Two decades after the Earth Summit in 1992, attempts to govern, sustainably, the global environment and manage the world economy without destabilising crises, are hopelessly disconnected. Since the original Earth Summit conference we have lived with an economic model based on debt-fuelled overconsumption that co-exists with vast levels of poverty and inequality.
For decades governments have allowed a single indicator, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), to assume dominance as the critical measure of a nation’s progress. It is now widely recognised by politicians and officials across the world that we must move beyond GDP and recognise it for what it is – a measure of economic exchange, which is itself a means to an end; the ‘end’ being the achievement of high well-being for all within environmental limits (‘sustainable well-being’).
In the following paper we propose a “plenty line” as a counterpart to the poverty line. We present this as a means of focusing public and political attention on the issue of over-consumption. Here we ask, is there a level of income such that people with incomes above this level have minimally greater well-being than those with incomes at this level?
If everyone lived the global middle class lifestyle of London or Shanghai we would need three planets to support us. And yet, the average citizen of Bangladesh consumes the equivalent of just a third of a planet.
Three key issues frame this challenge paper: the deep and persistent poverty that characterises large parts of the developing world, the imperative associated with climate change (both mitigation and adaptation) and, rising and volatile energy prices.
There are many immediate actions and practical policy initiatives which can be implemented now that will immediately strengthen food sovereignty, reduce environmental damage and support the innovative work of peasants / small scale food producers and providers. We argue the following responses will help respond to the food crisis.
The natural world has a lot to teach us. Above all, it teaches us about systems and cycles; that altering one component of a system, however small, can have wider implications within and beyond a given cycle. Human society, the planet and the economy are all systems and are all bound together in intricate relationships.
Outsourced emissions are a major loophole in current efforts to tackle climate change and build a green economy. International flows of carbon embedded in trade have grown considerably since the original Rio summit, with developed northern nations benefiting unjustly from effectively outsourcing pollution to developing southern states.