Livable Planet Possible with More Efficient Use of Natural Resources
Global challenges such as climate change, economic productivity, food and water security, and health could be overcome if countries use their natural resources more efficiently, and this is possible without sacrificing the environment or human prosperity, a new report says.
Combining innovative science, data sources, and biophysical and economic models, the Nature’s Frontiers: Achieving Sustainability, Efficiency, and Prosperity with Natural Capital report offers a novel way to address the fundamental challenge of sustainability. It identifies how and where countries can use natural resources more efficiently so they can prosper without damaging the planet – or going beyond their natural efficiency frontiers.
“This work is helping us understand what is happening at a country level and how countries can achieve their development goals without sacrificing biodiversity or climate change targets,” said Richard Damania, World Bank Chief Economist for Sustainable Development. “There are actions countries can take now to give their people a better life while maintaining a livable planet.”
The report, prepared by the World Bank, the Natural Capital Project, and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), concludes that major efficiency gaps exist in nearly every country in how they use their natural resources. Closing these gaps can address many of the world’s pressing economic and environmental problems: climate change, economic productivity, food and water security, and health. On average, countries can almost double their performance in terms of either economic returns or environmental outcomes by improving on one dimension without a sacrifice in the other outcome.
With countries facing competing needs and stretched budgets, tackling inefficiencies remains one of the more cost-effective and economically attractive ways to achieve global sustainability goals. Better allocation and management of land, water, and other natural resources could lead to total increases in agriculture, grazing, and forestry annual income of approximately US$329 billion worldwide—and enough food production to feed the world until 2050—without net loss of forests and natural habitats.
“This pioneering work will help integrate the value nature provides to society into major decisions,” said Steve Polasky, Professor of Ecological/Environmental Economics, University of Minnesota and The Natural Capital Project. “The innovative tools developed for this report harness global environmental and economic data to provide decision makers with actionable information for policy, finance, and management decisions.”
According to the report, avoiding deforestation could sequester an additional 85.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide – or as much as 1.7 years of global emissions – without affecting economic growth. In addition, spending current amounts on air pollution prevention in a more efficient way could help save 366,000 more lives every year. Many of these opportunities are in low- and middle-income countries, which would benefit the most from these actions.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution, given the stark differences across countries and the challenges they face. Instead, the report identifies what changes are needed and where these changes need to occur in a country. It provides indicators to evaluate trade-offs and identifies the most appropriate policy mix for the country. The result is a detailed roadmap that can assist countries select the most feasible and affordable approach to meet their environment and development needs.
Download Nature’s Frontiers here.