‘Nature provides a free lunch, but only if we control our appetites.’ William Ruckelshaus, the former Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, made this famous statement in BusinessWeek in 1990. Twenty years later, we are still seeking the right ‘diet’ for sustainable development. While the recent developments in the global dialogue on sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and resource efficiency have helped create a better “diet plan”, the question remains: could it work for all economies? First, let’s have a look at some of the hottest items in our new sustainable development diet. At the World Resources Forum 2012 held in Beijing, China, 2007 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner Dr. Mohan Munasinghe was one of those tackling the topic.
Having just reached a population of 8 million this summer, Switzerland seems minuscule compared to China and its roughly 1.35 billion residents. Nor can Switzerland’s economic and political power be compared to the upcoming superpower that is China. However, with Swiss founders and co-organizers, Switzerland was featured quite prominently at the World Resources Forum 2012 in Beijing. But why should China and other countries around the world be interested in Switzerland when it comes to resources? And how can Switzerland benefit from these Sino-Swiss relations?
Unless one is living under a rock, chances are my readers have heard about United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals which were conceived to raise millions out of poverty in the developing world. According to the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohan Munasinghe, “throwing money” on the developing countries is not enough to make the world’s development path more sustainable. At the World Resources Forum in Beijing, he talked about why the rich need to focus not only on development aid and technological inventions but also on curbing their own consumption. First of all, why shift our attention to consumption? “Focusing on sustainable production is not a sufficient condition for sustainability.
As our societies develop and evolve, the question of measuring progress through different metrics has gained a more prominent place. Simple measures, such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), do not perhaps capture all the complexities of development that we want them to and this is where purpose-built replacements such as Gross National Happiness (GNH) come into play. The Student Reporter team at the World Resources Forum 2012 in Beijing, China was reminded of this problem when interviewing the 2007 Nobel peace prize winner Dr. Mohan Munasinghe. Although there were a myriad of topics such as sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and greening the economy, the question of the importance of alternative metrics is one that stuck. During his many talks at the conference, Dr. Munasinghe explored and encouraged the usage of alternative economic indicators in lieu of the ubiquitous GDP; indicators that could capture many other elements of economic, cultural, and societal value.
Professor Munasinghe is the Sri Lankan professor who vice-chaired the UN’s International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and the author behind the sustainability triangle, a classic concept in our environmental economics textbooks which he first presented at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit as part of his work called sustainomics. (more…)
Protectionism, keeping the resources for yourself and maybe your neighbour – is that today still a considered strategy? At the World Resources Forum, the answer was clear. The energy supply chain today is more international than ever before. Countries are more interdependent than ever before. But countries are still looking at energy in terms of national self-reliance.
Flying. It’s convenient and quick but let’s face it – it’s a big environmental headache. And worldwide ecological conferences aren’t helping in that matter. As argued by my editor, Claudio Ruch, in the above linked article, we have to sometimes look beyond the carbon footprint to see what value we’re getting. After all, if there hadn’t been a global conference, I would still be sitting in Switzerland and Samuel Pickard in the United Kingdom, we would have never met and there would have been no extraordinary story to report.
However, according to Dambisa Moyo and her new book “Winner Take All”, China has shown no signs of similarities with European colonialism, such as religious conversion, use of military force, or handpicking the local political leadership. On the contrary, China seems highly uninterested in taking on sovereign responsibilities or political control. Indeed, China’s ‘No Strings Attached Policy’ confirms its disinterest of interfering in other countries domestic affairs. My colleague, Sina Blassnig, explores this angle more deeply in her article. Nonetheless, even if China is not engaged in a type of new colonialism, there is yet a reason why the rest of the world should worry – China’s recent quest for natural resources.
Several problems are being talked about when it comes to the Internet. We speak about one’s addiction to it, about the isolation it provokes – all connected, but all alone – about the risks of our data being stolen or the risks of buying online with a credit card. More rarely, we speak about Internet and its environmental impact. Has it ever occurred to you that while you are browsing the World Wide Web, there is a big charge of electricity coursing across the world to bring you the pages and documents you ask for? And I’m not talking only about the power your computer is consuming at the moment – as a fun statistic, a small laptop produces around 8 grams of CO2 per hour.
At the World Resources Forum (WRF) in Beijing, all environmental experts agree on the fact that today we need to take actions to tackle the problem of resources scarcity. Problematic, however, is to pinpoint who should lead the change. Prof. Munashinghe, the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner, gives a very pragmatic answer: “ Market share is the key element to understand where governmental policy should focus.” If the market has oligopolistic characteristics, policy actions should focus on the supply side. In an oligopsonic market, the opposite policy maker should take actions on the demand side to make the consumer aware about possible solutions path for the environmental issue. This solution is very important because it give a simple tool for policy maker to focus their strategy on the right market actors and therefore gain in efficiency.