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Sustainable Development

Increased resource efficiency and care and investment in the use of renewable resources

Sustainable Strategies


Sustainable Consumption and Production

At today’s global population and economic output, many key ecosystems are being threatened or destroyed.


In spite of growing public awareness, environmental challenges have worsened considerably in the past 20 years: climate change, pollution and unsound chemicals management, unsustainable water use, unsustainable agriculture, unhealthy cities, massive biodiversity loss, emerging diseases, deforestation, desertification, and the depletion and degradation of oceans all threaten our planet’s ability to support human life.


It is necessary and possible to reverse these trends, but countries lack long-term strategies to address these deep challenges, and there remain far too little environmental understanding and problem-solving at local, national, and global scales.


The poor often depend heavily on natural resources for their livelihoods and survival and are the most vulnerable to environmental change, so extreme poverty can only be ended if environmental degradation is halted and reversed. This will require inter alia a drastic reduction in key dimensions of primary resource intensity of production and consumption in high- and middle-income countries.


Pathways to sustainable development need to "decouple" economic growth from the rising use of primary resources, thereby reducing the resource-intensity of production. At a time when high-income economies are looking to maintain living standards and re-start growth, and middle- and low-income economies want to achieve economic convergence, decoupling is a fundamental condition of sustainable development.


A structure in a medical compound in the Nuba mountains damaged by a bomb dropped on their location.​

Depletion of Natural Resources

​Countries face multiple, interlinked challenges from natural resource depletion, ecosystem degradation and pollution, and climate change that can be mutually reinforcing.​


  • 1. Natural resource depletion may become a threat to future growth, especially in resource-rich countries. Half of developing countries and more than 80% of Sub-Saharan Africa have negative changes in per capita wealth, which – among other things – is driven by the depletion of natural resources.


  • 2. Water stress is an acute challenge resulting from ecosystem degradation and pollution, which can have immediate impacts on health and productivity.  Many countries in the Middle East and North Africa, Central Asia, and South Asia face significant water stress.


  • 3. Climate risks are increasing and not only will impose additional burdens on people who are already vulnerable but could also reduce growth. The frequency and costs of disasters are growing in the developing world, particularly in Africa, East Asia & the Pacific. Even if their aggregate economic damages are limited, the poor could be disproportionally affected. Global CO2 emissions have grown. Under business-as-usual, the world would exceed its CO2 budget to stay below the 2°C target (i.e. to keep temperature increases to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels so as to prevent dangerous climate change).

Sustainable Development

Sustainable development requires a transformation of consumption and production patterns in both developed and developing countries.


In developed countries, it would require an absolute decoupling of material resource use from growth in economic activities. Both here and in developing countries, where resource consumption may be expected to increase from its current low levels, far less wasteful use of the Earth’s resources is required.


A transformation in global production patterns in the direction of greatly increased resource efficiency and care and investment in the use of renewable resources is also required to ensure that they are indeed renewed. 


Sustainability has several dimensions, which are all equally important and are all affected by climate change:


  • Economic sustainability (maintaining productive capital and keeping debts at a manageable level).

  • Social sustainability (securing political and social stability).


  • Environmental sustainability becomes increasingly important in a world of finite natural resources, planetary boundaries, and growing disaster and climate change impacts.


Natural resource depletion, ecosystem degradation, and pollution and climate change can have direct and indirect impacts on poverty and shared prosperity. First, the poor may be most affected by their impacts, as they often live in the most fragile areas and have the fewest resources to help them cope and adapt.


Second, these challenges can undermine a country’s ability to sustain economic growth, which can make poverty eradication and increasing shared prosperity more complicated.

Green Growth

We need urgent action.


When carefully designed, green growth strategies can tackle these challenges without undermining growth potential through reduced pollution and emissions,  improved management of the natural resources, more efficient use of resources,  and strengthened resilience while promoting sustainable growth and avoiding adverse impacts on the poor.


Green growth would require coordination across sectors such as water, agriculture, energy, and transport, together with a set of actions tailored to the country context. Priority should be to implement those options with the greatest urgency and the greatest local, immediate benefits.


In many developing countries, these could be actions that increase energy efficiency and provide low-carbon energy while also improving health, increasing agricultural productivity, securing access to basic services, and reducing disaster and climate risks.


While some green growth measures help the poor, others may require compensatory policies to limit any adverse impact. Some measures, such as introducing environmental taxes and removing fossil fuel subsidy bring significant environmental benefits and free enormous financial resources, which could then provide more effective, targeted support for the poor.

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