leading

to paralysis in the conventional literature. 23

“Without reforms, the

substitution of expensive

labour for cheap, powerful

energy is very likely to continue

with implications for

increasing unemployment.”

relaxinG assumptions: enerGy and

Growth in ecoloGical economics

Intuitively, it does not appear probable that

the factor share of production allocated to energy

could be a mere ~5 per cent despite assurances

from mainstream economists that this is the case.

A number of ecological economists have used energy

to refute a fundamental assumption of neoclassical

economics while providing compelling

empirical analyses that eliminate virtually all of

24 25 26 27 28

the unexplained Solow residual.

These approaches to economic growth and

energy use emphasizing the physical production

process rather than the market-based exchange

emphasis dependent on human behaviour of

mainstream economics. Taking this view, the

neoclassical assumption of equality between factor

costs (derived in market equilibria) and their

shares in production (derived through thermodynamic

transformation laws) can be relaxed. In

effect, production processes are a function of the

physical “work” required to transform input materials

into their final form for consumption subject

to the same physical laws that govern all work


The important aspect of these ecological

economists’ work is to demonstrate, using biophysically-consistent

theory and empirics, that

the factor share of energy is typically a magnitude

greater than its share allocated by conventional

economic analysis. Similarly, labour is typically

allocated a much greater share in conventional

analyses (due to its high cost) than these biophysical

analyses suggest. Economic growth, it seems,

has largely been a product of the increasing substitution

of expensive, weak labour for cheap, powerful

energy (in combination with increasingly

automated capital stock). The argument calling

for proper accounting of the physical shares of

production factors appears to solve the neoclassical

“growth paradox”.

rebound effects of enerGy efficiency

Rebound effects refer to the phenomenon

originally observed by Jevons in 1865, whereby improving

energy efficiency (in his day, coal) actually

leads, through various feedback mechanisms on

prices, to an increase in the demand for energy. 29

Thus, the current policy focus of most governments

to improve energy efficiency as a means to

reduce emissions may be more difficult than linear

calculations suggest. The discussion above is par-

48 Human Dimensions

ticularly relevant in this case because conventional

economists, assuming a negligible factor share

of energy to production, also assume that the rebound

effects of energy efficiency will be negligible.

If the contribution of energy to production is

in the vicinity of 50 per cent as the biophysical accounting

suggests, then the potential rebound effects

of energy efficiency on energy consumption

could be much larger, especially in the developing

world where demand is not as saturated. 30

policy implications


The current strategy for reducing greenhouse

gas emissions in most countries is focused on consuming

more efficiently. But rebound effects associated

with the expected decrease in energy prices

from efficiency improvements mean that policies

designed to promote sustainability also need to

target the demand aspect. A step in this direction

could be to consume differently. This strategy has

been embraced by many proponents of the Green

Economy. In particular, the shifting composition

of industrialized economies towards services

rather than manufacturing has been interpreted

under this argument. However, there is a growing

body of evidence that much of the decrease from

the composition effect has been achieved through

the export of “dirty” industries to the developing

world—referred to as the pollution haven effect. 31

Furthermore, consuming differently does not

question the logic of continued economic growth

and is still susceptible to rebound effects.

Given the potentially insufficient impacts

from consuming more efficiently or consuming

differently, a third strategy is simply to consume

less. This strategy does imply a break from

mainstream economic theory, because it implies

that people’s wants can be fulfilled. However, this

is not to say that consuming less would not also

lead to rebound effects as decreased consumption

pushes down prices that could lead to increased

consumption in other sectors. But it could lead to

some of the collective action required as citizens

(rather than consumers) to make environmental

sustainability a priority in practice.

Labour and energy

Without reforms, the substitution of expensive

labour for cheap, powerful energy is very

likely to continue with implications for increasing

unemployment. Studies show that accounting

for energy and labours’ true shares in production

Human Dimensions

“But the relationship between

debt and wealth

is not necessarily one to

one, since debt is a mathematical

abstraction with

no physical limits, whereas

wealth is created in the

physical world.”

will be the only way to successfully tackle the issues

of unemployment, resource depletion and

pollution. 27 In this view, the massive profits of oil

and gas companies could be understood as the

incorrectly-priced cost of energy in relation to its

productive power. More importantly, to transition

towards a Green Economy, the low prices of fossil

fuels are an impediment to the implementation of

other energy-conserving renewable alternatives.

Thus, there is a clear role for government intervention

in energy prices to equitably account for

the productive power of energy and create incentives

for firms to substitute back towards labour.

The fractional-reserve banking system

One of the most important constraints to

moving off of our current growth addiction that is

virtually unmentioned in the debates surrounding

the Green Economy is the structure of the monetary

system. 32 Essentially, banks make most of

their revenue from interest on loans made from

deposits, keeping a fraction on reserve by law (~10

per cent in Canada, for example) and lending out

the rest with interest (90 per cent). As a result, the

only way for firms to make profits and borrowers

to repay their loans, when taken as a whole, is if

the volume of new borrowing exceeds the reserve

that is taken out of circulation by banks. 32 This

structural requirement means that total debt must

continuously increase which means that output

needs to be continually increasing for firms and

individuals to be able to repay their loans.

But the relationship between debt and wealth

is not necessarily one to one, since debt is a mathematical

abstraction with no physical limits, whereas

wealth is created in the physical world. 33 The major


The challenge now is to

put words into action”

implication is that the fractional-reserve banking

system is structurally dependent on economic

growth regardless of the sustainability desires of

governments, businesses and individuals. Some

authors have made some proposals for change considering

100 per cent reserve requirements, limiting

the ability of banks to give credit and using

so-called “high-powered” money for government

investment. 34 32 Such reforms are fundamental to

any transition towards a Green Economy.

the policy prescriptions of neoclassical

economic theory are beinG

questioned as never before

Ecological economists are striving to merge

an ecological worldview with economic models of

human behaviour that are grounded in the finite

ecosphere. In the context of a degrading natural

Dimensions CArToon

The new rose-coloured glasses.

environment in a full world, it is critical for conventional

economists to adapt to changing circumstances

and revise the assumptions of neoclassical

theory. Numerous indicators of sustainability have

been developed but they have been found to generate

conflicting results depending on whether they

are based on concepts of “weak” or “strong” sustainability

and always-imperfect methodology. 35

The substitution of natural capital for manufacturing

capital, accounting for the productive

power of energy and associated rebound effects,

consuming less and reforming the fractional reserve

banking system, are just a few of the ideas to

be revised. The policy prescriptions of neoclassical

economic theory are being questioned as never

before but there is tremendous inertia connected

to the “growth imperative” requiring collective action

to fundamentally restructure the economy

and human consumption patterns. The remarkable

momentum rallying around the concept of

the Green Economy at the moment provides hope

that a more sustainable course is possible. The

challenge now is to put words into action because

the evidence indicates that there is not much time

left to act. — [D]

50 Human Dimensions

IllUstratIoNs Louise Smith

facts and fiGures

Did you know that?

Human Dimensions

Canned energy

Recycling steel cans

saves 75 per cent of

the energy it takes to

make steel from raw

materials like iron ore

and coal.

Human Crops

In terms of population,

crops equate to .25 ha/


Boreal Bank

The global Boreal is

the largest terrestrial

carbon “bank account”

on the planet.


Global demand for

energy is predicted

to outstrip the global

production of energy

by 400 EJ (the equivalent

of global energy

production in 2000) by


up with patents

Between 1999 and

2008, patented inventions

for renewable

energies increased annually

by 24 per cent.

