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Article

Sustainable development is the foundational principle for enhancing human and economic development while maintaining the functional integrity of ecological and social systems that support regional economies. Tourism has played a critical role in sustainable development in many countries and regions around the world. In developing countries, tourism development has been used as an important strategy for increasing economic growth, alleviating poverty, creating jobs, and improving food security. Many developing countries are in regions that are characterized by high levels of biological diversity, natural resources, and cultural heritage sites that attract international tourists whose local purchases generate income and support employment and economic development. Tourism has been associated with the principles of sustainable development because of its potential to support environmental protection and livelihoods. However, the relationship between tourism and the environment is multifaceted, as some types of tourism have been associated with negative environmental impacts, many of which are borne by host communities. The concept of sustainable tourism development emerged in contrast to mass tourism, which involves the participation of large numbers of people, often in structured or packaged tours. Mass tourism has been associated with economic leakage and dependence, along with negative environmental and social impacts. Sustainable tourism development has been promoted in various ways as a framing concept in contrast to these economic, environmental, and social impacts. Some literature has acknowledged a vagueness of the concept of sustainable tourism, which has been used to advocate for fundamentally different strategies for tourism development that may exacerbate existing conflicts between conservation and development paradigms. Tourism has played an important role in sustainable development in some countries through the development of alternative tourism models, including ecotourism, community-based tourism, pro-poor tourism, slow tourism, green tourism, and heritage tourism, among others that aim to enhance livelihoods, increase local economic growth, and provide for environmental protection. Although these models have been given significant attention among researchers, the extent of their implementation in tourism planning initiatives has been limited, superficial, or incomplete in many contexts. The sustainability of tourism as a global system is disputed among scholars. Tourism is dependent on travel, and nearly all forms of transportation require the use of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels for energy. The burning of fossil fuels for transportation generates emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change, which is fundamentally unsustainable. Tourism is also vulnerable to both localized and global shocks. Studies of the vulnerability of tourism to localized shocks include the impacts of natural disasters, disease outbreaks, and civil unrest. Studies of the vulnerability of tourism to global shocks include the impacts of climate change, economic crisis, global public health pandemics, oil price shocks, and acts of terrorism. It is clear that tourism has contributed significantly to economic development globally, but its role in sustainable development is uncertain, debatable, and potentially contradictory.

Article

Carl Folke

Resilience thinking in relation to the environment has emerged as a lens of inquiry that serves a platform for interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration. Resilience is about cultivating the capacity to sustain development in the face of expected and surprising change and diverse pathways of development and potential thresholds between them. The evolution of resilience thinking is coupled to social-ecological systems and a truly intertwined human-environment planet. Resilience as persistence, adaptability and, transformability of complex adaptive social-ecological systems is the focus, clarifying the dynamic and forward-looking nature of the concept. Resilience thinking emphasizes that social-ecological systems, from the individual, to community, to society as a whole, are embedded in the biosphere. The biosphere connection is an essential observation if sustainability is to be taken seriously. In the continuous advancement of resilience thinking there are efforts aimed at capturing resilience of social-ecological systems and finding ways for people and institutions to govern social-ecological dynamics for improved human well-being, at the local, across levels and scales, to the global. Consequently, in resilience thinking, development issues for human well-being, for people and planet, are framed in a context of understanding and governing complex social-ecological dynamics for sustainability as part of a dynamic biosphere.

