June 20, 2012 Rio de Janeiro
The world’s fixation on economic growth ignores a rapid and largely irreversible trend of natural resources depletion that will seriously harm future generations, according to a newly released report that unveils a new indicator aimed at encouraging sustainability.
On 17 June 2012, at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (the Rio+20 Summit), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) and partners launched the Inclusive Wealth Report 2012.
The Inclusive Wealth Report 2012 presents a new economic index — the Inclusive Wealth Index (IWI) — that looks beyond traditional short-term economic and development yardsticks, such as gross domestic product (GDP) and the Human Development Index (HDI). The IWI assesses changes in a country’s productive base, including manufactured, human and natural capital over time. By taking a more holistic approach, the IWI shows governments the true state of their nation’s wealth and the sustainability of its growth.
The IWI assesses 20 countries over a 19-year period (1990–2008) — countries that, together, represent more than half of the world population and almost three-quarters of world GDP.
The assessment shows, for example, that despite registering GDP growth, Brazil, China, South Africa and the United States have significantly depleted their natural capital base (the sum of a set of renewable and non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels, forests and fisheries). Over the period assessed, natural resources per capita declined by 33% in South Africa, by 25% in Brazil, by 20% in the United States, and by 17% in China.
In terms of GDP, the most common indicator for economic production, the economies in China, the United States, Brazil and South Africa grew by 422%, 37%, 31% and 24%, respectively, between 1990 and 2008. But when their performance is assessed by the IWI, the Chinese, Brazilian and US economies increased by only 45%, 18% and 13%, respectively, while the South African economy actually decreased by 1%.
The Inclusive Wealth Report 2012 is the first of a series of reports that will be published every two years to monitor the well-being and sustainability of countries. It is a joint initiative of IHDP (hosted in Bonn by the United Nations University) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in collaboration with the UN-Water Decade Programme on Capacity Development (UNW-DPC) and the Natural Capital Project.