Finnish Environment Institute | Suomen ympäristökeskus | Finlands miljöcentral

sykefi header valkoinen

Well-being within the limits of global capacity

Sustainable development can only be implemented if there is respect for planetary boundaries. They define the possibilities under which societies can seek well-being. The economy as part of a social system is also subordinate to planetary boundaries.

Inequality between the countries of the world and inequality within individual countries are key challenges to sustainable well-being. Extreme poverty has been reduced to half the previous level in the past 20 years. Increasing numbers of people have risen to the middle-income level and currently a majority of the world population are in the middle-income group. However, global wealth is increasingly becoming concentrated in the hands of a few while at the same time a tenth of the world population are suffering from hunger.

The amount of income correlates with environmental impact, such as the ecological footprint, which also includes carbon emissions. The ecological footprints of the rich countries exceed the footprints of poorer countries many times over. For example, the ecological footprint of a US citizen in 2014 was 8.4 global hectares, while the equivalent footprint for an Indian was 1.1 global hectares. On the other hand, the use of natural resources and carbon emissions differ sharply even within countries according to income levels.

The richest tenth is responsible for half of the world's emissions

Also in Finland households with the largest incomes produce more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions with their consumption compared with the households with the lowest incomes. It has been estimated on a global scale that the richest tenth is responsible for half of the emissions caused by consumption. The poorest half of the world population causes only about one tenth of consumption-based emissions.

Literature on sustainable well-being often mentions a double injustice: poor population groups have not caused climate change, but they are the ones who will suffer most from its effects. The poorest people have scant possibilities to protect themselves against floods and hurricanes. It is also fateful for them if a crop is ruined by dryness, cold, or late monsoon rains.

New type of economic thinking

A fair and sustainable state of well-being can be visualised with the help of the so-called doughnut model. British economist Kate Raworth has combined planetary boundaries with goals describing a social minimum, such as adequate nutrition and education, which all of the people in the world should achieve.

The space that falls between planetary boundaries and social goals, the doughnut, is what Raworth calls the safe and just space for humanity. In her book Doughnut Economics she proposes that all economic activities should be kept within the boundaries of the doughnut instead of seeking constant economic growth. In practice this kind of economy requires, for instance, more efficient circulation, redistribution, and sustainable planning of resources.

Published 2018-09-13 at 10:54, updated 2018-09-13 at 10:54

Target group: