“Buen Vivir“ is an alternative concept of development that focuses on the attainment of the "good life" in a broad sense. It emerged as a response to the traditional strategies for development and their negative environmental, social, or economic effects and was incorporated in the Constitution of Ecuador in 2008.
Photo: © S.Richter

New approaches in measuring prosperity

Unlike the Millennium Development Goals, the proposed Sustainable Development Goals apply simultaneously to the North and the South. Global Policy Forum and terre des hommes have taken a look at different ways of measuring prosperity and, using Germany as an example, illustrated how industrialised countries can meet their responsibilities.

The non-governmental organisations Global Policy Forum and terre des hommes presented a publication on new approaches in measuring wealth and the implications of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for Germany in February. “Gut leben global” looks at various new concepts such as Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index, the “buen vivir” initiatives in Latin America, or the “Better Life Index” of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and analyses their advantages and shortcomings. While the Gross National Product (GDP) still reigns supreme as an indication of propserity, the Rio+20 Conference in 2012 did state the need for more comprehensive measures of progress to place political decisions on a better footing.

The authors of the publication argue that the Post-2015 Agenda of the United Nations offers an opportunity to link the strands of debate on alternative measures of prosperity with the process of formulating political goals for sustainable development. The SDGs proposed by the UN’s Open Working Group contain three types of targets that especially apply to the industrialised countries: domestic sustainability targets, requiring changes at domestic policy level, do-no-harm targets, designed to reduce the negative effects of a country’s policies beyond its borders, and international responsibility targets, referring to a country’s international duties and responsibilities.

Domestic sustainability targets among the SDGs that would be of relevance to Germany include those on poverty, health and education. The need to promote sustainable patterns of consumption and production is now clearly addressed in SDG 12 and taken up in a number of do-no-harm targets. For example, target 12.2 calls for achieving sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources by 2030.

The German non-governmental organisation Forum Environment and Development suggests that the ecological footprint, measuring anthropogenic impact on Earth, be used as an indicator to measure a country’s consumption of natural resources. “Gut leben global” proposes that Germany reduce its ecological footprint to a sustainable level corresponding to the country’s share of global biocapacity. Regarding the issue of food waste, referred to in do-no-harm target 12.3, the publication maintains that Germany could halve food waste at retailer and consumer level by 2030.

With regard to global responsibilities, the German Federal Government “is aware of Germany’s international significance for world-wide development and is prepared to face its responsibilities”. Germany’s “Charter for the Future”, presented by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2014, stresses the need for policy coherence across areas such as finance, economics and, in particular, trade to reduce poverty and environmental degradation. “Gut leben global” maintains that German fiscal and budget policy could play an important role in meeting sustainability criteria, e.g. by eliminating all environmentally harmful subsidies by 2020.

Mike Gardner, journalist, Bonn/Germany