Cents and Sustainability: Securing Our Common Future by Decoupling Economic Growth from Environmental Pressures


Cents and Sustainability is a clear-sighted response to the 1987 call by Dr Gro Brundtland in Our Common Future to achieve a new era of economic growth that is 'forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally sustainable'. The Brundtland Report argued that not only was it achievable, but that it was an urgent imperative in order to achieve a transition to sustainable development while significantly reducing poverty and driving 'clean and green' investment. With some still arguing for significantly ...

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Cents and Sustainability: Securing Our Common Future by Decoupling Economic Growth from Environmental Pressures

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Cents and Sustainability is a clear-sighted response to the 1987 call by Dr Gro Brundtland in Our Common Future to achieve a new era of economic growth that is 'forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally sustainable'. The Brundtland Report argued that not only was it achievable, but that it was an urgent imperative in order to achieve a transition to sustainable development while significantly reducing poverty and driving 'clean and green' investment. With some still arguing for significantly slowing economic growth in order to reduce pressures on the environment, this new book, Cents and Sustainability, shows that it is possible to reconcile the need for economic growth and environmental sustainability through a strategy to decouple economic growth from environmental pressures, combined with a renewed commitment to achieve significant environmental restoration and poverty reduction. Beginning with a brief overview of some of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time, the book then explains 'decoupling theory', overviews a number of factors that can undermine and even block efforts to decouple in both developed and developing countries, and then discusses a number of key considerations to assist the development of national 'decoupling strategies'. The book then focuses on presenting evidence to support greater action, not just on climate change, but also on decoupling economic growth from the loss of biodiversity and the deterioration of natural systems, freshwater extraction, waste production, and air pollution. In the lead up to the 2012 United Nations Earth Summit and beyond, Cents and Sustainability will be a crucial guide to inform and assist nations to develop strategies to significantly reduce environmental pressures, strengthen their economy, create jobs and reduce poverty. 'I commend the team from The Natural Edge Project and their partners for undertaking to develop a response to 'Our Common Future' to mark its 20th anniversary.' Dr Gro Brundtland. Sequel to The Natural Advantage of Nations Published with The Natural Edge Project

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'Cents and Sustainability provides an excellent overview of the major environmental issues of the day, importantly indicating their interrelationships...The book is aimed at policymakers and I hope it succeeds in engendering a positive attitude towards environmental reform. It will also be an invaluable teaching resource.' – The Geographical Journal

"Hunter Lovins gave a very informative and inspirational presentation. Her perspectives and rationale behind Natural capitalism were enlightening and demonstrated practical ways where everyone, no matter how concerned they are about profits, production and progress, can make a contribution to business success without selling out the environment."Monique Kraemer, Engineers Australia Queensland Division

"The historical assumption that that green investment comes as a cost to the economy needs to be challenged. Destroying the natural resource base upon which economies thrive, and life depends, has never made for good economics. As the world'struggles to recover from one of the worst economic crises in living memory we have an opportunity to promote inclusive and sustainable development based upon green growth, energy efficiency and the sustainable use of natural resources. Cents and Sustainability offers a coherent argument and a collection of evidence to show how prudent policies, market innovation and sheer common sense can lead to green development solutions that cost less, destroy less and benefit all. This message of this book is clear. Its time to act!" – Dr Noeleen Hezyer, Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, and UN Executive Secretary of the Economic and and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.

"In 1987, Our Common Future offered the prospect of decoupling as the resolution between environment and development. Since then the debate has been dismal and confused. Is significant, profitable decoupling somehow impossible, as traditional economists might think, or not permissable to speak of as an incomplete answer, as some on the further green edge seem to believe. Neither. Cents and Sustainability offers abundant evidence that, supporting by appropriate policies and institutions, the technical ability exists for us to do much, much more to decouple human development from environmental degradation. The only negative is that this empowering work was not with us in the 1990s."Professor Stephen Dovers, Director, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University.

