Assigning Value to Biodiversity, and the 2011 Human Development ReportFebruary 15, 2012 By Stuart KentGlobal Biodiversity Conservation and the Alleviation of Poverty,” led by Will Turner, estimate the value of highly diverse habitats to the global poor in terms of direct benefits and potential external payments for ecosystem services. They find these environmental flows in excess of $1 per person, per day, for 331 million of the world’s poorest individuals and conclude by arguing that, “although trade-offs remain…results show win-win synergies…and suggest biodiversity conservation as a fundamental component of sustainable economic development.” (For further discussion of development around biodiversity hotspots, see Population Action International’s work on population growth.)
Sustainability and Equity: A Better Future for All, builds from the understanding that a “failure to reduce…grave environmental risks and deepening social inequalities threatens to slow decades of sustained progress by the world’s poor majority.” A resilient thread in the report highlights the importance of working to ensure women’s equality and reproductive rights for sustainability, claiming that “meeting unmet need for family planning by 2050 would lower the world’s carbon emissions an estimated 17 percent below what they are today.” The report closes with a wide range of policy suggestions that work towards the goal of equating sustainability and equity, including a supportive discussion of a currency transaction tax as a novel and feasible method of providing climate financing.
These pieces address contradictions between environmentally sustainable behavior and the development imperative. Though both acknowledge that the traditional development model of high intensity economic growth has imperiled the environment upon which the livelihoods of many hundreds of millions depend, they suggest practical ways forward. The Human Development Report in particular adopts some of the strongest language yet, claiming that, “the message is clear: our development model is bumping up against concrete limits.” This honest attempt to work through, rather than around, the tension between development and sustainability is perhaps an indication that we are at last beginning to take seriously the concept of sustainable development.
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