What a waste

Researchers estimate

that in developed

countries, 30 per cent

of the total amount

of food produced is

thrown away, whereby

in developing countries

only half is



By 2015, 90 per cent That’s Fresh

of future economic Boreal ecosystems

growth will be gener- contain the largest

ated outside of Europe. expanse of freshwater

in the world; more

than 80 per cent of the


world’s liquid fresh-

Auto Giants

Historically, irrigation water is found in the

More than 90 per cent

comprises between Boreal.

of all travel in the U.S.

70 and 80 per cent of

is by automobile, and

all water uses. There

only 4 per cent is by all

are some countries

forms of public transit.

that use up to 90 per

Left in the Cold

cent of their water for

All polar bears are left

irrigation. handed.


The world’s population

is growing by 200,000


Carbon Grove De-urban

people a day.

Mangroves provide Mangroves sequester Zambia is 44 per cent

critical habitat for a up to 25.5 million urban but due to poor

variety of terrestrial, tonnes of carbon per economic conditions it First Adopters

estuarine and marine year.

is one of the very few Korea was the first

species. It has been

countries in which ur- country to adopt a

estimated that ~80 per

banization has actually green growth strategy

cent of fish catches


into their long term

globally depend directly

or indirectly on


economic strategy.


WriTinG ConTesT • THirD pLACe Winner

Greening the economy

An alternative paradigm to sustainable development

and poverty eradication

Amandeep Kaur

As the world stands on a precipice of change,

one of the most important debates to have

emerged has been the one that pitches environment

versus economy. There are discussions how

state regulation can limit economic growth in

the name of preserving the environment while

without economic growth there can be no “real

wealth” to afford the spending on protecting the

environmental wealth”.

We have to understand that all these discussions

pose the wrong set of questions. The antigrowth

stance which recognizes environment as

paramount is not an acceptable proposition—for

we cannot exist without growth, but growth at the

cost of environment will not leave anyone left to

enjoy the benefits of such a growth.

The need of the hour is to align economic objectives

with environmental objectives to lead the

world towards sustained development. We need

to transform the economic activities completely

to be both regenerative as well as disaccumulative

so that “development” can be differentiated from

“mere growth”.

Changing the growth paradigm from “develop

now, clean up later” to one that seeks to capture the

synergies between environmental protection and

economic development will therefore be challenging

overview of our growth over the years






Balanced World






Threatened World

for both developed and developing countries alike. 1

Out of this need for balance arose the “transdisciplinary”

endeavour of sustainable development

supported by three interdependent pillars:

economic development, environmental protection;

and social equity.

None of these independently can solve the

myriad problems that plague us today. This is

because addressing any of the pillars in isolation

without considering their interactive effects can

give rise to unanticipated consequences and the

weakening of any one pillar can lead to problems

in the others. Therefore, we need to consider

these as not conflicting but interwoven and complementary

goals. 2

Due to the multifaceted focus of sustainable

development, the Green Economy has emerged as

an operational strategy of economic transformation

through investments in ecological resources

and services driving economic development.

A Green Economy has been defined by UNEP

as “one that results in improved human well-being

and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental

risks and ecological scarcities”, based

on a triad of low-carbon growth, resource efficiency

and social inclusivity.

This “greening” aims to dispel myths about






Disrupted World

52 Human Dimensions

Photos (CloCkwIsE) Zack Lee, Caffe Vita

epublic of Korea

The republic of Korea has

launched a policy of extended

producer responsibility (epr) through

which it has enforced regulations on

products such as tires and batteries,

packaging like glass and paper among

other things. This has led to a dramatic

increase of 14 per cent in recycling

rates and an economic benefit

of $1.6 billion. ▲


Human Dimensions


mexico has

started the

voluntary labeling of

green products as an

“uncontroversial way”

of rewarding high environmental


1 seoul’s signature


character in recyclables

The waste recy-

2 recycling bins in


cling process endorsed

by Brazil already

generates returns of $2 billion a year. it

also prevents about 10 million tons of

greenhouse gas emissions where it can

amount to about 0.3 per cent of GDp.

some 95 per cent of all aluminum cans

and 55 per cent of all polyethylene bottles

are recycled. Half of all paper and

glass is recovered. recycling in Brazil

generates a value of almost us$ 2 billion

and avoids 10 million tons of greenhouse

gas emissions. The national solid

Waste policy (pnrs), established as a

statute, provides for the collection, final

disposal, and treatment of urban, hazardous,

and industrial waste through

the principle of shared responsibility

between the government, the private

sector and the public at large.

At the state level, Brazil has initiated

the creation of a tributary framework

related to development strategy,

with the plan of opening a “stock

market” of environmental assets as a

novel solution to carbon credits.



the inescapable trade-off between environmental

sustainability and economic progress, and provide

an alternative paradigm that balances both economy

and environment.

Another concern which is highlighted in many

discussions of sustainable development points

towards the fact that despite the seemingly large

advantages that the “greening” of the economy

is to bring; the social equity pillar of sustainable

development may be left far behind in this paradigm

shift. This is because even though economic

progress is a precursor to social progress, it may

not necessarily lead to it. Often, the percolation

effect of economic progress to the bottom of the

pyramid is grossly inadequate, especially in developing


Therefore, access to basic amenities such as

universal primary education, clean drinking water

and fundamental human rights such as equal pay

for equal work, gender equity or basic standard of

living remains largely unaddressed. In this context

a Green Economy becomes relevant not only to

the developed economies, but even more so to the

developing ones as a key catalyst for growth and

poverty eradication, where in some cases close to

90 per cent of the GdP of the poor is linked to nature

or natural capital such as forests and freshwaters.

3 The greening of these jobs through a paradigm

change at the grassroot level will enable the

trickle-down effect to reach the poor as well.

Dimensions of sustainable Development


intra-generational equity

basic needs/livelihoods











Climate Change

intra-generational equity



incidence of impacts



natural resources


For a multi-pronged approach attacking the

roots of the problem, we need to understand the

complexity involved in transitioning to a pathway

of Green Economy. This will require many

changes to the framework of national economies

such as adjustments to the structure of capital and

labor supply—because a Green Economy is not

about stifling economic growth and prosperity in

the name of environment, it’s about reconnecting

with what is the “real wealth”—reinvesting

in, rather than just mining, natural capital and,

favouring the many over the few. It is also about

a global economy that recognizes the intergenerational

responsibility of nations to hand over a

healthy, functioning and productive planet to the

young people of today and those yet to be born. 4

measures towards a sustainable


We have established that we are poised on the

brink of a transformation—it is change or perish.

However, we also need to understand that making

these adjustments will not always be easy—invariably

we will end up making trade-offs, some of them

which will darken our near future, but these burdensome

upfront costs — such as replacing heavily

polluting industrial era technology with twentyfirst-century

green systems — would pay off in the

long-term. However, given the differences between

each country’s natural, human capital and relative

level of development, the ability to move towards

a pathway of a Green Economy/growth will vary

considerably between nations. 1

Given the difference in pace of nations, there

can be no “one-size-fits-all” approach to achieving

these objectives. Therefore, it becomes impera-

percolation of sustainable Development

-The Trickle-down Effect

Highest income Groups

Bottom of the pyramid

54 Human Dimensions

Photos (CloCkwIsE) UN Photo/Mark Garten, H. Adamsky


China has taken the lead in

the world for moving towards

the Green economy. realizing the

vast potential in green initiatives, it

wants to establish the first mover’s

advantage for itself. it is already the

biggest producer of wind power and

solar panels in the world and is now

pushing ahead with a five-year plan—

Agenda 21—for a “clean revolution”

where even the developed economies

are wavering. instead of keeping

environment-destroying oil subsidies,

it has encouraged the active use of

cleaner fuels and renewable resources

by creating subsidies for solar and

wind power. in one of the previous

years, it decided to phase out more

than 700,000 tons of coal-mining capacity

as well as much of its outdated

steel-mill capacity to move towards

more biodegradable and renewable

substances which will boost both its

economy as well as its environment.