"Since the publication of the Brundtland Report, [Our Common Future] problems of unsustainable economic growth have become even more severe. Unless standards of living can be increased while sharply reducing environmental pressures, the world is headed for disaster. Fortunately, such decoupling is not only possible, as this book shows, it is almost always the most economic approach. Bad environmental policies are usually bad economic policies as well." – Professor Robert Repetto, UN Foundation Fellow, Professor for the Economics of Sustainable Development, Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

"In these dangerous times of hype and spin about environment "versus" the economy, it is refreshing to get an update on what has proved to be one of the most important books of the modern era: Our Common Future, and its message of sustainable development. Quite simply, we can not flourish without both economic growth to help the poor to have a more equitable share of the amenities of living, and environmental sustainability, to ensure the ecological underpinnings of our economy—and lives!—are secure over the generations. Of course there are always trade-offs, but it is false to assert it is an either/or situation—species or jobs, wealth or forests etc. We can do well by doing good, and in fact must if the world is to be both sustainable and just. Cents and Sustainability is an important road map to achieve these complementary goals."Professor Stephen H. Schneider, Stanford University, (Contributor to each IPCC Assessment), and Author of "Science as a Contact Sport"

"Cents and Sustainability helps move the debate beyond "growth versus the environment", focusing on the potential for dramatic increases in resource productivity. Now more than ever, realizing the vision of sustainable development is imperative to achieve a prosperous, just and ecologically viable common future."Professor Eban Goodstein, Director of the Bard Centre for Environmental Policy, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson New York, and author of The Trade-off Myth: Fact and Fiction about Jobs and the Environment.

"I commend the team from The Natural Edge Project and their partners for undertaking to develop a response to 'Our Common Future' to mark its 20th anniversary. The focus of this new book, 'Cents and Sustainability', is to bring together significant evidence from the last 20 years to demonstrate that environmental and social sustainability and economic growth need not be incompatible but rather can reinforce each other. The book will cover a range of efforts, studies, policies and mechanisms designed to show how effective and proven strategies of achieving social and environmental sustainability are already helping economic growth."Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland

"It gives me great pleasure to contribute this foreword to ‘Cents and Sustainability’ and support a response by our next generation to the seminal publication Our Common Future, following its recent 20th anniversary. The Natural Edge Project is to be commended for tackling this vitally important issue and highlighting where in the world already communities, regions and nations are creating solutions to this great challenge of our time."R. K. Pachauri, Chief of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), accepting the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPCC

"The leitmotif of this book is how to decouple environmental pressures from economic growth while simultaneously making progress towards attaining the millennium development goals. It thus addresses a number of economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. The book restates the case for reducing environmental pressures. Failure to do so will entail very high costs to ourselves and future generations; the technological means and the policy tools needed already exist and, in most cases, have been deployed in one country or another; finally, the costs of implementing a decoupling agenda are eminently affordable, amounting to only a few percentage points of future increases in GDP." – Dr. Kenneth G. Ruffing, formerly Deputy Director and Chief Economist of the OECD Environment Directorate from 2000 to 2005

"It is not wise simply to hope that our decision makers will make the right choices, especially given the fact that there are still powerful vested interests who do not want to see a transition to sustainable development. In the end, it is up to each and every one of us to leave as positive a legacy as possible to future generations. Cents and Sustainability, with its inspiring world class success stories, our earlier 1987 report to the United Nations entitled Our Common Future, and free online education and training packages by The Natural Edge Project will help empower you to play your part in helping achieve a sustainable future."Jim MacNeill, O.C., Secretary General, World Commission on Environment and Development, and Chief Architect and lead author of Our Common Future (1987)

"The members of the Natural Edge Project are representatives of Australia’s next generation of decision-makers and thought leaders. The Purves Environmental Fund is therefore delighted to support the work of this committed and talented team. Cents and Sustainability takes on the critical issue of how we can improve human welfare while not exceeding the limits of the natural world we inhabit. To quote Ray Anderson, 'How to do well and do good at the same time is the challenge'. This book addresses that challenge. As with the Natural Edge’s previous publication, The Natural Advantage of Nations, Cents and Sustainability is a tremendous achievement and a timely and important contribution. I commend it as essential reading for anyone who is concerned with long-term sustainability and prosperity."Robert Purves, Chair, Purves Environmental Fund

"By attending to the detail set out in this book, more jobs and, in the long run, more "economic" growth can be expected. A Global Green New Deal is possible. The way forward is to decouple economic growth from environmental damage. There is sense in putting aside some cents for the future."Professor Mike Young, Executive Director, The Environment Institute, The University of Adelaide, founding member of The Wentworth Group.

