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Earlier this month, the WEGo partnership was featured in the 2020 edition of WWF’s Nature In All Goals publication, which outlines how we can restore our relationship with nature to realise the promise of the SDGs and Leave No One Behind.

Individually, the 17 SDGs define key areas of progress for humanity. Delivered together, they will transform the world and create prosperity for all on a healthy planet.

The publication gives inspirational examples of where each of the 17 SDGs have been put into practice – ranging from Supporting Conserved by Indigenous Peoples and Communities in Myanmar to Renewable energy solutions for better health and energy security in Karachi, Pakistan.

In WEAll’s article, we discussed how to shift toward a Sustainable and Just economy – one that promotes wellbeing for all. 

Action on the SDGs in the next ten years is not possible without a fundamental transformation of our economic system.

In order to do this, WEAll’s membership has developed the 5 priorities a wellbeing economy should deliver on.

‘We All Need’:

  1. Dignity: Everyone has enough to live in comfort, safety and happiness
  2. Nature: A restored and safe natural world for all life
  3. Connection: A sense of belonging and institutions that serve the common good
  4. Fairness: Justice in all its dimensions at the heart of economic systems, and the gap between the richest and poorest greatly reduced
  5. Participation: Citizens actively engaged in their communities and locally rooted economies.

These principles guide the work of the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership.

WEGo member states have achieve great successes in mainstreaming social equity and ecological restoration – in line with the SDGs:

Read all of the inspiring examples of the shift toward a wellbeing economy in the WWF’s Nature In All Goals publication, here.

‘If we share what we already have more fairly, we can improve people’s lives right now without having to plunder the Earth for more. Fairness is an antidote to the growth imperative.’   Jon Hicks[1]

Most consumers have heard of the term ‘Fair Trade’ even if they don’t fully understand what it means[2].During the noughties the Fairtrade label became increasing prominent on our supermarket shelves, with brands such as Café Direct and Divine Chocolate– companies founded on fair trade principles – offering a range of premium, ethical hot beverages and confectionery. At the same time big global corporations such as Mondolez (Cadburys) adopted the Fairtrade certification scheme, whilst major high street retailers – Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s, M&S and even low costs names such as Lidl and Aldi – also joined the independently audited labelling initiative. It seemed that the consumer had easy access to and was choosing to make ethical purchasing decisions that put people and planet before profit margin.

Then things seemed to change. Alongside ‘ethical consumerism’ came low cost price wars between food brands and retailers as margins were squeezed. In this environment, the Fairtrade certification scheme was ditched by several significant brands and retailers in favour of cheaper ‘ethical labelling’ initiatives, including in-house labels such as Cadbury’s ‘Cocoa Life’.  Whilst arguably better than nothing, many such schemes are not independently or as vigorously audited, particularly in relation to human rights issues. In 2017 several large chains withdrew from licensing their own brands as Fairtrade due to the costs of the scheme. Overall, Fairtrade sales in the UK do (still) continue to grow and at the end of 2019 the UK household groceries sales of Fairtrade labelled products stood at nearly £798 million[3]. However, this figure represents a 5% decrease since 2017, whilst in Scotland the decrease on shopping basket sales of Fairtrade goods was 9%.  Consumer choice and visibility of ethical brands has been significantly diminished.

Meanwhile B Corps like Divine Chocolate, which turns over £16 million in sales and is 45% owned by a Ghanian farmers’ co-operative, now find the majority of its sales come from the non-UK market. Such Fair Trade Organisations have found it hard to maintain their UK market share, with major retailers ‘choice editing’ to reduce the premium offers on shelf, in anticipation of consumer demand for lower pricesAnd whilst it is commendable that low cost retailers have maintained the Fairtrade label on own brand coffee and chocolate, it’s worrying that these same companies score abysmally in independent reviews of their human rights and environmental practices, as revealed by Oxfam’s latest findings[4] .

How is this relevant to the Wellbeing Economy movement?