Human Dimensions

China’s multi-pronged approach

to sustainable development




The German government has

made periodic increases in

the tax rate for engine fuels, electricity,

oil and gas for many years. The

revenue recovered from this was

specially earmarked to reduce nonwage

labour costs by lowering the

social partner’s contribution to the

pension fund. The effect of the reduced

non-wage labour costs is estimated

to have created an additional

250.000 full time equivalent jobs and

reduced carbon dioxide emissions by

3 per cent as of 2010.

Bolster focus on scientific and technological

innovation for energy conservation

energy conservation—implementable

government policies and plans

reduced dependency on non-renewable resources—increasing

use of renewable resources

Create more green jobs—

generate livelihood and employment

Balanced urban and

rural development

Decrease carbon footprint by slashing water

usage and energy consumption


1 Ban Ki-moon visits

a bioenergy plant in


2 German energy plant


south Africa



sustainable tourism in south

Africa is composed of three

pillars: social justice, economic development,

and environmental integrity.

it not only generates income and

decent employment for south Africans,

it does so without any negative

impact on the habitat, environment

and culture of the native people.

1 Tourists in south

Africa meet local


2 participants in india’s

rural employment

scheme clean

a silted reservior

3 Tourists in Gabon’s

national forests

sustainable Tourism

—South Africa


local and national,

economic and social

development, job

creation, working




natural resources











cultural heritage,

ethnic groups,

living cultures,

local cultures


The national rural employment

Guarantee scheme (nreGs)

has been devised as a public work

programme “to provide for the enhancement

of livelihood security of the

households in rural areas by providing at

least 100 days of guaranteed wage employment

in every financial year to every

household whose adult members volunteer

to do unskilled manual work”. 6

Categories of works eligible under

nreGs are, among other things,

water conservation, drought-proofing

(including plantation and afforestation),

flood protection, small-scale

irrigation, horticulture and land development.

environmental protection

and conservation constitute the lion

share of work performed. This has

generated three billion working daysworth

of employment benefiting close

to 60 million households.


A relatively small nation, Gabon

has decided to invest in

national reforestation and park creation

programmes, aimed to reorient

it towards green growth without any

international aid. This will promote

tourism, agricultural income and income

from agricultural and allied

activities. it also hosted the pan-African

Conference on Biodiversity and

Development to spread the Green

economy message throughout Africa.

nationally, Gabon was implementing

policies to preserve natural resources

and minimize social inequities. Gabon

had banned imports of non-biodegradable

plastic bags, and enacted

policies that focused on reducing and

recycling waste, as well as reutilizing

plastics. moreover, it is promoting

lead-free gasoline and working to reduce

sulphur from diesel oil.

56 Human Dimensions


Photos (CloCkwIsE) Callum McDonald, Mckay Savage, Carlos Oliveira Reis

tive to develop an integrative yet adaptive global

framework, where each government must determine

how the Green Economy could work for its

people and for the planet.

For developing economies, percolation of

wealth to the bottom of the pyramid is paramount,

so a focus on job opportunities and sustainable

livelihoods is crucial. On the other hand, for the

developed world the focus should be on capital

spending on research and innovation to bring

about substantial cuts in their carbon footprint.

There should also be an agreement with respect

to technology transfer from the developed to the

developing world to enable equitable contribution

in carbon cuts. This is keeping in line with an

important principle of sustainable development:

common but differentiated responsibility.

Another concern is that the Green Economy

strategies should aim to open new markets for

export for even the developing economies, rather

than imposing “green conditionalities” that limited

developing countries’ outbound trade. This

kind of green potential will do nothing to equalize

the north–south divide in the world. Similar

is the case for green subsidies for research and

development of new technologies, new market

mechanisms and environmental taxes. If improperly

applied, taxes could be a development barrier

and an additional burden to poor countries. 5

However, if properly implemented, the resulting

revenue could expand technology worldwide in

the long term. Therefore, while these are good

tools to encourage energy producers and consumers

to adopt environmentally friendly behaviour,

care should be taken so that they don’t become

distortion-creating mechanisms. We must move

beyond the polarities of the past, such as deve-

lopment versus environment, state versus market,

and North versus South.

Further, it is important to address the fear of

developing nations over job losses resulting from

greener economic policies. For example, some

existing technologies may become obsolete or

redundant due to newer guidelines and norms

of carbon emissions. This will lead to additional

costs for businesses and may even result in job

loss in these sectors. Even in the most favourable

scenario, in which green economic policies result

in net job creation, there are questions as to the

effect of the same on remuneration and skill set

change for the employees. Further costs may arise

due to severance packages for obsolete workers or

training costs associated with green practices.

We see that the governments will have a central

role in changing statutes and policies and in

Human Dimensions

investing public money to make this transition

possible. This in turn will help unleash trillions

of private funding for the Green Economy. Firm

commitment and resolute action by governments

at local, regional, national and international levels

are needed to foster sustainable, equitable


Further, it is critical for a Green Economy to

be transparent. There is a growing need for common

indicators scaled to international standards,

thereby creating a common platform for evaluating

progress. Also, the current spending of about

one and two per cent of global GdP on subsidies

for unsustainable resources such as fossil fuels, agriculture,

including pesticide subsidies, water and

fisheries, needs to go. Phasing these out will lead

to growth and poverty eradication and open fiscal

space and free resources for a Green Economy


The UNEP report on sustainable development

calculates that the cost of shifting to a Green

Economy stands at just two per cent of total world

GdP, about $1.3tr at current levels, which should be

spread across ten key sectors: agriculture, buildings,

energy, fisheries, forests, manufacturing,

tourism, transport, water and waste management.

It indicates that the higher annual growth rates

promised by a greener economy will be delivered

within five to ten years, thereby quickly recovering

the initial cost of transition with an added impetus

of leading to energy savings and reduction in

environmental damage.

While nations are already working with great

zeal on a number of these areas, five major areas

still requiring considerable green work include

sustainable construction, finance, energy, waste

and agriculture.

A significant change in these sectors will in

turn help disprove the myth of green initiatives as a

liability on the country’s economy. It will comprehensively

challenge the myth of a trade-off between

environmental investments and economic growth

and instead point to a greener and cleaner world.

the biGGest risk of all would be to

continue with the status quo

The Green Economy is the solution to help

mankind keep its ecological footprint within

planetary boundaries. Such a transition will not

be without risks and challenges. The impetus is

now on the world leaders, civil society and leading

businesses to collaboratively engage, rethink and

redefine traditional measures of wealth and wellbeing.

— [D]


FeATure ArTiCLe

It’s Not Easy

Being Green

Why UNEP’s Green Economy is not the

panacea it is made out to be and will

lead neither to economic growth nor to

the emissions reductions necessary to

combat climate change.

