Study: “No country has achieved sustainable development in the past 30 years”

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No country on earth has succeeded in meeting the basic social needs of its people during the past thirty years without putting undue pressure on the natural resources available on the planet. This is the conclusion of a study by scientists at the University of Leeds, based on an analysis of the economic development of 148 countries over the past three decades.

The researchers pointed out that “the study concluded that rich countries risk the future of the planet by actions that ultimately lead to only minimal gains for the well-being of their people.”

“On the other hand, poor countries appear to remain within sustainable limits from an environmental point of view, but at the same time underperform on a number of other developments – such as life expectancy of the population or access to energy.”

Rethink paradigms

The researchers also noted that current trends promise to continue for the next 30 years. In doing so, they are calling for a rethinking of economic models that are dominated by an engine of growth.

“Even rich countries with a reputation for sustainability – such as Germany and Norway – have used more than their fair share of the world’s resources,” the researchers say.

The report highlights that rich countries – including the US, UK and Canada – have made meager social gains despite using resources at levels that would lead to ecological collapse.

Poor countries like Bangladesh, Malawi and Sri Lanka have policies that fail to meet some basic human needs, even though the planet is not exhausted.

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Study leader Andrew Fanning, Professor of Environmental Economics at the University of Leeds, asserts that “everyone needs sufficient resources to be healthy and participate in society with dignity”.

“However, we must also ensure that the use of global resources does not lead to environmental collapse.” At present, the balance between these two goals remains utopian.

Researchers have found that most countries are closer to meeting the basic needs of their populations than they were thirty years ago. “This is good news, although important shortcomings remain to be identified, particularly for collective goals such as equality and democratic quality,” Fanning said.

“The bad news, on the other hand, is that the group of countries that consume a lot of raw materials is expanding. This is especially true for carbon dioxide emissions and material use.”

“It is also worrying that countries tend to move beyond the limits of sustainable development faster than they reach the lower social thresholds for their populations.”


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