The Good Life for 8 Billion People in 2050: it's possible - Conference Statement

Bas de Leeuw | 11 June 2010


Participants of the Third International Conference on Eco-Efficiency, held in Egmond aan de Zee, The Netherlands, June 9-11, 2010, discussed how to ensure that 8 billion people in developed and (former) developing countries can have a good life by 2050.

1. It was stated that two challenges needed to be fulfilled simultaneously. The environmental challenge is that by 2050 the pressure on the environment needs to be diminished with a factor 2 to 5 (this means that the environmental stress will be reduced with 50-80%). The socio-economic challenge is that by 2050 a 4 fold increase of Global Gross Product (GGP) will be needed to eradicate poverty, have all people live a ‘good life’, having access to basic needs and more;

2. Meeting both environmental and socio-economic goals means that the world needs to improve its eco-efficiency [1] with a factor of 10 (over 5% per annum). The 5% target is an average figure, and will need to be applied to all technologies and product-service systems; those with lower potential will need to be compensated by more progress in others.

3. This is an unprecedented challenge, but we have 40 years, and the world has seen other drastic changes in the past. It is therefore not impossible.

4. Improvement of technologies alone will most likely not be sufficient, nor are win-win options, balancing economy and the environment. A decoupling of economic growth from environmental damage is needed, by means of developing and implementing deep eco-innovations: new technology/product-service systems, combined with changing consumer demand and mindsets.;

5. We need to identify opportunities for:
- influencing consumption volumes, building upon in particular a thorough analysis of the underlying causes for consumption, in conjunction with ongoing (scenario) work on degrowth, and building on demographic trend analyses;
- influencing consumption patterns and lifestyles. Analysis will be required to the impacts of, for instance, shifting from work to leisure in the most developed countries, with corresponding less income, but perhaps compensated by a higher quality of life. The environmental impacts of such shift need to be analyased, including reviewing income and price elasticities;
- improving production technologies.

6. Drivers or incentives to bring about these changes include the use of communication tools (green marketing or advertising, education, awareness raising campaigns), legislation, pricing and other governmental policies (such as on environment, labour, transport). The involvement of the expertise of psychologists and sociologists was considered very important. Individual consumers should be empowered to become concerned citizens.

7. Integrating and 'bringing together' various related concepts and approaches was considered important for achieving better understanding among researchers. System thinking skills were pointed out. Enabling endusers to get better access to the various information and data tools was considered key for the effectiveness of policies. The "Earthster" program, developed in the USA, was mentioned as an example of open source sharing of LCA data, enabling companies and governments to better know and work with their supply chain.

8. The Conference did not provide evidence that a 5% eco-efficiency gain per annum would be possible, and recommended further research. Research on the rebound effect was considered to be among the priorities, as well as on consumer behaviour, pricing as an instrument for social change, and specific needs and perspectives of developing countries, more in particular on their abilities for achieving eco-innovation, supported by fair technology transfer. A long-list of detailed issues for further research is added to this statement.

9. It was suggested to aim for a next conference at achieving a 5% eco-efficiency gain through measures such as promoting transport by train, organic catering and reducing waste. The discussion will be going on, including on the internet, and possibly by organizing back-to-back sessions in existing conferences.

(this version: June 11, closing session remarks integrated, unedited)

[1] pressure per unit of value added/GDP