Peter A. Victor and Tim Jackson

58 Human Dimensions

i n

the run-up to the Rio+20 conference in June

this year, the language of the Green Economy

has become a kind of Holy Grail. It is entirely understandable

of course. Continuing uncertainties

in the financial markets, faltering growth in

developed economies and debt crises in the Eurozone

still haunt the global economy. The political

mind is focussed on getting back to what is

lovingly called “business as usual”, which usually

means “growth at all costs”. It is easy to forget that

growth at all costs was a place of rapidly rising

carbon emissions, disappearing habitats and fast

declining resource quality.

The fundamental dilemma underlying modern

society is a profound one. Untrammelled economic

growth is unsustainable—at least in anything

like the form we have had it in the last five

or six decades. But degrowth (décroissance in the

much more palatable French) is unstable—at least

within the parameters of the economic system as

we know it today. No wonder we are tempted to

reach for the comforting idea that there is something

called a Green Economy: an economy that

delivers the goods without destroying the planet.

Particularly, as we live in a world in which the

pursuit of economic growth—defined as the rate

of increase in real (inflation-adjusted) gross domestic

product (GdP)—is one of the highest priorities

of governments, the private sector, and even

many elements of civil society, dependent as many

of them are on economic growth for financial support

and basic stability. If we can move towards a

Green Economy without undermining

economic growth, then the difficult

task of achieving sustainability

will become much easier.

UNEP’s recent report Towards

a Green Economy defines the Green

Economy as an economy “that results

in improved human well-being and

social equity, while significantly reducing

environmental risks and ecological

scarcities”. In view of the state

of the world’s economies, the impacts

they are having on environments from

local to global, and the widespread incidence

of social and economic injustice,

the appeal of a Green Economy

so defined is obvious.

What is less obvious is how we

might get there. The UNEP report

attempts to make some progress on

this question. It describes in particular

a set of enabling conditions for

the transition to a Green Economy

IllUstratIoN Louise Smith

Human Dimensions


“As impressive as the UNEP

model is, it is deficient

in one major respect for

analysing the transition to

a Green Economy: it treats

the world as a single unit.”

60 Human Dimensions

IllUstratIoN Louise Smith

covering regulatory frameworks, government investment

and spending strategies, taxation and

market-based instruments, investment in capacity-building,

training and education, and strengthening

international governance.

So far so good. But what about the question

of growth? It is here that the report makes its

strongest claim, namely that “a Green Economy

grows faster than a brown economy over time,

while maintaining and restoring natural capital”. 1

So UNEP’s remarkable claim is not just that the

Green Economy is still a growth-based economy;

but that the growth rates will be even faster than

those expected under conventional assumptions

about economic growth. In our view this claim is

unsubstantiated. In the following paragraphs we

attempt to show why.

brown Growth Good; Green

Growth better?

If the claim in the UNEP report is correct, we

can continue to enjoy an ever-increasing output

and consumption of goods and services, while improving

social equity and reducing impacts on the

environment. But can we? Is it reasonable to claim

that a Green Economy grows faster than a brown

one? Or is a more radical overhaul of economic

structure needed if we are to remain within the

biophysical limits of the planet?

In many respects, the simulation model on

which UNEP’s claim about green growth rates is

made is impressive. It consists of multiple components

of the global socio-economic, environmental

and resource systems including: population,

agriculture, forestry, industry, services, transportation,

waste, water, and energy. Furthermore, it

includes relationships among these multiple components,

allowing for feedback and non-linearities,

and uses empirical data to quantify relationships

in the model.

All models are simplifications of the system

they are designed to represent. We build them to

help understand the system in question. A key issue

when designing and evaluating a model, and

interpreting the results derived from it, is whether

the particular simplifications are appropriate given

the purpose the model is intended to serve.

As impressive as the UNEP model is, it is deficient

in one major respect for analysing the transition

to a Green Economy: it treats the world as a

single unit. All the data in the model are global averages.

All the empirical relationships in the model

are global averages. All the results are global averages.

The model does not recognize differences

Human Dimensions

among geographic regions or between richer and

poorer nations. These differences are all lost in the

global averages.

This lack of differentiation is a particularly

severe deficiency in relation to social equity,

which, in an economic context, is closely related

to income distribution. Per capita incomes in the

richest nations can be an order of magnitude or

more greater than those in the poorest nations.

But these disparities are invisible in such a model.

In fact, income distribution simply cannot be addressed

in a model of global averages. Yet the declared

aim of the model is to shed light on social

equity as one facet of a Green Economy.

Reliance on global averages is also a problem

for other issues such as forecasts of global greenhouse

gas emissions. These emissions are rising

at different rates in different regions, so estimates

of global emissions based on average global rates

of increase differ markedly from global estimates

based on the summation of estimates for individual

countries or regions. The end result, as we

shall see below, is that UNEP’s conclusions about

green versus brown growth are at least premature,

and more likely, seriously misleading.

But before exploring in more detail whether

a more regionally disaggregated model might

change this conclusion, there are some other

equally serious deficiencies in the UNEP assumptions.

Perhaps the most critical amongst these is

that UNEP’s Green Economy simply does not go far

enough in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

how Green is your Green economy?

While a significant reduction in greenhouse

gas emissions climate change is only one dimension

of a Green Economy, it is perhaps the most

important. It is certainly the one that continues

to attract the most attention. The IPCC’s 4th Assessment

Report argues that in order to achieve

a 450 parts per million (ppm) stabilization target

and prevent “dangerous” anthropogenic climate

change, carbon emissions would need to peak

by 2015 and then decline rapidly, so that global

carbon emissions in 2050 are in the range 15–50

per cent of carbon emissions in 2000. That is a

reduction of between 50 and 85 per cent over

2000 emissions. More recent scientific evidence

suggests that the 450 ppm stabilization target is

insufficient to remain within a 2 degree global

warming and this has led to calls for a 350 ppm

stabilization target instead. This would certainly

require a reduction in global emissions by 2050 at

the higher end of the 50–85 per cent range.


“It is one thing to wish for a Green Economy.

It is quite another, of course, to define it, to

design it and to deliver it. There is no point

hoping that by putting two words that we

like together the result will be something

that works.”

By contrast, the greenhouse gas emission reduction

target established in UNEP’s Green Economy

(G2) scenario amounts to a reduction of less

than 17 per cent over carbon emissions in the year

2000. So in short, the target set in the UNEP Green

Economy is just not green enough. The emission

reductions achieved by 2050 are woefully inadequate

when compared against those required to

meet climate change targets.

investinG in the Green economy

A further problem with the UNEP scenarios is

the way in which investment is conceptualized. Investment

is fundamental to growth in any economy.

In conventional economics, capital and labour

are the most important factors of production. All

other things being equal, an economy with more

investment will grow faster than one with less

investment. So any comparison of growth rates

between the green and brown economies should

be based on an assumption of equal investment in

each economy.

In the UNEP scenarios this does not happen.

Investment growth is modeled as a percentage of

GdP in both the green and the brown scenarios.

The report claims that only the pattern (and not

the amount) of the additional investment is different.

Yet, an increase in investment of 2 per cent

per year would only correspond to the same absolute

increase in investment in the two scenarios

if global GdP was also the same in both scenarios.

But this is not the case. From 2030 the global GdP

is larger in the green scenario. Hence additional

investment is also larger, and it is no surprise then

to find the Green Economy growing faster than

the brown one. A fairer comparison would have

been to compare scenarios within which the absolute

levels of additional investment were the

same, not the percentages.

More worryingly perhaps, the model fails

to explain how this additional investment is financed.

Additional investment must be paid for,

most likely through a combination of private and

public debt and so there are likely to be further

consequences for growth, trade and distribution.

