The Good Life for 8 billion people in 2050? It’s possible!

Development Policy09 Jun 2010Bas de Leeuw

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 and challenge is that by 2050 a 4 fold increase of GGP will be needed to eradicate poverty, and 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-efficiency1 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, where 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 drastic other 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;- 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, legislation, pricing and other governmental policies (such as on environment, labour, transport) – and cultural awareness raising and information campaigns. The involvement of the expertise of psychologists and sociologists was considered very important. Individual consumers could be empowered to become concerned citizens.

7. The Conference did not provide evidence that a 5% eco-efficiency gain per annum would be possible, and recommended further research. A long-list of specific high priority issues for further research is added to this statement. 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 technology transfer. It was suggested to aim at achieving a 5% eco-efficiency gain when organizing the next conference, with measures including promoting transport by train, organic food and reducing waste.

(This version was reviewed and edited June 11, incorporating comments received)


  1. Pressure per unit of value added/GDP