Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta Chair of the Scientific Committee, IHDP and Professor Anantha Duraiappah, Executive Director, IHDP
There is much to like about the UN Secretary General's High Level Panel report, 'Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing'. The Panel acknowledges past successes, while recognising 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 realising that vision and is arguably the most prominent international call for a radical re-design of the global economy ever issued. Yet, for all its rich content, the Panel's report is less clear on concrete, practical solutions. Its most valuable short-term recommendation – the replacement of current development indicators with more comprehensive and inclusive metrics for wealth – seems tacked on, almost as an afterthought. Without quick, decisive international movement to prioritise sustainability 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 revolutionising 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; and short-term political and economic strategies are driving consumerism and debt, while putting ever-greater stress on the natural environment. Despite our advancements, humanity has not used the past 25 years to conserve resources, safeguard natural ecosystems, or otherwise ensure its own long-term viability.
While the planet is undoubtedly facing a number of perilous crises, it may be out of crisis itself that real action is born. As the Panel points out, it is clearer than ever that a paradigm shift is necessary to achieve truly sustainable global development, within planetary boundaries.
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 wellbeing 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 wellbeing. An immediate move could be to mobilise, and support, those organisations that are creating new development indicators, which internalise the social and environmental costs of economic growth.
The United Nations University's International Human Dimensions Programme (UNU-IHDP), with support from UNEP, is aims to address these issues in its first Inclusive Wealth Report (IWR). The report provides a capital approach to sustainability – based on a portfolio of stocks of assets or 'wealth', including natural, produced, and human and social capital – an aims to carry out a comprehensive analysis of the different components of wealth, by country, together with their link to economic development and human wellbeing. 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, which focuses 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 this week. The IWR represents 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 wellbeing. 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. The call for a radical paradigm shift in the global economic system has been made once again. Our challenge now will be to follow up words and recommendations with action.