These consequences are not accounted for in the

UNEP model.

An alternative approach would have been to

avoid the financing issue by examining the consequences

of a reallocation of investment rather than

an increase in investment. In such circumstances

no increase in funding would be required. In a paper

providing technical background material to

the report, the UNEP team offered a comparison of

additional and reallocated investment. They concluded

that “when using the same assumptions,

results of the simulations do not significantly differ

from each other for most variables”. But this

conclusion overlooks the potential significance of

the financing issue which only comes into play in

the additional investment scenario. By neglecting

this issue any comparison of scenarios involving

additional investment and a reallocation of investment

remains meaningless.

GrowinG unequal

We now come to the most important reason

for questioning the conclusions of the UNEP report

regarding growth rates in green and brown econ-

62 Human Dimensions

omies—the use of a single region model to make

assumptions about an unequal world.

Emissions of carbon dioxide from the economy

can be modeled using the so-called Kaya equation:

Co 2 = P x A x E x C

If the percentage changes in the values of variables

on the right hand side of the Kaya equation

are “small”, we can simply add them together to

get a very close estimate of the percentage change

in Co2 emissions.

So, for example, from 1998 to 2007 the average

annual percentage change in global Co2

emissions was 2.6 per cent. This is approximately

equal to the sum of the average annual percentage

changes in population (1.2 per cent), affluence (2.0

per cent), energy intensity (-0.8 per cent) and Co2

emissions per unit energy (0.1 per cent). If these

trends continue for 40 years then global Co2 emissions

will increase by 169 per cent.

Even if we factor in the expected reduction

in the rate of growth of population to an average

annual rate of 0.6 per cent but maintain the same

rate of change in the other variables, global Co2

emissions would more than double in 40 years.

To achieve the 35 per cent reduction in global Co2

Human Dimensions

Tim jackson

CO2 =


Co2 emissions per year (tonnes)

P = population

A = affluence represented as real GdP/person (Us$/person)

E = energy intensity represented as energy/GdP (kgoe/


C = Co2 emissions per unit energy (kg/kgoe)

Dr. Tim Jackson is Professor of Sustainable

Development at the University

of Surrey and Director of the

ESRC Research Group on Lifestyles,

Values and Environment (RESOLVE).

Funded by the UK Economic and

Social Research Council, the aim

of RESOLVE is to develop a robust

understanding of the links between

lifestyle, societal values and the environment,

and to provide evidencebased

advice to policymakers seeking

to influence people’s lifestyles and

practices. Prof Jackson also directs

the newly-awarded Defra/ESRC Sustainable

Lifestyles Research Group.

From 2004 to 2011 he was Economics

Commissioner on the UK Sustainable

Development Commission,

where his work culminated in the

publication of the controversial book

Prosperity without Growth – economics

for a finite planet 3 . In addition to

his academic work, Tim is an awardwinning

dramatist with numerous

radio writing credits for the BBC.

emissions in the UNEP Green Economy scenario by

2050, global Co2 emission intensity will have to decline

at an average annual rate of 3.7 per cent.

Note that this is already some five times higher

than the average decline in Co2 emission intensity

over the last decade. But this simple model

still portrays the global economy as a single, undifferentiated

system and is essentially blind to

regional, national and class disparities. The enormous

variation in income, population, energy intensity

and emission intensity at sub-global levels

does not come into play.

So now suppose instead that we apply the

Kaya equation to two distinct regions of the world,

one comprising the high-income countries and

the other the low and middle-income countries. In

this model, we find that when trends continue for

40 years, global Co2 emissions will increase by 297

per cent, rather than the 169 per cent as appeared

to be the case when the projection is based on

global averages. The reason for this is that the low

and middle-income countries are not only growing

faster than the high-income nations but they

also have higher energy and carbon intensities.

The average figures obscure these underlying regional

trends and underestimate the task in hand.

To illustrate further the dangers of this approach,

in 2007 the ratio of GdP per person in

high-income countries and middle- plus lowincome

countries exceeded 17:1. If this ratio is

maintained for the next 40 years, a rate of decline

in average Co2 intensities of 4.0 per cent per year

in both groups of countries is required in order

to achieve the 35 per cent reduction target in the

UNEP report. At the same time, there would be an

increase in absolute per capita income differences


peter Victor

from Us$41,000 per capita in 2011 to $110,000 per

capita in 2050.

This is clearly a deeply unequal world. Suppose

instead that the gap between average incomes per

capita in the two groups of countries were to close

by mid century, with the same overall increase in

world economic output. In such a world even a 4

per cent per year decline in Co2 intensities would

not be enough to meet the UNEP target. The figure

would instead be 5.7 per cent per year on average.

Now imagine a world in which incomes in the

poorest nations might reach parity with those in the

rich nations by 2050 and where instead of the weak

reduction target used in the UNEP report, we seek an

80 per cent reduction in global Co2 emissions over

2011 levels. In such a world, the average annual Co2

intensity in both regions would have to decline by

8.6 per cent per year. This is a sustained rate of reduction

for which there is absolutely no historical

precedent and for which the prospects look entirely

unrealistic. The numbers just do not stack up.

There are many other scenarios that can and

should be considered besides those discussed here.

Extending the time over which income equality

is achieved would help lessen the rate at which

Co2 intensities have to decline. A slower rate of

economic growth, especially in the high-income

countries, where the case for increasing economic

output is weakest, would also reduce the rate of

reduction in Co2 intensities required to meet any

specified level of reduction in global Co2 emissions.

But this is the crux of the matter: economic

growth can undermine the achievement of environmental


Dr. Peter Victor, author of Managing

without Growth. Slower by Design, not

Disaster, is a Professor in Environmental

Studies at York University.

He has worked for over 40 years in

Canada and abroad on economy and

environment as an academic, consultant

and public servant. Dr. Victor

was the founding president of the

Canadian Society of Ecological Eco-

nomics and a past-president of the

Royal Canadian Institute for the Advancement

of Science. Currently he is

Chair of Ontario’s Greenbelt Council,

a member of the Board of the David

Suzuki Foundation, and several advisory

boards in the public and private

sectors. In 2011 he was awarded the

Canada Council for the Arts Molson

Prize in the Social Sciences.

beyond the dilemma of Growth

Our arguments in this article have revealed

some serious question marks hanging over UNEP’s

report. The UNEP Green Economy is blessed with

partisan investment advantages, unrealistic in its

modeling of regional differences and nothing like

green enough in its carbon targets. To claim on

this basis that green growth is faster than brown

growth is highly misleading.

It is easy enough to see why people will go to

great lengths to save the idea of economic growth.

When growth falters, as it has done recently, bad

things happen. People lose their jobs. Firms go out

of business. Sovereign debt begins to rise. Governments

who fail to respond appropriately quickly find

themselves out of office. In these circumstances, it

is enormously tempting to focus on escape routes

from the dilemma of growth that save growth and

assume that it can be made sustainable.

If wishes were horses, then beggars would

ride. It is one thing to wish for a Green Economy.

It is quite another, of course, to define it, to design

it and to deliver it. There is no point hoping that

by putting two words that we like together the

result will be something that works. The Green

Economy concept is perhaps one step closer to

reality in this respect than the related concept of

“green growth”, which is often used in an entirely

aspirational fashion. But the relationship between

the Green Economy and growth remains critical.

If the Green Economy is still to be a growthbased

economy—even in the richest nations—

then the arguments in this article suggest that it

must achieve completely unprecedented, almost

certainly unrealistic, levels of

improvement in technological efficiency.

