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Ecosystem health for inclusive wealth

A roundtable hosted by the Geneva Environment Network has explored how the prosperity of people and the planet are linked and outlined alternative ways of measuring wealth to Gross Domestic Product (GDP).


During the event, which took place on 23 February in the Palais des Nations in Geneva, speakers questioned conventional measurements of growth and development and instead emphasised the socio-economic benefits provided by ecosystems.


GDP is a good indicator of human welfare but does not say anything about human wellbeing or welfare, stressed Pushpam Kumar, head of UNEP’s Ecosystem Services Economics Unit. While global GDP increased 50% between 1992 and 2012, when human and natural capital is measured our wealth only increased by 6%, he underlined.


Supporting this, Barry Gardiner - UK Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change – revealed how the biggest contributor to economic growth in the UK in 2013-14 were floods. Greater wealth should be aimed for rather than mere productivity, he argued – meaning legislators should have the courage to think in the long-term.


The Chair, Steven Stone – Chief of UNEP’s Economics and Trade branch – recalled the importance of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in the debate. Goals 8, 15 and 17 in particular call for the benefits and socio-economic impacts of ecosystems to be included in national legislation, in accordance with local circumstances.


In this regard, a wide range of stakeholders need to be brought into the discussion, noted Michel Tschirren of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment, revealing how inter-ministerial working groups were being held on the new goals.


Indicators for achieving the SDGs should not be limited to GDP as they sometimes are, argued Kookie Habtegaber, Global Lead for Green Economy at WWF International. We need to look beyond any single measure, claimed Paul Van Gardingen, Director of Ecosystems for Poverty Alleviation UK. It should rather be asked what knowledge and evidence is needed for better decisions to be made in future, he added.


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