Movements to make economic development and environmental sustainability compatible | AGÊNCIA FAPESP

Substituting GDP as a measure of the wealth of nations is one of the recommendations made by researchers who received one of the world’s most important environmental awards.

Movements to make economic development and environmental sustainability compatible

March 21, 2012

By Elton Alisson

Agência FAPESP – A group of world-class environmental specialists published a document containing a set of recommendations for governmental leaders for necessary and urgent actions to make global economic development compatible with environmental and social sustainability.

Titled “Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act,” the document was drafted by 20 scientists who are today Blue Planet Prize laureates.

Awarded by Japan’s Asahi Glass Foundation since 1992—on the occasion of the Rio de Janeiro UN Conference on Environment and Development, better known as ECO-92—the prize is considered to be the “Nobel Prize of the Environment,” as the scientific distinction awarded by the Nobel Foundation does not offer prizes in this area of research.

The name “Blue Planet Prize” was inspired by the phrase “The Earth is blue,” spoken by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin (1934-1968) after a 1961 space flight. One of the recipients of the prize is Gro Harlem Brundtland.

This diplomat presided over the UN World Commission on Environment and Development in the 1980s, when she was the prime minister of Norway. She coordinated the creation of the document “Our Common Future,” published in 1987 and better known as the Brundtland Report, which first made the expression “sustainable development” popular.

The prize was also awarded in 2008 to José Goldemberg, professor at the Universidade de São Paulo (USP) Institute of Electrotechnics and Energy, who was also Secretary of the Environment for Brazil during ECO-92.

Some of the scientists’ recommendations in the document include eliminating subsidies in sectors such as energy, transportation and agriculture, which, in the authors’ opinion, create environmental and social costs, and replacing the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) index as the measure of a nation’s wealth with an alternative.

In the authors’ opinion, the index cannot measure other important indicators of a country’s economic and social development, such as its social, human and natural capital and the ways in which they interact. For this reason, the GDP could be substituted by other measures, such as the Human Development Index (HDI).

“The GDP only measures economic transactions, which isn’t the sole way to measure a nation’s progress. There are nations like Cuba whose economic performance is very low, with low GDP and incomes, but whose educational system is excellent,” Goldemberg told Agência FAPESP.

Other recommendations made by the scientists are to conserve and bring value to the biodiversity and services of the ecosystem, creating markets that can become foundations for “green” economies and investing in the creation and transfer of knowledge through research and development which, in the authors’ opinion, will allow governments and society in general to “be able to understand and move in the direction of a sustainable future.”

“Summarizing, the document’s message is that we can’t follow a trajectory of development whose only parameter is economic growth,” Goldemberg stated.

“This is quite common in Brazil, for example, where economists say the economy should grow 5% per year. But if the Amazon rainforest is destroyed in this process, for many of these economists there is no problem because the GDP has increased and is generating economic activity. However, if economic value is generated, the country loses its biodiversity and its future,” he explained.

The document was presented on February 20th to ministers from the more than 80 nations that participated in the 12th Special Meeting of the Administrative Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and those from the Global Ministerial Forum in Nairobi, Kenya.

English scientist Bob Watson, who coordinated the writing of the document and presented it in Nairobi, presided over the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and is today the United Kingdom’s main scientific advisor on environmental questions.

Red flag for RIO+20

According to Goldemberg, one of the document’s objectives is that RIO+20, which will be held in Rio de Janeiro from June 20-22, will result in concrete resolutions such as those that emerged at ECO-92 and were approved at the Climate Convention.

“The preparations for the conference are giving the impression that it will be yet another rhetorical event, which would be very bad. There is still no proposal for signing a new convention or protocol,” he revealed.
Goldemberg will participate in the opening of the “BIOTA-BIOEN-Climate Change Joint Workshop: Science and Policy for a Greener Economy in the context of RIO+20,” a preparatory event for RIO+20 to be held by FAPESP on March 6 and 7 at Espaço Apas, in São Paulo.

Goldemberg’s lecture at the opening of the event will touch on the role of biomass within the context of technological development and on some points of the document.

The article Environment and Development Challenges: The Imperative to Act, by Golbemberg and others, can be read at:




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