No one has yet come up

with a convincing set of proposals

for how this is to be achieved.

Perhaps it is time to pay

some attention to the second

escape route from the dilemma

of growth: defining, designing

and delivering a Green Economy

in which economic stability

no longer rests on the unrealistic

assumption of never-ending

growth. — [D]

This article is based on a more detailed

account given in “A commentary

on unep’s Green economy scenarios”,

ecological economics (2012). science

Direct (doi number - 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2012.02.028).

64 Human Dimensions

CartooN Louise Smith

Dimensions CArToon

Human Dimensions

But how will we get there?




What does the world have to say about the Green Economy,

and its role in securing a sustainable future? We looked across

the globe to see what people—from aspiring young leaders to

high-ranking politicians—think about this complex and widely

debated idea.

Achim steiner

executive Director of unep

The Green Economy is emerging, in part driven

by the financial and economic crisis, and in part

because of a growing realization that the blunt

and limited markets of the past are unlikely to

sustain the current global population of six billion

people, rising to nine billion by 2050.”

md. mahmudul Alam

Bangladesh and malaysia

The Green Economy is a broad

and aggregate concept of sustainable

economy, sustainable livelihood, sustainable

society, sustainable environment,

and sustainable development,

but it is not really Green until the

most deprived person gets the access

of food, security and the core opportunities

of mainstream sustainable

practices at local and global level.”




Green Economies

are economies

that grow

without compromising the needs of

the future humankind and thereby

allowing a fair and equitable access

to the earth’s resources. Need for it

in my community.”

Bharrat jagdeo

Former president of Guyana

“ If this is to become a reality,

we need to look to

the day where the term

Green Economy is no longer


Lu yu

China and Germany

Christiana Figueres

executive secretary of unFCCC

“ China is going to leave all

of us in the dust. They’re

committed to winning the

Green Economy race. ”

Tony Blair

Former prime minister of the uK

We don’t need more slogans or

calls to do the impossible. We need

to take what is possible, do it and

build on it. In that way we multiply

our own efforts and accelerate

our progress to a low carbon future

and Green Economy. That is the

practical road to the future and we

should take it.”

Frederick reinfeldt

prime minister of sweden

The challenge of attaining

a Green Economy and

sustainable society is huge,

but there is no alternative.”

Hu jintao

president of China

The transition to a Green Economy is a long

term up-hill task, especially in densely populated

developing countries, such as China. However,

moving towards a Green Economy also brings

with it an opportunity to protect the planet from

otherwise worse effects of increasing uncertainty

caused by climate change.”

We will step up our efforts to develop

a Green Economy, a low carbon

economy, and a circular economy

and enhance research, development

and dissemination of climate friendly


sohn Kyung-shik

Chairman of the Korean Chamber

of Commerce

“ I believe that business leaders

need to actively contemplate the role

of business in promoting the Green

Economy, based on a long-term perspective.”

join the conversation on Facebook


66 Human Dimensions

Photos UN Photo, and provided by the authors

suyash jolly

india and the netherlands

“ A ‘true Green Economy' is when

the poor are able to attain a state

of well-being through their own and

sustained and collective efforts from

institutional entrepreneurship.”

Tina saavedra Clemente


A Green Economy encapsulates a target scenario

for development where the dynamics of economics,

environment and governance bring about sustainability.

While the global challenge is to reform

existing perspectives that underpin international

agreements, in the national context, a Green Economy

must motivate increasing stakeholder ownership

and dialogue over their own future.

The vision of a Green Economy can be a contentious

subject given the tension between the

ideal and the constraints posed by the interaction

among the spheres of economics, environment

and institutions. Nevertheless, it is worth

the attention in the

sustainable development

discourse as perspectives

are supposed

to be challenged and

improved for greater

applicability in national

contexts and greater

reform in complimentary

global advocacies.”

David Cameron

prime minister of the uK

The transition to a lowcarbon

economy is necessary,

real and global.”

Human Dimensions

Abdul saboor


Taro _ Aso _

Former prime minister

of japan

The Green Economy

is a great opportunity

for new growth.”

Felipe Calderón

president of mexico

What can we do to build a Green

Economy for the world? I think that

we need to transfer into action the

creativity and innovation that we

can see around the world. We need

to transform. We need to change

individual actions in favour of massive

actions through public policy.”

yuti A. Fatimah

indonesia and the netherlands

For Pakistan, a Green Economy means reforestation and conservation

of mainstream agriculture with the aim of food security,

mitigating rural poverty and making urban development

with reduced carbon foot prints. Pro-poor green growth rather

than pro-rich would have to be encouraged and emphasized in

the policy dossier. Thus, the dream of a peaceful and an environmentally

friendly community could be materialized without compromising the social

and economic equity and the genuine needs of present and future generations.”

Barack obama

president of the usA

We’ll invest in biomedical research,

information technology and

especially clean energy technology—

an investment that will strengthen

our security, protect our planet and

create countless new jobs for our


Ban Ki-moon

secretary-General of the un



sri Lanka

The survival

and well-being

of all life within



“ I see the definition of Green Economy

coined by UNEP as something

elusive due to its ambition to address

human well-being, environmental

risks and ecological scarcities in one shot. The good bit of a

broad definition is its ability to accommodate various interests,

but on the other hand, it might lead to unproductive initiatives

that are rooted in the problem of uncertainty. To overcome this

dilemma, I prefer to see the Green Economy as a moral movement

towards an inclusive development: the willingness to become

reflexive and a spirit for not harming others.”

Building a Green Economy presents tremendous

opportunities. The only risk we face is in

not going down this path.”

jacob Zuma

president of south Africa

We have no option but to

manage our natural resources

in a sustainable way. We

have no choice but to be ecofriendly.

We have no choice

but to develop a Green Economy.”




the Urban


With more than half of the

world population living in

cities, urban planning must

adapt to new models of sustainable

development. Xuemei

Bai explains how governments

and institutions can

catch up to technology in the

race to save the planet.

INtErvIEwEr Carmen Scherkenbach

DIMENSIONS: Professor Bai,

looking at the Rio+20 Summit

that is going to take place in

June, what outcomes you expect

from this event?

Prof. Xuemei Bai: Twenty years

ago when we had the Rio Summit

it was a landmark in many ways and

we all know the sustainable development

notion has been widely accepted

by now. Since then, there has

been many research and debate and

some practices in terms of sustainable

development. I hope that this

summit can come up with a more

action-oriented resolution that can

bring about real action and tangible

results, that is probably more important

than coming up with another

set of concepts.

D: A major topic at the summit

will be the Green Economy. How

does a Green Economy contribute

to sustainable development?

XB: If we look at some of the definitions

of a Green Economy, one can

see it is about an economy that is

inclusive and competitive and that

has higher resource efficiency and

lower environmental impact. So, in

a sense it is not a very different con-

cept compared to sustainable development

but perhaps with a bit more

positive spin in our way of approaching

the problem. It is really about

seeing sustainable development as

an opportunity and seizing it rather

than something that you only have

to sacrifice for.

D: What does a Green Economy

mean for sustainable urban development

in particular?

XB: More than half of the world

population is now living in cities and

this share will continue to go up. In

developing countries, urbanization

is often concurrent with industrialization

and in many places it is

also a process of the urbanization of

poverty. Cities have disproportionally

high resource consumption and

environmental impact. For example,

they produce about 78 per cent of all

Co2 emissions and are also the center

of economic development. Cities

like Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh have

about 20 per cent of their countries’

national population, but they produce

50 per cent of their GdP. Cities

are also centers of innovation

and knowledge production. So by

all means, the Green Economy is of

vital importance for urban develop-


D: Which policy instruments

should be put into place?

