BlogSustainable development, not GDP growth to save the planet

Sustainable development, not GDP growth to save the planet

In the fight to stop global tipping points, we are losing because the climate is changing more quickly than predicted and because we have already crossed six of the nine sustainable planetary boundaries (biogeochemical fluxes, freshwater and land-system change, biodiversity loss, and novel entities. In 2023, which was the warmest year on record, the summer Antarctic sea ice decreased to its lowest level ever recorded.

People throughout the world are realizing that things are not getting better. The sense of connection in nations is being undermined by political division and rising inequality as wars rage. According to a 2017 Oxfam analysis, eight people owned more than the poorest 50% of the global population. Anxiety, sadness, and burnout are on the rise. While firms reduce staff and pile on more work, full-time employees are unable to pay their rent and must take on additional part-time employment to make ends meet.

In current global economic system where economic growth is prioritized over all other considerations and natural and social capital, energy, and time are depleted, crises have become the norm.

Governments should not use GDP growth as a measure of success but rather must act quickly to achieve sustainable well-being within the limits of the earth. Also, the new economy should built on the principles of justice, sufficiency, and sustainable prosperity.

The antiquated mindset that holds that all people want is unlimited income and spending is the pursuit of GDP growth at all costs. Its predicated on the ideas that the market economy may expand without end, that extreme inequality can justified to create incentives for growth, and that attempts to solve social and environmental issues, including climate change, must not impede economic progress. It assumes that the answer to every problem is expansion. It’s not.

GDP growth was never intended to gauge societal well-being; rather, it was created to track market production and consumption. The distribution of income, unpaid labour, and harm to social or natural capital all not covered by GDP. The misuse of GDP as a policy objective is pushing countries toward an unsustainable future where the great majority remains impoverished and an ever-smaller percentage of the population benefits.

Numerous organizations, nations, universities, non-governmental organizations, the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the United Nations have already adopted hundreds of indicators of societal well-being. The OECD Better Life Index, the Genuine Progress Indicator, and yearly polls of life satisfaction are a few examples. The world needs to choose a new metric if it is to replace GDP growth and become a universally accepted social objective. There must be wide agreement on what should included.

For instance, how wealth distributed is just as important as the amount itself. In addition to factors that are directly related to income, such as our communities and relationships, effective government, our ability to participate in decision-making, and the ecosystem services that the natural environment provides, the costs of environmental and social degradation also need to taken into account.

To evaluate the sustainability of societal well-being, it is necessary to construct future projections and improve the modelling of the interactions between social, economic, and ecological aspects. Two national examples are the LowGrow model of the Canadian ecological economy and the EUROGREEN model, which has implemented in France.

The Club of Rome’s Earth4All approach adopts an international viewpoint. It looks at two possible futures for 2050. The first, dubbed “business as usual” or “too little, too late,” examines what would happen if global trends toward rising inequality, disrupting the climate, and declining well-being persist, even while GDP continues to climb. In contrast, the second scenario, dubbed “giant leap,” demonstrates how investments in five areas might guarantee the equitable, prosperous, and sustainable well-being of both humans and the rest of nature: regenerative food, renewable energy, poverty elimination, inequality reduction, and empowerment.

For example, new policies would emphasize shifting away from fossil fuels rather than rewarding the fossil-fuel business with massive subsidies to maintain economic growth at the expense of climate change and social disturbance. Regardless of the impact on GDP, measures aimed at achieving the other four turnaround areas would put into place concurrently to promote sustained well-being.

The EU and the group of well-being economy governments, known as WEGo, which consists of Scotland, New Zealand, Wales, Finland, Canada, and Iceland, have started putting sustainable well-being measures and policies into practice. Scholars must evaluate these strategies and provide insights to assist other countries in implementing them. Which policies are these? There are other iterations, but an open letter that, along with over 400 eminent scientists, economists, policymakers, and activists, signed in May offers a place to start in four different areas. These include active democracy (see “Beyond growth policies”), fairness (a more equal society), biocapacity (preserving the environment), and well-being for all (basic services and rights).

Building a sustainable society where people’s well-being is valued has to be a top priority for 2024 and beyond. At the social level, individuals require a constructive, mutually understood set of objectives that can lead to long-term well-being.

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