Article

Marcello Hernández-Blanco and Robert Costanza

“The Anthropocene” has been proposed as the new geological epoch in which we now live. We have left behind the Holocene, an epoch of stable climate conditions that permitted the development of human civilization. To address the challenges of this new epoch, humanity needs to take an active role as stewards of the integrated Earth System, collaborating across scales and levels with a shared vision and values toward maintaining the planet within a safe and just operating space. In September 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which has at its core 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These goals built on and superseded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Unlike the MDGs, they apply to all countries and represent universal goals and targets that articulate the need and opportunity for the global community to build a sustainable and desirable future in an increasingly interconnected world. The global health crisis caused by COVID-19 has been a strong hit to a vulnerable development system, exacerbating many of the challenges that humanity faces in the Anthropocene. The pandemic has touched all segments of the global populations and all sectors of the economy, with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most affected. Understanding the interdependence between SDGs is a key area of research and policy, which will require novel approaches to assess and implement systemic global strategies to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Global society requires a new vision of the economy, one in which the economy is recognized to be a subsystem of the broader Earth System (a single complex system with reasonably well-defined states and transitions between them), instead of viewing nature as just another source of resources and sink for wastes. This approach will require acknowledging the value of nature, which, although it has been widely recognized in the scientific literature, has been often ignored by decision-makers. Therefore, there is a need to replace the static, linear model of gross domestic product (GDP) with more dynamic, integrated, natural, and human system models that incorporate the dynamics of stocks, flows, trade-offs, and synergies among the full range of variables that affect the SDGs and human and ecosystem well-being. The SDGs will only be achieved if humanity chooses a development path focused on thriving in a broad and integrated way, rather than growing material consumption at all costs. Achieving the SDGs is a future where society reconnects with the rest of nature and develops within its planetary boundaries. The new economics and the visions and strategies are aimed at achieving these shared global goals.

Article

Rawshan Ara Begum and Sofia Ehsan

With rapid population growth and urbanization around the world, waste generation (solid, liquid, and gaseous) is increasing. Waste management is a critical factor in ensuring human health and environmental protection, which is a major concern of both developing and developed countries. Waste management systems and practices, including collection, transport, treatment, and disposal, vary between developed and developing countries or even urban and rural areas. In response, economic models have been developed to help decision-makers choose the most efficient mix of policy levers to regulate solid waste and recycling activities. The economic models employ different kinds of data to estimate the factors that contribute to solid waste generation and recycling, and to estimate the effectiveness of the policy options employed for waste management and disposal. Thus, economic analysis plays a crucial role in the proper and efficient management of solid waste, and leads to significant developments in the field of environmental economics to reflect the costs of pollution related to waste, measure the environmental benefits of waste management, find cost-efficient solutions, and shape policies for environmental protection and sustainable development. Economic assessment and cost-benefit analysis help to determine optimal policies for efficient use of resources and management of waste problems to achieve sustainable waste management, especially in developing and least developed countries. Crucial challenges include issues such as the limits of waste hierarchy, integration of sustainable waste management, public-private cooperation, and linear versus circular economy.

Article

The Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) is an interesting alternative to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indicator of society’s development. Historically, GDP has been used by policymakers, media analysts, and economists as the main indicator of development, even though economics textbooks often state that it is not a measure of social welfare. Strictly speaking, GDP is only an indicator of the production of economic goods and services, not an index of well-being or development. It does not include the environmental, social, or economic costs of producing goods and services. The theoretical basis of GDP is conventional macroeconomics, which adopts an isolated economic system as the object of analysis. In this approach, there is no flow of matter and energy to produce economic goods and services. The economy is considered a perpetual motion machine that does not need material and energy to produce and which consequently does not generate waste. However, the economy is a subsystem open to the flow of matter and energy, supported by a closed, natural subsystem—the global environmental system. In practice, the production of economic goods and services is dependent on the continuous flow of matter and energy from the environment, and inherently, the result of GDP is also the generation of waste. The GPI adopts this perspective. In the 1990s, Daly and Cobb created the Index of Sustainable Economic Welfare (ISEW), hereafter termed GPI. The objective was to incorporate environmental, social, and economic costs associated with GDP growth, and to generate an indicator that reflected a genuine development of society. The GPI has been estimated for several countries, including the United States, Australia, China, and Brazil. This indicator is neither perfect nor complete for assessing development or human well-being, but it is superior to GDP. Despite technological development, there has been an unequivocal increase in environmental degradation, contrary to the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC) hypothesis. The result of environmental degradation has been an increase in the environmental, social, and economic costs of GDP growth. However, these costs have been ignored by policymakers, companies, and society in their production and consumption decisions. Improving the GPI and its estimates can provide better information for decision making by economic and political agents.