XB: First of all, there won’t be one

set of policy instruments that can fix

all the problems cities are facing today.

However, in terms of principles

in designing policy instruments, I

think it is very important to have

an integrative systems approach towards

our problem. Urban development

has to be a development that

takes into consideration its impact,

for example, on agriculture and other

ecosystems regarding their physical

footprint. We also have to think

about resource use efficiency and the

environmental impact and reduce

the metabolic flows through our cities,

for instance through using more

renewable energies like solar power.

In a country like China, it will also be

very important for the national government

to introduce performance

measures that can give incentives

and encourage the mayors of cities

to adopt a Green Economy concept,

rather than the GdP growth rate as

their only performance indicator.

D: Are there implementation

barriers in the way of a transition

68 Human Dimensions

Photo Xuemei Bai

towards sustainability within the

field of urban development? Is

this a question of technology or

rather one of institutions?

XB: I think this is a very interesting

question. Recently we’ve looked

into 30 different urban sustainability

practices in Asian cities, trying

to find out what initiated these

practices, in other words, to find out

about the triggers; who was playing

a major role in implementing the

practices; about the kind of linkage

networks within which the practice

has been implemented; what kind

of barriers they are facing; and what

their eventual pathways of these

practice followed. Our research findings

show that the policy change and

the institutional aspect are far more

important facilitators, as well as

barriers, in bringing about sustainability

transition. It is so much more

important than access to the technology

itself, which is, in a sense, a

surprising finding. It also shows that

most of the international financial

agency-funded projects tend to stay

experiments and are rarely upscaled

to change the system of practice. I

think this has many implications.

For example, international and bilateral

aiding agencies need to think

seriously about how to design aiding

projects that go beyond technology

transfer or beyond a one-off project,

as well as how to facilitate the local

processes in urban sustainability

practice development.

D: What has been the most encouraging

development of the

Green Economy so far?

XB: I would say the recognition of

the importance of the Green Economy

in a country like China is the

most important progress in forwarding

this concept. We have just talked

about the main barriers being policy

and institutional aspects rather than

the technology itself, so I think highlevel

recognition at the national level

of the importance of a Green Economy

should be considered as the most

important step forward that can

Human Dimensions

bring about cascading effects down

the road.

D: Do you see a time in the near

future in which a Green Economy

will be business-as-usual in

cities and what would be some

of the underlying mechanisms

to get there?

XB: Yes—it certainly has to be, at

least. The traditional development

patterns have proven to be problematic

and for up and coming countries

like China and India there are

hard limitations in terms of resource

availability and environmental impact

which makes it almost impossible

for them to follow the same kind

of development pathways. For cities

it is the same. Regarding a mechanism

how to get there, I would really

like to see that we find the answer

from the real world practice.

There are many cities that have been

very successful and innovative by

bringing a Green Economy practice

through, for example by proliferating

renewable energy. I think we can

learn a lot from these front-runners.

As the scientific community, we can

contribute and facilitate this kind of

learning process through extracting

and building up common knowledge

that can be transferred to other cities

or other circumstances. — [D]

Xuemei Bai

Xuemei Bai is a Professor

in Urban Environment

at Fenner School

of Environment and

Society, Australian

National University.

With an educational

background in science

and engineering, and

research experience in

urban sustainability

sciences, Prof. Bai’s current

research focuses

on urban sustainability

science, including

For more related work

from prof. Bai refer to her

papers: “Landscape urbanization

and economic

Growth in China: positive

Feedbacks and sustainability

Dilemmas” and

“urban sustainability experiments

in Asia: patterns

and pathways”. see www.


for more information.

understanding the

structure, function and

processes of urban social

ecological systems,

the environmental and

ecosystem consequences

and drivers of

urbanization, urban

metabolism, urban

energy system and the

role of renewable energy,

climate mitigation

and adaptation of cities,

innovative practices

in urban environmental

management, and

urban sustainability

transition in Asia.












2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

25 26 27 28 29







67 68

35 36 37




47 48

55 56 57 58



1. means of conveyance

9. Their actions strongly influence

the course of events

16. important food fish of northern

Atlantic waters

17. Fab Fourth’ fifth wheel?

19. sans attire

20. under consideration in a written

work or speech

21. Designate

22. your “average” guy

23. Became more complex

70 Human Dimensions



62 63

71 72 73 74 75

79 80 81

82 83 84


104 105


97 98

92 93


17 18


30 31





















90 91

12 13 14









Human Dimensions




25. Wind down

29. The Green economy will be

widely debated there

32. A one stringed guitar and un


33. “Absolutely” in paris

35. it’s little and white

38. The prevention of loss

41. Welcome guest on a farm

42. number one on FDi penetration

43. initials of former european


44. pronoun

46. Capital of Africa’s most populous


47. such as wind and wave power

49. number two in carbon dioxide


51. just friends

53. out of sorts

54. This people throw for money

56. Amélie, for one

59. romney likes it there (abbr.)

60. Can make websites sucessful


62. Tells about your full climate

change impact

65. makes you cool (abbr.)

66. Zones prone to flooding

70. Key source of u.s. federal backing

in the social sciences

71. oil in Florence

72. relating to persia, modernized

75. Half a cocktail

76. The grass on the other side

77. joint initiative by unep and

iHDp on wealth

79. Green vegetable dye imported

from China

80. Botanists’ concern

81. Brother of Abel

83. one of jupiter’s moons

84. Chemical symbol for lithium

87. Clutter containing radionuclides

89. un agency concerned with

atomic energy

90. ma ying-jeou just got his renewed

92. A 1997 protocol is named after


94. Approximately 3.14159

95. Global affairs concentration at

uni (abbr.)

96. relating to the refreshment of

health or spirits (adj.)

99. russian-born composer of “The

Firebird” (died 1971)

101. Designated un authority for

environmental issues (abbr.)

103. river in north-West spain with

decreasing salmon stock

104. A reduction of which is most


105. To castigate

106. To lose weight or to escape

from danger


1. saying hello to a microphone

2. miscellaneous (abbr.)

3. snooze in salamanca

4. invented the gas motor engine

5. Kubrick probably shouted this


6. A small one

7. just right

8. in the negative

9. After yalta

10. Family of rechargeable battery

types (short form)

11. not only children want this

12. A human’s largest joints

13. made of 27

14. To ge to the other side, it was

crossed (abbr.)

15. The beginning of life

18. With chloride it’s salt (abbr.)

22. British economist and logician,

died 1882

24. Toiletry case

25. inventor of dynamite (initials)

26. e.g. ethanol (pl.)

27. preposition, indicates a price

28. Destination when immediate

medical care is needed (abbr.)

30. Avoids depletion or damage

31. indian auto company

32. social process, considered a

symbol of human civilization

33. initials of soul, jazz singer: oleta


34. GDp is one

35. For some it’s the sky

36. something is fashionable

37. We’re all on it together

38. Doesn’t need social media to


39. Austria’s biggest airport (abbr.)

40. its secretariat is based in Bonn

41. some are renewable

42. saving on the way to earning

45. small house

48. A leg

50. not in favour of

52. options

55. Tennessee Williams had it on a

hot tin roof

57. indicates an alternative

58. Wasting as little as possible


61. Green prefix

63. most populous Canadian province

64. organisation to protect u.s.

information systems (abbr.)

