Stop Using GDP to Measure Wealth

Top scientists are urging governments to replace GDP as a measure of wealth, end damaging subsidies and transform systems of governance to set humanity on a new path to a better future.  Otherwise, we risk climate, biodiversity and poverty crises that will spawn greater problems worldwide.

"The current system is broken," says Bob Watson, the UK’s chief scientific advisor on environmental issues.  "It is driving humanity to a future that is 3-5°C warmer than our species has ever known and is eliminating the ecology that we depend on for our health, wealth and senses of self."

Watson is also a winner of the Blue Planet Prize, often called the Nobel Prize for the environment. Together with 19 other past winners of the prize, he has prepared a list of urgent changes needed to save the planet. Watson is presenting the scientists' paper on Monday 20 February to government ministers from around the world at the UN Environment Programme’s governing council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya. 

"We cannot assume that technological fixes will come fast enough," says Watson.  "Instead we need human solutions. The good news is that they exist but decision makers must be bold and forward thinking to seize them."

Watson’s co-authors includeJames Hansen of NASA, Emil Salim, former environment minister of Indonesia, Susan Solomon of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and José Goldemberg, who was Brazil’s Secretary of Environment during the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Their paper comes ahead of the 20th anniversary of that summit – the Rio+20 conference in June this year – when world leaders have an opportunity to set human development on a new, more sustainable path.

The paper urges governments to:

  • Replace GDP as a measure of wealth with metrics for natural, built, human and social capital -- and how they intersect.
  • Eliminate subsidies in sectors such as energy, transport and agriculture that create environmental and social costs, which currently go unpaid.
  • Tackle overconsumption and address population pressure by empowering women, improving education and making contraception accessible to all. 
  • Transform decision making processes to empower marginalised groups and integrate economic, social and environmental policies instead of having them compete.
  • Conserve and value biodiversity and ecosystem services and create markets for them that can form the basis of green economies.
  • Invest in knowledge -- both in creating and sharing it -- through research and training that will enable governments, business and society at large to understand and move towards a sustainable future.

“Sustainable development is not a pipe dream,” says Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development.  “It is the destination the world’s accumulated knowledge points us towards, the fair future that will enable us to live with security, peace and opportunities for all. To get there we must transform the ways we manage, share and interact with the environment, and acknowledge that humanity is part of nature not apart from it.”

“The paper by the Blue Planet laureates will challenge governments and society as a whole to act to limit human-induced climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystem services in order to ensure food, water energy and human security,''  adds Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.  "Professor Watson and colleagues (have) eloquently articulated their vision on how key development challenges can be addressed, emphasizing solutions; the policies, technologies and behaviour changes required to grow green economies, generate jobs and lift people out of poverty without pushing the world through planetary boundaries.”

Related Article

"Blue Planet Prize Winners Call for Transformational Change to Achieve Sustainable Development"