Article

Caroline A. Ochieng, Cathryn Tonne, Sotiris Vardoulakis, and Jan Semenza

Household air pollution from use of solid fuels (biomass fuels and coal) is a major problem in low and middle income countries, where 90% of the population relies on these fuels as the primary source of domestic energy. Use of solid fuels has multiple impacts, on individuals and households, and on the local and global environment. For individuals, the impact on health can be considerable, as household air pollution from solid fuel use has been associated with acute lower respiratory infections, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer, and other illnesses. Household-level impacts include the work, time, and high opportunity costs involved in biomass fuel collection and processing. Harvesting and burning biomass fuels affects local environments by contributing to deforestation and outdoor air pollution. At a global level, inefficient burning of solid fuels contributes to climate change. Improved biomass cookstoves have for a long time been considered the most feasible immediate intervention in resource-poor settings. Their ability to reduce exposure to household air pollution to levels that meet health standards is however questionable. In addition, adoption of improved cookstoves has been low, and there is limited evidence on how the barriers to adoption and use can be overcome. However, the issue of household air pollution in low and middle income countries has gained considerable attention in recent years, with a range of international initiatives in place to address it. These initiatives could enable a transition from biomass to cleaner fuels, but such a transition also requires an enabling policy environment, especially at the national level, and new modes of financing technology delivery. More research is also needed to guide policy and interventions, especially on exposure-response relationships with various health outcomes and on how to overcome poverty and other barriers to wide-scale transition from biomass fuels to cleaner forms of energy.

Article

Water is essential to life and development in terms of both quantity and quality. Water resources continue to face various pressures brought about by climate change, growing population, and increased economic demand for water. Managing this unique and precious resource has become a global challenge. The conflicts over water issues often arise not only among stakeholders facing limited water resources but also from social and political aspects of the design, operation, and management of water supply projects. A fair and sustainable system of sharing water resources, therefore, is one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century. In the absence of negotiation and lack of clear property rights, water is a source for human conflicts. Game theory as strategic analysis has provided powerful tools and been applied to many fields, including water resources management. The basic assumptions of game theory emphasize that rational players who pursue well-defined objectives and assume knowledge of others would accordingly form expectations of other decision makers’ behavior. Hence, game theory is used to predict agents’ behaviors toward fulfilling their own interests during the interactive decision-making process with other agents. Since the 1950s, game theory has become an important tool for analyzing important aspects of water resource management. Yet despite the rapid increase in the application of game theoretical approaches to water resource management, many challenges remain. The challenges of the early 21st century, including resource constraints, financial instability, inequalities within and between countries, and environmental degradation, present opportunities to address and reach resolutions on how water is governed and managed to ensure that everyone has sufficient access to water.

Article

Saket Pande, Mahendran Roobavannan, Jaya Kandasamy, Murugesu Sivapalan, Daniel Hombing, Haoyang Lyu, and Luuk Rietveld

Water quantity and quality crises are emerging everywhere, and other crises of a similar nature are emerging at several locations. In spite of a long history of investing in sustainable solutions for environmental preservation and improved water supply, these phenomena continue to emerge, with serious economic consequences. Water footprint studies have found it hard to change culture, that is, values, beliefs, and norms, about water use in economic production. Consumption of water-intensive products such as livestock is seen as one main reason behind our degrading environment. Culture of water use is indeed one key challenge to water resource economics and development. Based on a review of socio-hydrology and of societies going all the way back to ancient civilizations, a narrative is developed to argue that population growth, migration, technology, and institutions characterize co-evolution in any water-dependent society (i.e., a society in a water-stressed environment). Culture is proposed as an emergent property of such dynamics, with institutions being the substance of culture. Inclusive institutions, strong diversified economies, and resilient societies go hand in hand and emerge alongside the culture of water use. Inclusive institutions, in contrast to extractive institutions, are the ones where no small group of agents is able to extract all the surplus from available resources at the cost of many. Just as values and norms are informed by changing conditions resulting from population and economic growth and climate, so too are economic, technological, and institutional changes shaped by prevailing culture. However, these feedbacks occur at different scales—cultural change being slower than economic development, often leading to “lock-ins” of decisions that are conditioned by prevailing culture. Evidence-based arguments are presented, which suggest that any attempt at water policy that ignores the key role that culture plays will struggle to be effective. In other words, interventions that are sustainable endogenize culture. For example, changing water policy, for example, by taking water away from agriculture and transferring it to the environment, at a time when an economy is not diversified enough to facilitate the needed change in culture, will backfire. Although the economic models (and policy based on them) are powerful in predicting actions, that is, how people make choices based on how humans value one good versus the other, they offer little on how preferences may change over time. The conceptualization of the dynamic role of values and norms remains weak. The socio-hydrological perspective emphasizes the need to acknowledge the often-ignored, central role of endogenous culture in water resource economics and development.

