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A New Economics to Achieve Sustainable Development Goals  

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 These goals built on and superseded the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).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.


Economics of Waste Minimization, Recycling, and Disposal  

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 in 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.


Economics of the Genuine Progress Indicator  

Junior Ruiz Garcia

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.


The Role of Tourism in Sustainable Development  

Robert B. Richardson

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.


The Economic and Health Impacts of Inadequate Sanitation  

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.


The Emerging Environmental Economic Implications of the Urban Water–Energy–Food (WEF) Nexus: Water Reclamation with Resource Recovery in China, India, and Europe  

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.


Water Supply, Sanitation, and the Environment  

N. Vijay Jagannathan

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.