"Population growth and climate change, combined with our current approaches to doing business and managing water, are placing our livelihoods, our communities, and the environment at risk. Cents and Sustainability suggests concrete alternatives for managing both water and business in ways that will help sustain our communities long-term." – Cheryl Davis – San Francisco Water Utility Commission, and International Water Association

"In the years since Our Common Future was published, we have learned much more about how to achieve sustainable development while decoupling economic growth from environmental pressure. In Massachusetts, USA, companies have utilized forward-thinking approaches to production that reduce the use of toxic chemicals before costly safety measures or, worse, pollution control or remediation measures are required. Between 1990-2005, Massachusetts companies reduced their use of toxic chemicals by 40 per cent and onsite releases of toxic chemicals by 91 per cent. This was achieved without harming profits — rather economic and worker health and safety benefits have exceeded costs. This book, Cents and Sustainability, is a wonderful compilation of similar examples of how addressing environmental pressures can be achieved in ways that represent a win-win for businesses, the global economy and society."Pam Eliason, Senior Associate Director and Industry Research Program Manager of the Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Institute

"Our Common Future was a wake-up. The publication showed the real possibilities for economic growth and development, outlining the advantages of basing such development on policies that upkeep the environmental resource base and showing how much could be gained by not depleting them, as has largely been the case in the past. The book Cents and Sustainability is a welcome reminder of what can and should be done to integrate economic growth and environmental sustainability. It also is serving notice, reminding us of what needs to be done to achieve the necessary scale of decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressures to secure the resources to sustain coming generations."Professor Walter Leal (BSc, PhD, DSc, DL, DPhil, DLitt) Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development and Chairman, International Climate Change Information Programme (ICCIP), HAW Hamburg,Germany

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844075294
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis
  • Publication date: 9/28/2010
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Dr Michael H. Smith, a Research Fellow at the Australian National University's Fenner School of Environment and Society, is a co-founder of The Natural Edge Project (TNEP) and was the Research Director from 2002-2010, hosted in-kind by ANU. Working with the TNEP team Michael co-authored a number of books, online education programs and industry sustainability action plans focusing on how to operationalise sustainable development from an ecological modernisation perspective.

Karlson 'Charlie' Hargroves, a co-founder and the Director of The Natural Edge Project (TNEP) is hosted in-kind as a Research Fellow at Griffith University. Together with the TNEP team, he has developed a number of books, journal papers, online education programs, industry action plans, and community capacity building programs, working leaders in the field across the world.

Cheryl Desha is the Deputy Director of The Natural Edge Project (TNEP), and a Lecturer in the School of Engineering at Griffith University, and has worked in an international consulting engineering firm for four years, in addition to government secondments. In 2005 Cheryl was selected as the Engineers Australia Young Professional Engineer of the Year. Working with the TNEP team Cheryl has co-authored a number of books, journal papers, online education programs, industry action plans, and community capacity building programs.

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Table of Contents

Forewords Dr Kenneth G. Ruffing Ruffing, Dr Kenneth G.

Introductions Rob Purves Purves, Rob



List of abbreviations

1 Securing 'Our Common Future' 1

Are we destroying the world we are creating? 1

Understanding the threat of rising greenhouse gas emissions 5

The melting of sea ice 8

The thawing of permafrosts 8

The weakening of the capacity of the ocean to absorb carbon dioxide 8

Entering a period of consequences 10

Dealing with unprecedented complexity 16

Notes 20

2 Achieving Economic Growth and Reducing Environmental Pressures 27

What is 'decoupling'? 27

What level of decoupling is required? 29

How can we represent and interpret decoupling trends? 31

What potential is there for relative and absolute decoupling? 33

How does decoupling directly contribute to GDP? 47

Understanding and reducing the risk of negative rebound effects from decoupling activities 54

Notes 58

3 Factors that can Undermine or Even Block Efforts to Achieve Decoupling 65

The key role of government to underpin and accelerate efforts to achieve decoupling 65

Responding to the fear of loss of profitability 71

Addressing fears about losing international competitiveness 77

Responding to the fear of job losses 79

Responding to fears of skills shortages and gaps 82

Notes 92

4 Factors that Affect Poorer Nations' Ability to Achieve Decoupling 99

Escaping the 'poverty trap' 99

Improving the effectiveness of foreign development aid to reduce poverty 109

Addressing economic disparity: the inequality predicament 114

Stabilizing population growth 115

Spurring economic growth by reducing environmental pressures 123

Bringing it together - Millennium Villages 126

Notes 128

5 Informing and Developing National Strategies for Decoupling 135

What is needed to underpin a national decoupling agenda? 135

Element 1 Past appreciation - an historical perspective 142

Element 2 Ecosystem resilience - assessing and monitoring the resilience of natural systems 146

Element 3 Performance evaluation - appropriate decoupling indicators 148

Element 4 Decoupling requirements - determining the required scale and speed of decoupling 150

Element 5 Cost of inaction - investigating the costs of inaction on decoupling efforts 153