In an independent review of Fair Trade in Scotland carried out for the Scottish Government’s International Development division in 2019, we found  compelling arguments for closer alignment of the Fair Trade movement with WEAll’s goals. Just as the Wellbeing Economy Alliance advocates transitioning to economic models where ‘humanity defines economics not the other way round[5], so fairness and equity in trade aims to address the inequality of the world’s most marginalised communities directly suffering the consequences of richer countries’ consumption.  Fair Trade argues for an equitable trading model where social impacts take precedence over economic indicators such as GDP growth.   It is a “a multifaceted political and economic phenomenon, driving and catalysing change in the way business is done, how consumers consume and how producers produce’[6].

For those seeking to influence the conversation on more equitable economic models, efforts to achieve sustainable livelihoods for the world’s most marginalised producers, often women, cannot take second place to domestic concerns. It means advocating for wellbeing policies and fair business practices at national level and informing the way we relate to our trading neighbours internationally. Wellbeing in relation to trade has to impact on much more than governments’  international aid efforts and rather focus on the manner in which our public and private agencies procure, the rules of engagement for doing business with social enterprise (such as B Corporations and FTOs) and the prioritisation of dignified  and equitable trading relationships through EU and global trade rules.  It is not enough to use the Global Goals to interrogate a country’s domestic approach to inclusive economy, though this is a good start.

Scotland’s National Performance Framework

Scotland’s National Performance Framework[7] (NPF), has developed wellbeing indicators alongside more traditional GDP based growth measures, but it needs to view each indicator through a global lens in order to achieve real economic change. The Scottish Government’s Fair Work policy, for example, is reflected in the NPF and incorporated within a ‘Scottish Business Pledge’ to which Scottish business can subscribe.  It could be reflecting a global perspective in the way Scottish business interact with international labour markets, if it were to incorporate Fair Trade principles such as fair payment, good working conditions, no discrimination, gender equity and freedom of association into the way business is done internationally. All of these are Fair Trade principles, as can be seen in the figure below.

Graphic from International Fair Trade Charter, 2018

Using Fair Trade Principles as their ‘SDG+’ benchmark, governments aspiring to the Wellbeing Economy vision, including Scotland, can be more ambitious in challenging how their own statements about wellbeing translate into practice globally; it is not enough to speak of putting wellbeing first domestically, whilst championing business growth predicated on export and import practices which perpetrate environmental and human rights abuses.   Disrupting the status quo on the way we do business as nations requires a multi-pronged approach across education and upskilling of our workforce in public, private and third sectors; it requires serious support for ethical business models, and a recognition that as electorates we are increasingly aware of the complexities and ethical challenges of our purchasing choices and those which our Governments make on our behalf.

Pauline Radcliffe was the lead author of the Independent Review on the Future of Fair Trade in Scotland for the Scottish Government International Development division, published February 2020. This review included an interview with WEAll Scotland trustee Sarah Deas.

Header image: Comfort Kumeah, a Ghanian cocoa farmer from the Kuapa Kokoo co-operative which owns 44% share of Divine Chocolate and is led by women.  Credit to: Olivier Asselin on behalf of Divine Chocolate Ltd

 

 

[1] Hicks,J; Should we pursue boundless economic growth? Prospect magazine, 12.06.19.

[2] In Scotland 90% of those surveyed in 2016 had heard of Fair Trade; across the UK, 83% consumers stated that they would trust the Fairtrade Mark; .

[3] Kantar Worldpanel: consumer Fairtrade sales in UK and Scotland 2017 and 2019, week beginning 05.11.

[4] https://oxfamapps.org/behindthebarcodes/

[5]WEAll Scotland home page

[6] Tiffen, P. Who cares about Fair Trade? Journal of Fair Trade 1:1, 2018.

[7] Scotland’s Wellbeing – Delivering the National Outcome: Scottish Government, May 19. P.14

A message from WEAll Youth:

“We are thrilled to announce that Wellbeing Economy Alliance Youth (WEAll Youth) has been selected as one of the 50 Youth Solutions featured in the Youth Solutions Report 2019. 4300+ solutions originating from 170+ countries were submitted and based on a rigorous review process, 50 were selected to be featured in this year’s report. We are so excited to be selected among many inspiring youth solutions. Young innovators all over the world are working towards a sustainable future – we’re proud to be part of the change!

You can read all about us at www.youthsolutions.report (WEAll Youth can be found on p85).

