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Sustainomics & Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs): The future of global sustainability

The Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs) idea was proposed in January 2011 in New York, for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012. MCGs provide targets to motivate the rich worldwide, to consume and produce more sustainably, thereby improving overall well being, reducing environmental harm, freeing up resources to alleviate poverty, and ensuring intra- and inter-generational equity. MCGs for the affluent would complement development for the poor.

We need MCGs urgently, because unsustainable consumption and production have caused multiple problems threatening humanity’s future – like poverty, resource scarcities, hunger, conflict and climate change. Global production already exceeds the environmental carrying capacity of planet earth by 50%. The world’s 1.4 billion richest people consume over 80% of this output – 60 times more than the poorest 1.4 billion. Meanwhile, where are the resources to support the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) seeking to raise consumption levels of over 2 billion poor? Clearly, the consumption of the rich is both unsustainable and “crowding out” the poor. Thus the MCGs for the rich will complement the MDGs for the poor, and help to avoid a global resource crisis, by persuading the affluent to contribute to the solution, instead of viewing them as a problem.

The MCGs have three specific sustainability goals:

  • The environmental objective would be to reduce humanity’s global ecological footprint to less than one planet earth.
  • The social objective would be to meet the basic consumption needs of the poor and make the distribution of consumption more equitable, within this global resource use envelope.
  • The economic objective would be to promote prosperity within a sustainable economy that is economically efficient, but respects critical environmental and social sustainability constraints.

Specific areas to be targeted by the MCGs include:

  1. Addressing underconsumption of the poor, by ensuring that basic human needs are met worldwide.
  2. Addressing overconsumption of the rich evenhandedly in all countries, by limiting the use of several resource-related MCGs: GHG emissions; energy use; water use; land use and biomass; ores and industrial minerals; construction materials; and polluting discharges.
  3. Addressing unsustainable human behaviour and actions: food security and agriculture; health, diet and obesity; livelihoods and lifestyles; economic-financial-trade systems; military expenditures, etc.

The MCGs are based on a practical framework for making development more sustainable called ‘Sustainomics’, and designed to supplement ongoing initiatives like sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and green economy (GE). Four core principles of sustainomics proposed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, apply to the MCGs:

  1. The main goal is ‘Making Development More Sustainable’ (MDMS) using a step-by-step method that empowers people to take immediate action by identifying and eliminating the many existing unsustainable activities. The bottom-up and voluntary activities encouraged by the MCGs epitomise the MDMS approach.
  2.  The three dimensions of the sustainable development triangle (economic, social and environmental) must be given balanced treatment, as recognized in the three main objectives of MCGs. This means consumers must be empowered to make sustainable choices by equipping them with relevant product information on all three aspects, and ensuring that pricing reflects real costs. Correspondingly, firms need to analyse value/supply chains from the same triple perspective.
  3. Thinking should transcend traditional boundaries to bring about sustainable behavioural changes in the longer term. Replacing unsustainable values like greed with sound ethical principles, especially among the young, must go hand in hand with raising awareness across every sector of society. Trans-disciplinary analysis is essential, that includes thinking on a global scale and over long time spans.
  4. Full life cycle analysis is required for all products, covering the entire value/supply chain, to identify hot-spots where innovation can improve production sustainability, reform pricing, and improve labelling information.

To move this idea forward, the Millennium Consumption Goals Initiative (MCGI) was launched at the UN by a broad stakeholder network. It is action-oriented, inclusive, multi-level, pluralistic and trans-national.

MCGs provide a set of benchmarks, supported by a combination of voluntary actions by rich consumers, and enabling government policies promoting sustainable consumption and production. A top down effort is moving the MCGs forward on the Rio+20 agenda — establishing a mandate, benchmarks, and an implementation framework. While international discussions proceed, many prefer to act NOW. This bottom-up approach involves pioneering individuals, communities, organisations, firms, cities, regions and nations, who are already declaring their own voluntary MCGs and implementing them.

MCGs have strategic advantages. First, they would apply worldwide, cutting across nationalistic and regional self-interest. Second, small reductions in rich peoples’ material consumption can improve their well-being (eg., through healthier lifestyles and diets), while lowering environmental harm and freeing up resources to alleviate poverty. Third, MCGs can be implemented using an inclusive, multilevel strategy, which combines both bottom up and top down approaches. Fourth, MCGs have the potential for quicker results, by galvanizing civil society and business to ‘act now’. This could quickly shift the behaviour of affluent households and businesses, without relying only on long-term measures. Furthermore, rich individuals and communities could act effectively in their own enlightened self-interest, since they are better educated, have more influence and command more resources. Fifth, MCG-MDG twinning is possible – eg., by linking MCGs in rich communities with MDGs in poor communities. Sixth and finally, MCGs could mobilise, empower and link sustainable consumers and producers (including associated global value/supply chains). The same advertising that now promotes over-consumption could be used to encourage more sustainable consumption. Values and habits could be changed society-wide to favour more sustainable behaviour (like the gradual change in attitudes towards smoking). MCGs would “empower the person to define meaningful consumption rather than permitting meaningless consumption to define the person.”

By acting together on the MCGs at Rio+20, we will make the planet a safer and better place for our children and grandchildren.

– Professor Mohan Munasinghe



About Professor Munasinghe

Prof. Mohan Munasinghe shared the 2007 Nobel Prize for Peace, as Vice Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-AR4). Currently, he is Chairman of the Munasinghe Inst. of Development (MIND), Colombo; Professor of Sustainable Development at SCI, University of Manchester, UK; Institute Professor at the Vale Sustainable Development Inst., Federal Univ. of Para, Brazil; and Distinguished Guest Professor at Peking University, China. He has post-graduate degrees in engineering, physics and economics from Cambridge Univ., UK; Massachusetts Inst. of Technology, USA; and McGill Univ. and Concordia Univ., Canada.

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  1. Sylvestre mbanza

    You have done a very good job.

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