Article

David A. Robinson, Fiona Seaton, Katrina Sharps, Amy Thomas, Francis Parry Roberts, Martine van der Ploeg, Laurence Jones, Jannes Stolte, Maria Puig de la Bellacasa, Paula Harrison, and Bridget Emmett

Soils provide important functions, which according to the European Commission include: biomass production (e.g., agriculture and forestry); storing, filtering, and transforming nutrients, substances, and water; harboring biodiversity (habitats, species, and genes); forming the physical and cultural environment for humans and their activities; providing raw materials; acting as a carbon pool; and forming an archive of geological and archaeological heritage, all of which support human society and planetary life. The basis of these functions is the soil natural capital, the stocks of soil material. Soil functions feed into a range of ecosystem services which in turn contribute to the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDGs). This overarching framework hides a range of complex, often nonlinear, biophysical interactions with feedbacks and perhaps yet to be discovered tipping points. Moreover, interwoven with this biophysical complexity are the interactions with human society and the socioeconomic system which often drives our attitudes toward, and the management and exploitation of, our environment. Challenges abound, both social and environmental, in terms of how to feed an increasingly populous and material world, while maintaining some semblance of thriving ecosystems to pass on to future generations. How do we best steward the resources we have, keep them from degradation, and restore them where necessary as soils underpin life? How do we measure and quantify the soil resources we have, how are they changing in time and space, what can we predict about their future use and function? What is the value of soil resources, and how should we express it? This article explores how soil properties and processes underpin ecosystem services, how to measure and model them, and how to identify the wider benefits they provide to society. Furthermore, it considers value frameworks, including caring for our resources.

Article

Conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity have been in the center of policy creation for half a century. The main international biodiversity conventions and processes include the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its protocols, the Convention on Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention), the World Heritage Convention (WHC), the Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), the International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), the Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (CGRFA), and the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). The governance of marine biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction (BBNJ) is also discussed, as political focus has shifted to the protection of the oceans and is expected to culminate in the adoption of a new international convention under the United Nations Convention on Law of Seas (UNCLOS). Other conventions and processes with links to biodiversity include the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF). Despite the multitude of instruments, governments are faced with the fact that biodiversity loss is spiraling and international targets are not being met. The Earth’s sixth mass extinction event has led to various initiatives to fortify the relevance of biodiversity in the UN system and beyond to accelerate action on the ground. In face of an ever more complex international policy landscape on biodiversity, country delegates are seeking to enhance efficiency and reduce fragmentation by enhancing synergies among multilateral environmental agreements and strengthening their science−policy interface. Furthermore, biodiversity has been reflected throughout the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and is gradually gaining more ground in the human rights context. The Global Pact for the Environment, a new international initiative that is aiming to reinforce soft law commitments and increase coherence among environmental treaties, holds the potential to influence and strengthen the way biodiversity conventions function, but extensive discussions are still needed before concrete action is agreed upon.

Article

Claudia Sadoff, David Grey, and Edoardo Borgomeo

Water security has emerged in the 21st century as a powerful construct to frame the water objectives and goals of human society and to support and guide local to global water policy and management. Water security can be described as the fundamental societal goal of water policy and management. This article reviews the concept of water security, explaining the differences between water security and other approaches used to conceptualize the water-related challenges facing society and ecosystems and describing some of the actions needed to achieve water security. Achieving water security requires addressing two fundamental challenges at all scales: enhancing water’s productive contributions to human and ecosystems’ well-being, livelihoods and development, and minimizing water’s destructive impacts on societies, economies, and ecosystems resulting, for example, from too much (flood), too little (drought) or poor quality (polluted) water.