We are so proud we have been selected and can’t wait to see what the future will hold. All of the solutions selected are so promising which is amazing to see as our world often portrays all the negative sides. We are excited to see so many young people getting involved @ their future.”

More about the report:

NEW YORK, USA; September 26: The third edition of the ​Youth Solutions Report,​ which identifies ​50 youth-led projects that are accelerating global progress on the achievement of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)​, has been released today, at the ​74th UNGA High-Level Side Event on Social Business, Youth and Technology.

This year, the selected solutions have been chosen by an advisory panel of 24 leading experts across all SDG sectors and geographical regions, among a pool of applicants that included over 4,300 submissions from ​174 countries​. Winning projects were particularly focused on introducing innovative approaches to lifting vulnerable communities in developing countries out of poverty, with solutions targeting areas such as digital health and education, financial inclusion, innovation in agricultural practices, sustainable livelihoods, and circular economy.

Like its 2017 and 2018 predecessors, this year’s Youth Solutions Report provides ​selected initiatives with a powerful platform to secure funding, build capacity, communicate experiences, and scale efforts. In addition, the new edition includes an in-depth analysis of the role of youth-led innovation in achieving the specific SDGs that have been reviewed at the July session of the 2019 High-Level Political Forum, focusing on the role of young people in improving access to quality education, promoting decent work for all, reducing inequality, combating climate change, promoting peaceful societies, and supporting a renewed global partnership for sustainable development.

One key aspect of the Report consists of its discussion of cross-cutting challenges to youth-led innovation and the importance of seeing young people as a fundamental component of the broader innovation systems that are required to implement the 2030 Agenda. ​

Mariana Mazzucato, Director of the Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose at University College London​, said: ‘The SDGs are the world’s challenges, and can only be achieved through directed, mission-oriented, innovation activities, taken on through bold new partnerships between the public sector, business and civil society. The Youth Solutions Report provides a loud, dynamic forum for youth to be heard and learned from in this critical solutions-oriented process.’ Ms Mazzucato’s auspices were echoed by ​Paul Polman, former CEO of Unilever and recent founder of Imagine,​ who recognized that ‘creating the right policy frameworks for engaging young people in SDG implementation will a big enabler of the entire Agenda’. According to Mr Polman, ‘the Youth Solutions Report serves as a platform that will increase exposure to youth-led projects that will hopefully push policy reform in the future.’

Siamak Sam Loni, Global Coordinator of SDSN Youth​, added that while young people are already contributing to the implementation of the SDGs, they still face common challenges that prevent them from realizing the full potential, including the lack of visibility, limited access to finance, and the lack of training and technical support. ‘The 2019 Youth Solutions Report will help investors, donors, and supporters better understand the multi-faceted role of young people in sustainable development and give them additional opportunities to showcase and scale their work’ concluded Mr. Loni.

As further testimony of SDSN Youth’s commitment to concretely supporting its growing global cohort of young innovators, this year’s report was prepared in collaboration with Junior Chamber International (JCI), which ensured that ​5 of the selected solutions could be provided with grants from the Global Youth Empowerment Fund. ​The Fund, founded by JCI in partnership with the UN SDG Action Campaign, offers grants and training to youth-led projects that advance theSDGs.​EarlSawyer,Interim Secretary-GeneralofJCI​,said:‘JCIisproudtocollaboratewith SDSN Youth on their 2019 Youth Solutions Report. We are excited to offer young people the recognition, tools, training and resources needed to scale their SDG-focused projects in order to tackle global problems’.

Reposted from Oxfam Scotland

Scotland is making mixed progress towards achieving the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, according to a unique new report by civil society organisations published last week.

On Target for 2030?’ assesses Scotland’s progress against the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by providing reviews on each goal, authored by expert organisations operating within each field in Scotland.

The UK and Scottish governments are completing their own national reviews, with these analyses expected to be released later this year. This report supplements these governmental reviews by capturing the independent assessments of a diverse range civil society stakeholders in Scotland working on issues as diverse as poverty, climate change, biodiversity, nutrition, equality, fair work, and education.

