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Introduction Box 2: Towards a green economy: A twin challenge

Many countries now enjoy a high level of human development – but at the cost of a large ecological footprint. Others have a very low footprint, but face urgent needs to improve access to basic services such as

African countries

Asian countries European countries

Oceanian countries North American countries Latin American and Caribbean countries

8 10

health, education, and potable water. The challenge for countries is to move towards the origin of the graph, where a high level of human development can be achieved within planetary boundaries.



World average biocapacity per capita in 1961 World average biocapacity per capita in 2006

High human development within the Earth’s limits

0.2 0.4 Source: Global Footprint Network (2010); UNDP (2009) United Nations Human Development Index 0.6 0.8 1.0



economic growth of recent decades has been accomplished mainly through drawing down natural resources, without allowing stocks to regenerate, and through allowing widespread ecosystem degradation and loss.

For instance, today only 20 per cent of commercial fish stocks, primarily low priced species, are underexploited; 52 per cent are fully exploited with no further room for expansion; about 20 per cent are overexploited; and 8 per cent are depleted (FAO 2009). Water is becoming scarce and water stress is projected to increase with water supply satisfying only 60 per cent of world demand in 20 years (McKinsey and Company 2009). Agriculture saw increasing yields primarily due to the use of chemical fertilisers (Sparks 2009), yet has resulted in declining soil quality, land degradation, (Müller and Davis 2009) and deforestation – which resulted in 13 million hectares of forest lost annually over 1990-2005 (FAO 2010). Ecological scarcities are seriously affecting the entire gamut of economic sectors that are the bedrock of human food supply (fisheries, agriculture, freshwater, and forestry) and a critical source of livelihoods for the poor. At the same time, ecological

scarcity and social inequity are clear indicators of an economy that is not sustainable.

For the first time in history, more than half of the world population lives in urban areas. Cities now account for 75 per cent of energy consumption (UN Habitat 2009) and of carbon emissions (Clinton Foundation 2010).1


and related problems of congestion, pollution and poorly provisioned services affect the productivity and health of all, but fall particularly hard on the urban poor. With approximately 50 per cent of the global population now living in emerging economies (World Bank 2010) that are rapidly urbanising and developing, the need for green city planning, infrastructure and transportation is paramount.

The transition to a green economy will vary considerably among nations, as it depends on the specifics of each country’s natural and human capital and on its relative level of development. As demonstrated graphically, there are many opportunities for all countries in such a transition (see Box 2). Some countries have attained high levels of

1. For a critique of these figures, see Satterthwaite, D. (2008), “Cities’ contribution to global warming: notes on the allocation of greenhouse gas emissions”, Environment and Urbanization, 20 (2): 539-549..


UNDP threshold for high human development

Ecological footprint (global hectares per capita)

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