Moving towards true sustainability

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The preliminary report from the commission for measuring economic performance and social progress, presided over by Joseph Stiglitz – an American economist and a professor at Columbia University recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, 2001 – was published on 15 September. It recommends changes in economic indicators in order to take better account of social progress.

The Nobel prize-winning economist stresses the need to go beyond GDP and include measures of individual happiness and sustainability. This questioning of the main measure of a country's development is a major advance in terms of taking the environment into account in political and economic processes. It echoes the European Commission's decision to publish an index of pressure on the environment from 2010.

The report says that in politics as in economics, “what is measured has an effect on what one does, and if the measures are faulty, the resulting decisions can be inappropriate.” It cites as an example the choice between growing GDP and protecting the environment, which can be seen as a false choice once degradation of the environment is taken into account appropriately when measuring economic performance.

The report points out: “Market prices are distorted by the fact that no tax is imposed on carbon emissions, and classic measures of national income do not take into account the cost of these emissions,” in spite of the imminence of an environmental crisis because of global warming. 

The report recommends drawing a distinction between evaluation of present well-being and its sustainability. It says 'Current well-being depends both on economic resources such as income and on non-economic characteristics of people's lives: what they do and what they can do, their appreciation of their lives and their natural environment. The sustainability of these levels of comfort depends on the question of whether the capital which is important to our lives (natural, physical, human and social capital) will be handed down to future generations.'

The report sets out twelve proposals to measure current levels of well-being and their possible future evolution: look at income and consumption rather than production, stress the domestic perspective of households, take heritage into account along with income and consumption, broaden indicators to include non-commercial activities ...

These recommendations, aimed at influencing international statistical measures, will be taken into account at national level by the INSEE, which has committed itself to creating a new set of key sustainable development indicators.

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