Co-ordinated by the UWS-Oxfam Partnership, in collaboration with the SDG Scotland Network, the report is believed to be the first such analysis in Scotland.

Organisations including the Child Poverty Action Group, Citizens Advice Scotland, the Fife Centre for Equalities, Girlguiding Scotland, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the Scottish Trades Union Congress and the Scottish International Development Alliance all provide commentaries on progress and outline what Scotland still needs to do to reach each Goal by 2030.

The SDGs were adopted by the 190 countries making up the United Nations in 2015 to create a healthy planet for current and future generations and for a world free from poverty, injustice and discrimination – while leaving no-one behind. The goals are universal in nature and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made Scotland one of the first countries to pledge to deliver them in 2015.

A clear thread that runs through many of the contributions in ‘On Target for 2030?’ is that the negative effects of slow progress on the goals are felt disproportionately by low-income households. This undermines the cross-cutting commitment of all SDGs to ‘leave no-one behind’.

The editors of the report want to contribute to renewed pressure to meet these goals for governments, as well as amongst businesses and civil society itself. They say that improving progress is not just the responsibility of government, action is needed especially from business and the third sector, as well as individuals, in order for Scotland to fulfil its 2030 commitments.

Dr Hartwig Pautz, from the UWS-Oxfam Partnership, said: “This snapshot review is the first of its kind in Scotland. It brings together experts on every one of the goals for an honest assessment of where Scotland is and what we need to do to get on target for 2030, in their own words.

“While the individual assessments, put forward by a very diverse range of civil society organisations, show that there is clear policy and political commitment on many of these goals, more needs to be done to actually achieve them.

“The report shows that poverty and inequality are common issues with regards to many of the SDGs, and making progress on them will be essential to ensure we can achieve sustainable development.

Rhiannon Sims, Policy and Research Adviser, Oxfam Scotland, said: “The Sustainable Development Goals will only succeed if every country signed up to them puts in place the measures needed to drive change. Whilst there is clear policy commitment in Scotland, more needs to be done to achieve the 2030 vision.

“Governments have a big role to play, but achieving this ambition is not just a responsibility for government, it also for businesses and civil society itself to contribute to this shared agenda.

“The action needed to achieve the goals by 2030 is not unrealistic or impossible. We hope that leaders at every level can use this report to redouble Scotland’s commitments to make the world free from poverty, injustice and discrimination.”

Paul Bradley, Project Coordinator, Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, said: “Scotland’s charities and wider civil society organisations have provided expert insight into where Scotland is on the SDGs and what we still need to do as a nation.

“Meeting these goals for 2030 is not just up to politicians, it is a responsibility for all of us and this report shows that work is being done in communities by organisations up and down Scotland.”

· Report available at: http://uwsoxfampartnership.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/On-Target-July-2019-Web-FINAL.pdf
· Sturgeon commitment: https://news.gov.scot/news/leading-the-way-in-tackling-inequality.
· The UWS-Oxfam Partnership has operated, since 2011, as a formally established relationship between the University of the West of Scotland and Oxfam Scotland. It revolves around the development of Oxfam’s anti-poverty advocacy and campaigning in Scotland and seeks to contribute to a more equitable and sustainable Scotland.
· The SDG Scotland Network is a coalition of over 230+ people and organisations from across Scotland committed to making sure that the Global Goals for Sustainable Development become every Scot’s business.

This blog was first published by Carnegie UK

To coincide with the 10 year anniversary of the publication of the Report by the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, the Carnegie UK Trust is publishing a series of blogs which outline the approach taken to measuring and improving wellbeing by different governments, organisations and initiatives around the world.

The economic model that has become so dominant is called all sorts of things: ‘neoliberal’; ‘market fundamentalist’; ‘overly financialised’; ‘extractive’; and ‘toxic’.

What it is called doesn’t matter so much as how it has strangled our imaginations and our sense of possibility: the current economy is seen as the only kind of economy that we can have, and the mainstream thinking is that to resist it would be to bring society to its knees.

Yet society is already on its knees – seen in widening economic inequalities; in levels of insecurity, despair and loneliness; and in desperate searches for ways to cope, whether at the pill box or the ballot box. Many people fear the loss of their jobs, insecurity in old age and the destruction of their dreams and cultural norms. And, as Martine Durand writing in this series observes, “bitter divisions within society…[are] so vividly demonstrated in a number of recent elections”.

