10 June 2014

Protecting the environment by fighting poverty

Environmental protection and poverty eradication go hand in hand, according to a new policy paper from leading scientists including IIASA researchers.

Photo Credit: NASA

Photo Credit: NASA

Protecting the environment is a prerequisite for poverty eradication and development, according to a new report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU), published last week. IIASA Deputy Director General Nebojsa Nakicenovic and IIASA Council Chair Peter Lemke both serve as members of the WBGU. The policy paper is intended to inform the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Ongoing IIASA research has shown multiple co-benefits of synchronized policies for climate, air pollution, and energy access also in the context of poverty.

From the WBGU:

Environmental protection and poverty eradication are not opposites – on the contrary, measures to preserve humanity’s natural life-support systems are not only a prerequisite for increasing prosperity among the world‘s lower income groups; they can also become the driver of such increases. However, these measures cannot be financed by the poor themselves. This is the conclusion of the German Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU) in its policy paper, Human progress within planetary guard rails. A contribution to the SDG debate. The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals are to be superseded next year by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are as a result currently dominating debates on development policy worldwide. A policy paper on this subject was presented to the German Federal Government last week. 

The fundamental prerequisite for successful poverty reduction is the conservation of the natural life-support systems. Yet these systems are being massively jeopardized by current, often unsustainable patterns of development. The WBGU therefore recommends the inclusion of a comprehensive environmental goal entitled “safeguarding Earth system services” in the catalogue of new sustainable development goals (SDGs). The aim of this goal is to bring development paths in line with ecological boundaries, so that human progress can be ensured. The necessary impetus for transformation and the finance required can only come from the global middle and upper classes. In order to operationalize this goal, the WBGU recommends integrating six targets to protect the climate, the soils and biological diversity:

  • limit global warming to 2 °C – to avoid irreversible climatic consequences.
  • limit ocean acidification to 0.2 pH units – to keep the marine environment intact.
  • stop the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services – to protect the natural life-support systems.
  • stop land and soil degradation – in order not to jeopardize global food production.
  • limit the risks posed by long-lived and harmful anthropogenic substances (such as mercury and plastic waste) – since the related negative effects are difficult to reverse.
  • stop the loss of phosphorus – since this element is the limiting factor in agriculture.

The new sustainable development goals should apply to all countries, irrespective of their level of development. Germany and the European Union also need to take action and should lobby for this environmental goal at the ongoing international negotiations on the Sustainable Development Goals.


From Left to Right: Peter Lemke (IIASA Council Chair and WBGU Member), Federal Development Minister Gerd Müller, Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, Dirk Messner (WBGU-Chair), Sabine Schlacke (WBGU-Member) Photo: WBGU


For more information visit the WBGU Web site: www.wbgu.de

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Last edited: 10 June 2014


Nebojsa Nakicenovic

Emeritus Research Scholar Transformative Institutional and Social Solutions Research Group - Energy, Climate, and Environment Program

Full Report

Human progress within planetary guard rails – A contribution to the SDG debate (Download PDF)

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