Element 6 Costs of action - estimating the costs of action on decoupling efforts 155

Element 7 Economic resilience - investigating and understanding the resilience of the economy 160

Element 8 International cooperation - identifying the potential for synergy with global efforts 164

Element 9 Assessing and accounting for the national security benefits of decoupling 166

Notes 170

6 Responding to the Complexity of Climate Change 177

The overarching moral, economic, scientific and technological challenge of our age 177

Facing unprecedented challenges and opportunities 181

Unprecedented speed 181

Unprecedented scale 181

Unprecedented uncertainty 182

Unprecedented need for education 182

Unprecedented need for collaboration 182

Unprecedented need for cooperation 183

Unprecedented interconnectivity 183

Signs of change in the international business community 185

Signs of change within regulations and policies 193

Climate neutral nations and cities 194

2020 Greenhouse gas reductions regional targets 194

Energy efficiency targets 194

Energy standards for buildings 195

Energy-efficient products and services 196

Disconnecting electricity utility profits from energy sales 197

Differential tariffs and smart meters 198

Increasing the role of renewable energy 198

Increasing the use of feed-in tariffsS 199

Reducing private vehicle transport greenhouse gas emissions 199

Improving freight and rail transport 199

Reducing traffic congestion and encouraging modal shifts 200

Reducing growth in air transport greenhouse gas emissions 200

Reducing oil dependence 200

Notes 205

7 Decoupling Economic Growth from Greenhouse Gas Emissions 217

Appreciating the cost of inaction on climate change 222

1 Assumptions about the availability of non-carbon backstop fuels 225

2 Assumptions about the efficiency of economic responses 226

3 Assumptions about energy and product substitution 228

4 Assumptions about involvement in joint implementation 229

5 Assumptions about revenue recycling 230

6 Assumptions about air pollution damages 230

7 Assumptions about climate change damages 231

Support for ambitious commitments to emissions reduction targets 232

A framework for decoupling greenhouse gas emissions - stabilization trajectories 239

Notes 251

8 Decoupling Economic Growth from Loss of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Resilience 261

The complex challenge of reducing loss of biodiversity and ecosystem resilience 261

Economic risks and benefits associated with biodiversity and natural systems 265

Responding to the challenge of deforestation 269

Responding to the challenge of the loss of topsoil and desertification 271

Responding to the challenge of the depletion of global fisheries 274

Responding to the challenge of the growth of invasive species and the loss of wildlife 276

Notes 279

9 Decoupling Economic Growth from Freshwater Extraction 285

The complex challenge of freshwater extraction and use 285

Economic benefits associated with reducing freshwater consumption 288

Decoupling economic growth from freshwater extraction for grazing 293

Decoupling economic growth from freshwater extraction for cropping 295

1 Appropriate selection and rotation of crop species 295

2 Sub-surface drip irrigation and irrigation scheduling 296

3 Advanced deficit irrigation strategies 296

4 Rainwater harvesting 297

5 Reusing urban stormwater and recycled water for peri-urban agriculture 298

Decoupling urban economic growth from freshwater use in industry 298

Decoupling economic growth from freshwater use in cities 298

Notes 302

10 Decoupling Economic Growth from Waste Production 309

The complex challenge of addressing waste production 309

Economic drivers for decoupling waste production from economic growth 314

Decoupling economic growth from waste production - by rethinking design 316

Decoupling economic growth from waste production - by reuse and remanufacturing 320

Decoupling economic growth from waste production - by recycling 322

Notes 328

11 Decoupling Economic Growth from Air Pollution 337

The complex challenge of air pollution 337

Economic benefits associated with reducing air pollution 341

Decoupling economic growth from sulphur dioxide emissions 344

Decoupling economic growth from nitrous oxide, tropospheric ozone and photochemical smog 349

Decoupling economic growth from lead pollution 350

Decoupling economic growth from particulate pollution (PM2.5-PM10) 351

Notes 354

12 Reducing Air Pollution through Public Interest Litigation: The Delhi Pollution Case 361

The role of the super-administrator 361

Environmental jurisprudence in India 362

Public interest litigation in India 365

M. C. Mehta v. Union of India (Vehicular Pollution Case) 367

Air pollution in Delhi 367

Combating resistance to the court orders 373

Environmental impact of the court orders 377

Critical analysis of judicial activism on environmental issues 379

Division of power and the constitutional role of the judiciary 379

Precedents and questions of stability and sustainability 379

Strengthening bureaucracies 381

A caution on the use of a constitutional court in matters of public interest 381

Notes 382

Index 389

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