The planet is also on her knees – on the brink of the 6th mass extinction with the prospect of catastrophic climate breakdown getting closer and closer.

The root cause of so much of this is how the economy is currently designed – in a way that does not account for nature, in a way that is blind to distribution of resources, and in a way that puts measures of progress such as short-term profit and GDP to the fore.

These are structures that are deliberate – and hence can be dismantled and designed differently.

In the depth of the Great Depression, in 1933, John Maynard Keynes wrote:

The decadent international but individualistic capitalism, in the hands of which we found ourselves after the War, is not a success. It is not intelligent, it is not beautiful, it is not just, it is not virtuous – and it doesn’t deliver the goods. In short, we dislike it and we are beginning to despise it. But when we wonder what to put in its place, we are extremely perplexed

Today is a time of similar economic inequality to when Keynes was writing and just as then, more and more people are beginning to despise the current arrangements.

Fortunately, today we are not short of ideas as to what to put in its place.

Concepts of societal wellbeing are familiar the world over, even though different terms might be used to describe the central idea of flourishing for all people and sustainability for the planet.

This shared vision for a better way of doing things can be found in the scripts of many religions. It is contained in worldviews of First Nations communities. It can be read in the scholarship of development experts and in research findings about what makes people content. This vision echoes in evidence from psychology about human needs and from neuroscience about what makes our brains react, and, perhaps most importantly, can be heard loud and clear in conversations with people all over the world about what really matters to them.

growing movement is forming around the idea of a wellbeing economy. Academics are laying out the evidence base, businesses are harnessing commercial activities to deliver social and environmental goals, and communities are working together not for monetary reward, but following innate human instincts to be together, to cooperate and collaborate. These efforts will be made easier the more pioneering policy makers embrace a new agenda for the 21st century. We can look to how Costa Rica delivers longer life expectancy and higher wellbeing than the US with just a third of the ecological footprint per person. New Zealand is showing how to design government budgets for a wellbeing economy. Alternative business models like cooperatives show us how success beyond profit can be embraced.

So we’re not starting from scratch. By learning from the many examples and reorienting goals and expectations for business, politics and society, we can build a wellbeing economy that delivers good lives for people first time around, rather than requiring so much effort to patch things up. We designed the current economy, so we all can design a new one: the only limits are our imagination.

2018 and 2019 launched a wide range of dire warning about the fragility of our planetary systems, notably David Attenborough’s speech at COP 24 on climate change and another dire warning about the alarming loss of planetary biodiversity from the UN’s biodiversity chief, Christiana Pascal Palmer. All of which cries out for a global call for action to exert immense pressure on our governments to set ambitious global targets.

Yet our political systems seem incapable of responding at scale and urgency to this existential crisis.  Our government was one of the first to sign up to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs or Global Goals) in 2015. The 17 Global Goals and associated targets represent an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the root causes of climate change, biodiversity loss, eliminate extreme poverty and put the world on a more sustainable path. And yet three years after the goals were agreed, the UK government does not have a compelling and coherent plan on how the UK is going to achieve them. The government has made a commitment to report on the UK’s progress at the UN in New York in July 2019. This is closely followed by the UN SDG Heads of State Summit on the 24 and 25 September. The UN SDG Summit will be one of three high-level events taking place in September, along with the 2019 Climate Summit and the High-level Dialogue on Financing for Development. These events will be mutually reinforcing in identifying areas for action to accelerate the progress towards sustainable development.

Growth in all of its forms is one of the greatest conundrums facing humanity in the 21 century. It can improve our living standards and health and well-being. Yet as a recent global photographic competition (www.prixpictet.com) has depicted in graphic detail the dizzying growth of our cities and their dependency on scarce resources along with the relentless growth of the world’s population, all of which now threatens our very existence. We face a global environmental catastrophe in land use, food production and resource use which could undermine existing fragile economies and the sustainability of our civilisation.

