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All countries have a right to development that respects planetary boundaries, ensures sustainable production and consumption patterns, and helps to stabilize the global population by mid-century.

Targets and Indicators

2a. Each country reaches at least the next income level and promotes decent work.*

8. GNI per capita (PPP, current US$ Atlas method)

9. [Index of decent work] – indicator to be developed

2b. Countries report on their contribution to planetary boundaries and incorporate them, together with other environmental and social indicators, into expanded GDP measures and national accounts.*

10. [Excessive loss of reactive nitrogen [and phosphorus] to the environment] -indicator to be developed

11. Aerosol optical depth (AOD)

12. Consumption of ozone-depleting substances (MDG Indicator)

2c. Realize sexual and reproductive health and rights for all, and promote the rapid reduction in fertility to replacement level or below through exclusively voluntary means.

13. Met demand for family planning (modified MDG Indicator)

14. Contraceptive prevalence rate (MDG Indicator) UN Population

15. Total fertility rate


All countries have the right to development, meaning the right to enjoy rising living standards and the eventual convergence of living standards with today’s high-income countries. Concerns over the environment must not provide an excuse for today’s high-income countries to frustrate the economic aspirations of developing countries. The key is for all countries, rich and poor, to adopt sustainable technologies and behaviors that decouple economic growth from unsustainable patterns of production and consumption.

Through broad-based and sustainable economic growth, all low-income countries should be able to reach the per capita income threshold of middle-income countries by 2030. Likewise, today’s middle-income countries can become upper-middle-income or high-income countries by 2030, depending on their starting point. Economic growth should benefit all citizens.

At the same time, however, the entire world must recognize that growth along the current trajectory using today’s technologies is bound to fail. It would trespass on planetary boundaries and lead to environmental degradation that will stop growth and even threaten major reversals of living standards through pollution, deforestation, water scarcity, famines, floods, displacement, and collapsing agricultural productivity. These threats are not in the distant future. Some countries, including some of the poorest, are already feeling the very heavy costs of environmental change. These costs fall disproportionately on vulnerable and marginalized populations.

Therefore, the right to development is a right to development within planetary boundaries. All countries can and should develop, but all countries must recognize that development, including the convergence of living standards, needs to take place within a sound environmental framework. In this sense, we need a framework of convergence of living standards that respects environmental realities and that in no way slams the door on developing countries, and the poor in particular. All countries will have to adopt sustainable technologies, policies, and business models. They will have to cooperate so that all countries converge not only in living standards but also in their global responsibilities to sustainable development. Developed countries have, of course, a particular responsibility to decouple resource use from incomes and economic growth since they have the highest per capita resource use in the world. They also need to provide support to developing countries in the form of technology transfer and financing for the poorest countries.

It is possible for countries to grow and improve human wellbeing while respecting planetary boundaries, mainly by shifting to low-carbon energy; improving the efficiency of energy, water, and other resource uses; adopting sustainable technologies for agriculture, water, transport, power, industry, buildings, and other sectors; and restraining various kinds of destructive or wasteful behaviors, including pollution and destruction of biodiversity. The required transformations in agriculture, urban development, water and waste management, the energy system, and management of ecosystems and natural resources are complex and must mobilize all actors of society. They will require increased investments in research and teaching to promote practical problem solving and sharing of knowledge. The operational implications of these transformations are described in more detail under the other goals.

Today’s standard measures of economic progress, GDP per capita and national income accounts, generally do not reflect the environmental and social consequences of a country’s development path, nor do they accurately capture wellbeing at an individual or household level. They are therefore poorly suited to serve as stand-alone measures for tracking progress towards sustainable development and must be revised and complemented with more broad-based measures that take into account all dimensions of sustainable development, including subjective wellbeing.[1] Of particular importance will be that countries quantify their contributions towards each planetary boundary to (i) identify opportunities for reducing their environmental impact, (ii) guide long-term sustainable development, and (iii) support regional and global efforts to tackle planetary boundaries, such as agreements under multilateral environmental instruments on climate change, biodiversity, ozone depletion, and desertification.

In many poor countries, the denial of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights combined with extreme poverty sustain high fertility rates that have severe consequences for economic development, social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and peace in these countries.[2] High fertility rates and the denial of sexual and reproductive health and rights increase mothers’ risk of dying in childbirth, create other health risks for women, and undermine gender equality. They lead to inadequate investments per child, including in nutrition, health, and education, which translate into worse outcomes for children. High fertility rates raise overall population growth rates, reduce the growth rate of income per capita, and greatly impede the eradication of extreme poverty. High population growth can put unmanageable demands on the natural environment, leading, for example, to excessive water use, habitat destruction, and loss of biodiversity. High fertility rates also increase the risk of insecurity by exacerbating poverty, youth unemployment, and migration within and across countries.

The highest fertility rates in the world are found in sub-Saharan Africa. Even under the medium-fertility scenario of the UN Population Division, which assumes a significant though gradual reduction of fertility rates in the coming decades, the population of sub-Saharan Africa is projected to quadruple between 2010 and 2100, from around 850 million to 3.4 billion. Such a large increase, we fear, would be incompatible with sub-Saharan Africa’s aspirations for ending extreme poverty and for sustainable development more generally. We would also anticipate the migration of very poor people from rural to urban areas and across national borders, with attendant social conflicts and political pressures.

We therefore urge governments in countries with high-fertility populations to promote sexual and reproductive health and rights and support measures that accelerate the voluntary transition to lower fertility, respecting the rights of all women to decide when and how many children they would like to have. Such measures include expanding access to voluntary family planning and reproductive healthcare, investing in child survival, promoting an understanding of the benefits of small families, investing in girls’ education, and adopting a holistic approach to the empowerment of women.

