development sustainability

Madagascar and Britain: comparing two doughnuts

A bunch of new tools for creating and using Kate Raworth’s ‘doughnut economics’ have been released recently. The idea is now being applied in Amsterdam, as I reported last month. There’s a new guide to help other local authorities to use it where they are, and a new policy database from the Zoe Institute.

Two doughnuts at once is generally a bad idea, but as a reminder of how the doughnut can illuminate policy priorities, I thought a comparison might be helpful.

As you will know if you’ve read Kate Raworth’s book, the doughnut is a way of imagining a safe and just economy. There are social thresholds that nobody should fall below, representing a hole in the middle of the ring. And there are environmental limits that the economy should not exceed, forming an outer circle. A thriving society remains in balance between those two, meeting citizens’ needs without compromising the earth’s systems that we all depend on.

Drawing on the national examples compiled at Leeds University, we can compare the doughnuts for Madagascar and Britain:


Madagascar is currently failing on almost every metric of social progress, with many people living in poverty and lacking basic education and sanitation. Environmental performance is very different. It is only on land use change that Madagascar has overshot its environmental limits, mainly due to deforestation. Carbon footprints are materials use are well within the boundaries.

Britain, on the other hand, fails in the other direction. Minus some shortfalls on inequality and employment, the country is doing well on social metrics. Environmentally, it has overshot the limits on CO2 emissions, materials footprint, the natural cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus and more besides.

The two doughnuts dramatically demonstrate the futility of economic growth as an over-arching priority. Madagascar’s problem is one of shortage, whereas Britain’s is one of excess. Yet both would use GDP growth as a metric of success.

Progress in Britain ought to look different from progress in Madagascar. In the UK, it will involve transitions away from wasteful consumerism and fossil fuels, and a greater focus on distribution. Progress in Madagascar will mean expanding consumption. Growth is a priority in Madagascar, whereas Britain should focus on living sustainably and equitably with the progress it has already acheived – what Katherine Trebeck and I describe as ‘Arrival’ in our book.

I think we can also reconsider the categories that are often used for development. With so much red on the inside, Madagascar is a developing country. Britain is overdeveloped. It is only countries that are colouring within the lines that can be considered developed, and so far no country in the world qualifies.


  1. Yes, Jeremy – no country in the the whole world properly enters the safe and just space. There it is worth linking regrowth, inequality, arrival, ecological justice and new deals with a world parliament and proper global governance to guide us all away from ecocide.

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