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Getting to Sustainable Development, Inclusively and Efficiently

Rachel Kyte's picture

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Sustainable development is built on the triple bottom line: economic growth, environmental stewardship, and social development - or prosperity, planet, people. Without careful attention to all three, we cannot create a sustainable world.

In the 25 years since sustainable development was coined as a term, there has been progress, but the pathway to sustainable development must now be more inclusive green growth.

Progress has often come at the expense of our natural wealth. We have destroyed and depleted our natural assets to the point where we run the risk of undermining the precious gains.

At the same time, while globally the planet is flatter and more equitable, within countries the gap between rich and poor has grown unsustainably.

Think about this: 1.3 billion people still don’t have access to electricity, a billion go hungry every day, some 900 million still don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water, and more than 2.5 billion lack access to sanitation. Meeting these needs during a period of unprecedented urbanization and with climate change making the future ever more complex, demands growth that protects the natural resources upon which the poor especially depend. We cannot balance our economies or the health of the planet on the backs of the poor.

The answer is growth that is efficient in its use of resources. It avoids locking in irreversible environmental damage and which public policy steers to ensure inclusivity. Embracing this kind of inclusive green growth doesn’t mean no growth or even slow growth, and certainly not a reversal of growth. It means a step change in the way we manage economies.

For example, when countries value their natural wealth and ecosystems alongside GDP, they can see the true value of natural capital that we have taken for granted for too long. To make different investment decisions, we need different data and evidence.

Green growth, like all good growth policies, requires getting prices right. It requires addressing policy and market failures, creating tradable property rights, and removing inappropriate subsidies. It means increasing efficiency and recognizing inefficiency in the current growth patterns we are experiencing. It means finding creative strategies that work for each country and helping policy makers answer the Monday morning question: What do I do differently?

Thinking holistically about growth can get us back on the path to sustainable development.

Rachel Kyte
Vice President for Sustainable Development
Twitter: @rkyte365



Submitted by Skeptical on
Efficiency, optimization and new metrics will not save us. We won't preserve the world by becoming more efficient at exploiting its resources nor by growing until every country has a rich standard of living. Ask yourself, even at the utmost efficiency, can the world really support billions of people living at even just the standard of the Western middle class? The negative externalities of the global economy are not signs of dysfunction but byproducts of its function. We need a change of system, not in system. If not, I fear that we are all headed towards Chinese-style authoritarian capitalism to deal with these various tragedies of the commons.

Thanks for the comment. Efficiency is a critical, first step. And it will work for all. But, what we're advocating is much more than efficiency. Inclusive green growth, on the table at the Mexican G20 and Rio +20, envisages economic systems that better value people and the environment and take both into consideration in every decision. It's a change in the way we measure national wealth, and it will help leaders make more informed decisions.

Submitted by Anonymous on
If you really want to help the oceans, you should ban trawling. Enforce this not only in national waters but also international.

Thank you for your comment. Like you, we're very concerned about the health of the world's oceans. The amount of damage that overfishing and pollution have done is staggering. That's why we brought together the world's leaders in ocean science, advocacy, policy and use a few weeks ago to begin laying the groundwork for a Global Partnership for Oceans. We'll be working with governments and private industry on better governance and management of ocean and coastal ecosystems that works for everyone. Here's where we stand: In addition to supporting the ban on destructive and illegal fishing practices, The World Bank's PROFISH (Global Program on Fisheries) partnership recommends ending open access to fisheries to increase the health and productivity of the oceans. Rights-based fishing, in the broadest sense, is one solution. From our perspective, rights-based systems range from community allocations to defining marine protected areas. Well-defined rights and responsibilities can strengthen community and traditional fishing access, food security and sustainable income. They provide incentives for responsible, more transparent and forward-looking behavior. Phasing out subsidies is another part of the solution. At the heart of it, we need better governance, including measures to end illegal fishing, which is something the Global Partnership for Oceans will be working on. I encourage you to visit the Global Partnership for Oceans website at for more information.

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