And our politicians search relentlessly for solutions which will re-energise economic growth, with little evidence to date that their interventions are making any fundamental difference. So it’s not surprising that some of the worlds’ so – called sustainability experts have also found it impossible to reach any consensus on whether sustainable consumption and economic growth are compatible

But some recent analysis of the UK’s Material Flow Accounts for 2001-2009 suggest we are using less stuff now than the previous decade (Guardian 1/11/11- The Only way is Down http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/blog/2011/nov/01/peak-stuff-consumption-data ).

It seems that the grand total of stuff we use (minerals, fuel, wood etc) in the UK amounts to roughly 2 billion tonnes per year about 30 tonnes for each and every one of us. For our former London Mayor’s benefit that’s as heavy as 4 Route Master buses!

This data is potentially good news because it implies at least as I read it that we may have “decoupled “economic growth from material consumption. Genuine decoupling has been seen by many of us as unachievable. But is this really de-materialisation and hence the emergence of a Green Economy or as others have suggested is it the dawn of de-growth?

Whatever the answer our unsustainable lifestyles and commitment to perpetual economic growth are major political and social obstacles because they have become the major drivers of climate change on Earth. Jason Hickel recently suggested that the solution is “about changing the way our economy operates” (Guardian: 5 March).

Encouragingly, the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) form a new roadmap for our future that in principle aligns the economy with the Earth’s life support systems.  Yet a recent report by the Stockholm Resilience Centre[1] shows that attempting to achieve the socio-economic goals using conventional growth policies would make it virtually impossible to reduce the speed of global warming and environmental degradation.

The research team tested three other scenarios and the only one that met all goals was the one that implemented systemic transformational change. A key element in the model was reducing inequality by a redistribution of wealth, work and income, including ensuring that the 10% richest people take no more that 40% of the income. A huge challenge for many of our wealthy political elite!

We need immediate action and committed leadership now from our government to create a movement for change that embraces and actions the Global Goals: why is it so rare that we encounter in our political leadership the qualities needed to enable sustainability: humility, respect for all forms of life and future generations, precaution and wisdom, the capacity to think systemically and challenge unethical actions? And more worryingly on the basis of current performance, what hope of improvement is there for our collective future?

We have an unprecedented and immense challenge before us – with little choice but to engage.

[1] https://www.stockholmresilience.org/publications/artiklar/2018-10-17-transformation-is-feasible—how-to-achieve-the-sustainable–development-goals-within-planetary-boundaries.html

Guest blog by:

Dr. Stephen Sterling is Emeritus Professor of Sustainability Education at the Centre for Sustainable Futures, University of Plymouth, UK. A former Senior Advisor to the UK Higher Education Academy on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), and a National Teaching Fellow (NTF), he has worked in environmental and sustainability education in the academic and NGO fields nationally and internationally for over four decades, including as a consultant and advisor on UNESCO’S Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) programmes.He is currently co-chair of the UNESCO-Japan Prize on ESD International Jury, and a Distinguished Fellow of the Schumacher Institute.  He has a reputation as a thought leader in ESD and is widely published in this area, including The Sustainable University – progress and prospects. His most recent book is Post-Sustainability and Environmental Education: Remaking Education for the Future,  (co-edited with Bob Jickling, Pivot/Palgrave, 2017).

Professor Stephen Martin: Hon FSE; FRSB; F.I.Env Sci is a passionate advocate for learning for sustainability and has spent nearly 40 years facilitating and supporting organisations and governments in ways they can contribute towards a more sustainable future. For nearly a decade he was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Further and Higher Education with national responsibility for Environmental Education and served as a special advisor to the Secretary of State in the Department of the Environment in drafting the education and training sections of HM Government’s first white paper on the Environment-Our Common Inheritance. More recently he was the founding Chair of the Higher Education Academy’s Sustainable Development Advisory Group and a former member of the UK‘s UNESCO Education for Sustainability Forum. He has held visiting professorships at the Open University, University of Hertfordshire, University of Gloucestershire and  currently, at the University of the West of England Over the past 15 years he has been a sustainability change consultant for some of the largest FTSE100 companies such as BP, Barclays, Tesco and Carillion as well as Government Agencies such as the  UK National Commission for UNESCO,Environment Agency, OFSTED, the Higher Education Academy and the Learning and Skills Council. He was formerly Director of Learning at Forum for the Future.

