Top scientists urge governments to replace GDP as measure of wealth to curtail major crisis

Top scientists will today 20 February, urge 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.

To the top scientists, governments will risk climate, biodiversity and poverty crises that will spawn greater problems worldwide, if they fail to do so.

These and others are contained in a new paper by 20 past winners of the Blue Planet Prize, often called the Nobel Prize for the environment.

The paper will be presented today, to government ministers from around the world at the UN Environment Programme’s governing council meeting in Nairobi, Kenya by Bob Watson, the UK’s chief scientific advisor on environmental issues and a winner of the prize in 2010.

Commenting on issues raised in the paper, Watson said, “The current system is broken,” “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.”

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

Watson’s co-authors include James 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.

Meanwhile, the paper comes ahead of the 20th anniversary of the 1992 summit – the Rio+20 conference scheduled for June this year – when world leaders have an opportunity to set human development on a new, more sustainable path.

The paper among others, urges governments to replace Gross Domestic Product (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 and tackle overconsumption, and address population pressure by empowering women, improving education and making contraception accessible to all.

The top scientists also advise governments to 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 and invest in knowledge – both in creating and in sharing it – through research and training that will enable governments, business, and society at large to understand and move towards a sustainable future.

Also sharing her thoughts on the paper being presented today, Camilla Toulmin, director of the International Institute for Environment and Development said: “Sustainable development is not a pipe dream,” “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.”

For his part, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, held that “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.”

He thanked Professor Watson and colleagues for eloquently articulating their vision on how key development challenges can be addressed, emphasising 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.

The Blue Planet prize, an award presented to individuals or organisations worldwide in recognition of outstanding achievements in scientific research and its application that have helped provide solutions to global environmental problems, was established by the Asahi Glass Foundation in 1992, the year of the Rio Earth Summit.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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