During the year and a half since French President Nicolas Sarkozy established the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, it has focused on one challenge: How can we move beyond GDP to broader measures of a nation’s economic, social and environmental well-being?
Global Footprint Network applauds this effort and congratulates the Commission for taking a crucial step toward answering that question through its release of the Stiglitz Report. The report synthesizes the complex field of economic performance and social progress indicators and substantiates the voices of early pioneers like Hazel Henderson and Hermann Daly.
With this report, there is now wide agreement that humanity’s success in the 21st century depends largely on robust navigational tools. The report has built a productive platform for further discussions. However, there is still much work to do. The report points out that there is no consensus yet as to which indicators provide the greatest value, and how they should be applied in guiding public policy.
First, it is crucial to build on the important work of the Commission – and perhaps its most significant finding is the need to track distinct policy goals separately: economic, performance, quality of life, and environmental sustainability. We agree that combining these various aspects of well-being would dilute clarity and provide numerical results with little practical utility.
However, there still remain some misconceptions about the Ecological Footprint and the overall significance of ecological constraints, as reflected in the report.
Environmental sustainability is an area that we believe affects all others – from the well-being of a nation’s economy to the well-being of its people. For this reason, we believe it is important to directly address some of the issues about the Footprint raised in the report.
Click here for a detailed response to the report.
In summary, the report questions whether the Footprint gives weight to possibilities offered by technical progress. As an accounting tool, the Ecological Footprint captures year-by-year changes in technological progress, as well as changes in consumption, population and biocapacity. As technological solutions are brought online and effectively boost biocapacity and/or minimize ecological demand, those changes are reflected in Ecological Footprint and biocapacity calculations.
The reports also raises the issue of whether the Footprint is anti-trade. The Footprint has no bias for or against trade. It simply measures human demand on nature, and since we live in a global economy and are dependent on trade, the Footprint shows where countries are vulnerable.
The report also suggests that focusing only on the carbon component of the Ecological Footprint could be sufficient. While carbon emissions are an important aspect of society’s metabolism, it is only one of the six interrelated demands on biocapacity measured by the Ecological Footprint, which also include demand on fisheries, cropland, grazing land, forest (for wood and carbon sequestration), and urban land. All of these components represent competing demands on global ecosystems. Looking at them together enables us to develop true solutions, rather than simply shifting stress on one system (such as the atmosphere), to stress on another (such as cropland).
The Commission created by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and chaired by Nobel Prize-winning economists Professor Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University and Professor Amartya Sen of Harvard, has opened a debate about human well-being in the 21st century. To succeed, we must ensure that the debate remains open, comprehensive, and relevant to emerging trends. We look forward to building on this important work of the Stiglitz Commission, and engaging in ongoing discussions as we explore indicators needed to guide us to a positive future.
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