Please see this recent publication from Stockholm Resilience Centre for more on the themes explored in the blog: Transformation is feasible – How to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals within Planetary Boundaries

 

This blog was first published by SDG Transformations Forum

Politics and the art of living together

Ours is a world where:

Fixing these inequalities will need a better story of shared prosperity, a shared prosperity that is a matter of politics in the sense of how Aristotle described it – the art of living together. This better story is the focus of our new book, The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown-Up Economy. 

The inequalities are a product of an economic system that is underpinned by a legitimizing story. It’s a story that pervades much of the public imaginary, telling us that things must be this way, that we are all better off when the rich do well. It informs the articles of faith held by politicians in capital cities around the world, the policy advice offered to so-called ‘developing countries’ by international agencies, and the metrics that so often rank the success of a country and thus the prowess of its leaders.

The art of living together, has, in the past, seen monetary wealth used thoughtfully to deliver unprecedented economic and social progress. From the economic crash of 1929 to the 1970s, the industrialised world enjoyed a sustained period of economic equalisation as the gap between rich and poor declined, even through the tragedies of the Great Depression and the Second World War. Union rights expanded, and gender inequality fell as women stepped into new roles in society and the economy. Workers enjoyed a higher share of the global economic pie via increased labour share. Education raised skill levels, boosting job quality and remuneration (and raising wages for low skilled workers as their labour became more valuable). The tax system became more progressive, and a lot of the revenue was spent on social welfare. Many people in many places are richer and better educated than ever before and can look forward to longer lives in a fairer and more tolerant world.

However, many aspects are now threatened by climate change, inequality, extremist politics, and environmental degradation. Having achieved so much, the next generation may see achievements begin to slip away. Others, who can only dream of the living standards of the rich world, find themselves shut out as competition for resources and the consequences of climate change erode economic gains as fast as development can proceed. The story of progress as economic growth is faltering.

The possibility of Arrival

If humanity is to ensure it can live together into the future, it needs to embrace a new story found in the twin concepts of ‘Arrival’ and ‘making ourselves at home’.

Arrival is a recognition that economies do not need to grow forever and ever; that there comes a time when enough wealth and resources have been accumulated, albeit if still far from being shared sufficiently.

After Arrival the benefits of growth start to tail off and turn negative. Pursuit of more and more risks causing harm and damage to people and planet and requires yet more resources to fix. This is called ‘failure demand’ in social policy terms. It also speaks to the notion of defensive expenditures used in ecological economies and underpins the concept of uneconomic growth in respect to the economy writ large.

A new story is due – one about making ourselves at home.

Making ourselves at home

Describing what “making ourselves at home” entails is, in fact, a matter of listening.

There are clear commonalities from different corners of scholarship, religious texts, and more popular songs than one could mention. The answer is also innately within us as human beings. Whenever people are given time and space to reflect about what matters most to them, they point to things that are rarely connected to mountains of money.

A suite of evidence tells us that people are not happiest when they are consuming, but when spending time socialising and engaged in meaningful activity. Not when working longer hours to make more money, but when they are in nature, learning, and undertaking fulfilling activities. This is revealed in emerging research in neuroscience, epidemiology, and psychology. Neuroscience, for example, tells us that cooperative behaviour activates the reward areas of the brain, which suggests that human beings are ‘hard-wired’ to enjoy helping others, cooperating, and being kind. In fact, life expectancy; voice; government accountability; climate and natural capital are more important than GDP per capita in predicting mean levels of life satisfaction in 79 countries.

An economy that has Arrived, and is focused on making itself at home, will be one that enables people to build good, healthy lives. Using resources in a smarter, fairer way (rather than wasting or hoarding them) means getting things right for people in the first place, rather than having to constantly repair the damage created by an economy set on growth at all costs. It will not harm people and the environment, and so will avoid having to deliver expensive down-stream intervention to fix the damage caused by the growth-ist economic model.

By: Katherine Trebeck and Jeremy Williams, authors of The Economics of Arrival: Ideas for a Grown-Up Economy.  Katherine is also an At-Large SDG Transformations Forum Councillor.