I’ve written a few times about the ‘doughnut‘ devised by Kate Raworth. It’s essentially a series of environmental limits that we shouldn’t go above, and a series of social limits that we shouldn’t go below. Draw them in a circle, and you get a doughnut shape.
The challenge for 21st century development is to get into the safe space in the middle – pulling richer nations back from environmental limits, and pulling more deprived countries up from the social limits. It’s a novel way of combining social and environmental sustainability, and it’s been quite influential, especially after Raworth’s book on the subject.
There have been a handful of projects that look specifically at how a country performs on the various metrics of the doughnut, including some by my friend and co-author Katherine Trebeck – here’s Britain’s. The latest piece of research to build on this idea is from Dan O’Neill and the team at Leeds University. They have mapped 150 countries, giving us a new way of visualising development. There’s a website where you can explore the data, and you can read the research in the Nature Sustainability journal if you want to technical details. The main take-away that I wanted to share was this graph:
On the X axis we have the number of biophysical boundaries that each country has crossed – that includes climate change, land and water use, etc. On the Y axis we have social indicators drawn from the Sustainable Development Goals – education, income, life satisfaction, and so on.
Ideally then, countries would have met as many social goals as they can, without crossing any of the environmental limits. The most successful countries would be placed in the top left corner.
Unfortunately, as you can see, the top left corner is empty. The nearest country is Vietnam, which is delivering on 6 out of 11 social goals while only breaching one environmental boundary. Contrast that with Greece, which has delivered the same social benefits but overshot every single one of the environmental limits.
Once again, we see the impossibility of trying to universalize the affluence of the Western nations. We can’t all live like that. Instead, the richest need to be reducing their impact, and freeing up space. To make poverty history, we need to make affluence history too.
As the study says, “the pursuit of universal human development, which is the ambition of the SDGs, has the potential to undermine the Earth-system processes upon which development ultimately depends. But this does not need to be the case. A more hopeful scenario would see the SDGs shift the agenda away from growth towards an economic model where the goal is sustainable and equitable human well-being.”