Article

Daphne Gondhalekar, Hong-Ying Hu, Zhuo Chen, Shresth Tayal, Maksud Bekchanov, Johannes Sauer, Maria Vrachioli, Mohammed Al-Azzawi, Hannah Patalong, Hans-Dietrich Uhl, Martin Grambow, and Jörg E. Drewes

With economic and population growth, industrialization, urbanization, and globalization, demand for natural resources such as water, energy, and food continues to increase, particularly in cities. Overconsumption of resources has led to degradation of the environment, a process that is interacting with and is further accelerated by a dangerous alteration to the climate. Fast growing cities worldwide already face severe technical difficulties in providing adequate infrastructure and basic services in terms of water and energy. This situation is set to become increasingly difficult with climate change impacts. The latter are increasingly affecting economically developing as well as developed countries. However, cities often have limited capacities to take comprehensive climate action. Hence, practicable, scalable, and adaptable solutions that can systematically target key entry points in cities are needed. The Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus concept is one potential integrated urban planning approach offering cities a more sustainable development pathway. Within this concept, urban water reclamation with resource recovery offers a key potential: reclaimed products such as water, bioenergy, nutrients, and others are valuable resources for which markets are emerging. Reclaiming water can also reduce stress on natural resources and support the prevention of environmental pollution. Thus, it can support water, energy, and food security and the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. However, so far there are few implemented examples of urban water reclamation with resource recovery at urban scales. Examples of good practice in cities in China, India, and Europe highlight key enablers and barriers to the operationalization of water reclamation with resource recovery and implications in terms of environmental economics relevant for cities worldwide. These findings can support a systemic sociotechnical transition to a circular economy.

Article

Luis Andrés, George Joseph, and Suneira Rana

Nearly half of the world’s population, 4.2 billion people, lack access to a hygienic sanitation facility. About 673 million people regularly defecate outdoors, in the open. Many of those who still lack access to sanitation services are among the most challenging populations to reach: the poorest, the most remote, and the most marginalized. Inadequate sanitation is also a major cause of death and disease in countries around the world, causing 432,000 diarrheal deaths annually and contributing to several neglected tropical diseases, including intestinal worm infections, schistosomiasis, and trachoma. It also contributes to malnutrition, adversely affecting early childhood development and thus affecting long-term outcomes, such as educational attainment and earnings in later life. The disease burden of inadequate sanitation overwhelmingly falls on the poor. Sanitation infrastructure access can result in direct benefits that households receive when they have access to sanitation services and an external benefit or externality produced by a community’s access to clean sanitation infrastructure. Thus, for the full benefits of sanitation infrastructure to be realized, efforts should focus on improving community-wide coverage of improved sanitation and eliminating open defecation. This expands the menu of policy options available for targeting conditions like anemia and undernutrition and would require a significant shift in thinking for many researchers and policymakers, who tend to overlook the important role of disease in determining “nutritional” outcomes. Beyond their intrinsic value to human health and well-being, improved sanitation services would play a contributory and catalytic role in furthering progress toward other development goals, particularly those relating to education, and sustainable economic growth. Thus, furthering people’s access to adequate sanitation services is a necessary milestone in the global stride toward a sustainable, high quality of life for all.

Article

Sustainable Development Goal No. 6 (SDG 6) has committed all nations of the world to achieving ambitious water supply and sanitation targets by 2030 to meet the universal basic needs of humans and the environment. Many lower-middle-income countries and all low-income countries face an uphill challenge in achieving these ambitious targets. The cause of poor performance is explored, some possible ways to accelerate progress toward achieving SDG 6 are suggested. The analysis will be of interest to a three-part audience: (a) readers with a general interest on how SDG 6 can be achieved; (b) actors with policy interest on improving water supply and safe sanitation (WSS) service issues; and (c) activists skeptical of conventional WSS policy prescriptions who advocate out-of-the-box solutions to improve WSS delivery.