67. When a pC starts thinking


68. of the sun

69. person maintaining a relationship

73. The very cause of things

74. its members are bears and lions


76. A member of the u.s. army


78. use again

82. Between Greece and Turkey

85. Controlled by a mouse

86. native of an equatorial land

88. name of several Chinese dynasties

91. number of south African provinces

93. Vienna-based 12-member oil

group (abbr.)

94. might even get you coffee


96. Helps wash a car

97. number of india’s main language


98. Calendar month (abbr.)

99. remained in one place (past-p)

100. mythical giant bird

101. it’s __ against them

102. it’s all about reputation (abbr.)

solutions to the crossword puzzle will be available on iHDp’s new blog at the end of April,

have a look and see how you’ve done at: www.ihdp.unu.edu/article/blog




Achim Steiner



Barack Obama



Manmohan Singh



Wen Jiabao



Ban Ki-moon



Felipe Calderon


Bharrat Jagdeo




Christiana Figueres



David Cameron



Hu Jintao


Jacob Zuma



Frederik Reinfeldt




Up with patents

(factsheet for policymakers, p.

12) oeCD (2011). Towards Green

Growth. oeCD, paris.

First adopters


What a waste








Canned Energy





Auto Giants



left in the Cold



life in Coral






Carbon Grove



That’s fresh


Boreal Bank


Human Crops







1. jackson, T and p Victor 2012 social

Limits to Dematerialisation. special

issue phil Trans of the royal society

A, forthcoming.

2. unep (2011) modelling Global

Green investment scenarios





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74 Human Dimensions

A major international conference to provide scientific leadership towards the

2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development - Rio+20

Top international plenary speakers and more than 100 sessions and

side events will provide a state of the planet assessment for Rio +20.

Coverage includes: climate change, ecological degradation, human well-

being, planetary thresholds, food security, energy, governance across scales

Human Dimensions

and poverty.




Organised by the global-change research programmes of the International Council for Science

And their Earth System Science Partnership

For REGISTER results, NOW visit

the PLAN 2012 website




Reassessing what we

count and measure

Partha Dasgupta and Anantha Duraiappah

There is much to like about Resilient People, Resilient

Planet: A Future Worth Choosing, the final

report released January 30 by the UN Secretary

General’s High Level Panel on Global Sustainability,

co-chaired by Finnish President Tarja Halonen

and South African President Jacob Zuma. The

Panel acknowledges past successes while recognizing

the failure and indeed inability of the current

global political-economic order to implement

the drastic changes necessary to bring about what

could truly be deemed “sustainability”. It presents

a vision for a “sustainable planet, just society and

growing economy,” as well as 56 policy recommendations

for realizing that vision. It is arguably

“We need new indicators

that tell us if we are

destroying the productive

base that supports our


the most prominent international call for a radical

redesign of the global economy ever issued. Yet for

all its rich content, the Panel’s report is less secure

on concrete, practical solutions, and its most valuable

short-term recommendation—the replacement

of current development indicators (GdP

or variants thereof) with more comprehensive,

inclusive metrics for wealth—seems tacked on

almost as an afterthought. Without quick, decisive

international movement to prioritize sustain-

ability at the expense of the status quo, the report

risks suffering the fate of its 1987 predecessor, the

pioneering Brundtland Report, which introduced

the concept of sustainability at the international

level and similarly called for a paradigm shift, but

which was not followed with action.

The world today is “experiencing the best of

times, and the worst of times”, begins the Panel,

setting the contrasting tone for the full report: as

a whole, the globe is experiencing unparalleled

prosperity; great strides are being made to reduce

global poverty; technological advancements

are revolutionizing untold corners of life across

the world, stamping out diseases and transforming

communication. At the same time, inequality

remains stubbornly high and in many areas

is increasing; short-term political and economic

strategies are driving consumerism and debt

while putting ever-greater stress on the natural

environment; the global population is soaring,

projected to reach nearly 9 billion by 2040. By

2030, notes the Panel, “the world will need at

least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy

and 30 per cent more water—all at a time

when environmental boundaries are throwing

up new limits to supply”. Despite our advancements,

it is concluded, humanity has not used

the past 25 years to conserve resources, safeguard

natural ecosystems, or otherwise ensure its own

long-term viability.

The question is nevertheless begged: is a

statement—however powerful—enough? Will the

world now rally to this international call to “transform

the global economy”, when it did not 25 years

ago? While the planet is undoubtedly facing a

number of perilous crises, it may be crisis itself out

of which real action is born. As the Panel points

76 Human Dimensions

Photo Louise Smith

out, it has never been clearer that a paradigm shift

is necessary to achieve truly sustainable global development

within planetary boundaries.

But what is the nature of planetary boundaries?

Who will coordinate an international process

of studying them and who will ensure that scientific

findings flow into meaningful public policy

processes? These are concrete questions that demand

concrete solutions. The next step must be

a significant international and interdisciplinary

scientific effort to tackle these issues comprehensively;

therefore the Panel’s recommendation of

setting up an international science panel is a step

in the right direction. However, creating such a

body will take time and the challenge is to get the

best science to policy—in a way that is credible,

legitimate and salient.

The 2010 Report on the Measurement of Economic

Performance and Social Progress, commissioned

by French President Sarkozy, echoed the

current consensus among social scientists that we

are mis-measuring our lives by using per capita

GdP as our yardstick for progress. We need new

indicators that tell us if we are destroying the

productive base that supports our well-being. An

immediate move could be to mobilize and shore

up those organizations that are creating new development

indicators to internalize the social and

environmental costs of economic growth.

The International Human Dimensions Programme

(IhdP) with support from the United Nations

Environment Programme (UNEP) and contributions

from the UN-Water Decade Programme

on Capacity Development (UNw-dPC) and the Natural

Capital Project, Stanford University, is with

its Inclusive Wealth Report (Iwr) already aiming to

provide answers to the crucial question of how we

Human Dimensions

accurately measure the productive base and wellbeing.

With the development of this first report on

the wealth and changes in the productive base of

nations, the project provides a capital approach to

sustainability based on a portfolio of stocks of various

assets or “wealth”, including natural capital,

produced capital, human and social capital. The

main objectives of the Iwr are to carry out a comprehensive

analysis of the different components of

wealth by country and their link to economic development

and human well-being. The Iwr pays

particular attention to natural and human capital

and shows how to formulate policies that are based

on the social management of asset portfolios.

The first Iwr, focusing on a selection of 20

countries worldwide, will be officially launched

at a joint UNEP and IhdP side event at Rio+20.

Preliminary findings will be presented during the

Planet Under Pressure Conference in London in

late March. The Iwr stands for a crucial first step

in changing the global economic paradigm, by

forcing us to reassess our needs and goals as a society,

and ensuring we have the correct information

with which to implement and assess our economic

development and improved well-being. It is not

intended as the universal indicator for sustainability.

But it does offer a rigorous framework for dialogue

with multiple constituencies representing

the environmental, social and economic fields.

Our situation is critical and, as the Panel aptly

put it, “tinkering around the margins” will no longer

suffice—a warning to those counting on renewable

energy technologies and the Green Economy

to solve our problems. The call for a radical paradigm

shift in the global economic system has been

again made. Our challenge now will be to follow up

words and recommendations with action. — [D]



International Human Dimensions

Programme on Global Environmental


Hermann-ehlers-straße 10

53113 Bonn, Germany


78 Human Dimensions

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