Accelerating the reduction of fertility has the potential to usher in a period where the age distribution of the population becomes especially beneficial for economic growth, as the number of potential workers rises in relation to that of children and older persons. Many middle-income countries have benefitted from the “demographic dividend” caused by the decline of fertility.

[1] Many improved measures of GDP and national accounts are available. We refer in particular to the World Happiness Report, Inclusive Wealth Report, Resource Efficiency Evaluations, the work of the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, and the adjusted net saving and environmental accounting framework developed by the World Bank.

[2] For a careful and comprehensive discussion of fertility rates and sexual and reproductive health rights in the context of sustainable development see UN Population Division (2011). The extremely low per capita use of primary resources in these countries means that they currently contribute little to the global pressures on planetary boundaries, but the local environmental implications of high fertility are nevertheless severe, e.g. in deforestation caused by charcoal use, or in habitat loss due to the spread of farmland and pastureland. Even worse, though, are the consequences of high fertility on maternal health and low per-child investments in health, nutrition, and education.




What is transformative about goal 2 “Promote Economic Growth and Decent Jobs within Planetary Boundaries”?
This universal goal recognizes every country’s right to economic development, which we propose to measure through GNI per capita and a country’s progression to the next income level, as defined by the World Bank. The goal frames this universal right to development in the context of a shared responsibility to respect planetary boundaries, as a short-hand form for the global environmental constraints within which development must occur. Recognizing every country’s right to development and placing this right into a shared commitment to respect planetary boundaries would make a transformational contribution to the post-2015 agenda.

The targets under the goal adopt a broad approach to development. They emphasize the need for decent jobs, which can make a critical contribution towards economic development and human well-being. Countries are encouraged to systematically report on their contributions to planetary boundaries, to ensure cooperative approaches in support of resource protection. Finally, the goal promotes the realization of sexual and reproductive health and rights and voluntary reductions in fertility rates, to ensure sustainable levels of demographic growth.

What is the reasoning behind SDG 2 (Development within Planetary Boundaries)?
Modern Earth-systems science (including geology, climate science, hydrology, and ecology) makes clear that human activity is now dangerously impinging on vital Earth functions, including climate, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, biodiversity, ocean acidification, particulate pollution, and more. Scientists are identifying certain thresholds or “planetary boundaries” beyond which human activity can have dire effects on human wellbeing and on ecosystem functions everywhere. Unless human development respects these planetary boundaries, people in all countries are likely to face severe environmental degradation that could severely set back human development. Yet it is possible for countries to grow while respecting these boundaries, mainly by improving efficiency, shifting to sustainable technologies, restraining various kinds of wasteful behaviors, and by decelerating population growth more rapidly. The proposed SDG 2 therefore underscores the right to development for all countries within planetary boundaries. It is closely related to the better-known concept of sustainable consumption and production. This goal includes a target on economic growth as a key dimension of the right to development. A second target focuses on the need to measure and track the environmental impact of growth in every country by reforming national accounting systems. A third target focuses on the rapid attainment of population stabilization. The transformations needed for the world and for every country to respect planetary boundaries are addressed in the goals below (particularly SDGs 6 to 10).

Why is there no proposed goal called “Sustainable Consumption and Production”?
Most simply because it is the essence of proposed SDG 2. As emphasized throughout this document and in the “Framework of Programs on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns” adopted at Rio+20, the use of environmental resources and pollution must be brought down to levels that can be sustained over the long run. This in turn will require a major decoupling of pollution and environmental resource use from rising living standards and economic growth, consistent with achieving a net reduction in both aggregate pollution and resource use. In many areas consumption and production patterns will need to change significantly. Yet, the key question is not the level of “consumption” or “production” per se, but their primary resource, pollution, and ecosystem implications. Consumption and production in an economic sense (i.e., improvement of material conditions) can grow provided they are decoupled from pollution and unsustainable natural resource use. This is the normative essence of SDG 2 (Question 19: above).

What does the notion of “decoupling” mean?
Decoupling means a drop in primary resource use and pollution as economic growth proceeds. It is achieved through a combination of new technologies (e.g. photovoltaic electricity and wind power substituting for fossil fuels), investments in energy efficiency (e.g. reduced losses on the power grid, improved insulation for homes), the dematerialization of production (e.g. the shift from vinyl albums to online music and from books to e-books), and proper economic incentives for individuals, businesses, and governments.

Resource efficiency (more output per unit of resource input) is a necessary but not sufficient condition. Greater efficiency in oil and gas extraction (e.g. hydrofracking) can expand rather than reduce CO2 emissions. Greater efficiency in internal combustion engines can lead to larger cars rather than fuel savings. Thus, technological changes need to be combined with appropriate policy incentives.

There are many pessimists regarding decoupling who feel that the only way to limit resource use is to limit overall economic growth. We disagree. Decoupling has not yet been tried as a serious global strategy, and we believe that advances in areas such as information and communications technologies, energy technologies, materials science, advanced manufacturing processes, and agriculture will permit continued economic growth combined with a massive reduction in the use and waste of key primary commodities, a sharp drop in greenhouse gas emissions and other forms of pollution.

Why do some goals focus on outcomes whereas others focus on outputs or means?
Where possible, the SDGs should focus on outcomes, such as ending extreme poverty. Yet, the distinction between outcomes, outputs, and inputs needs to be handled pragmatically, and the design of goals and targets should be – we believe – guided by approaches that are best suited to mobilize action and ensure accountability. For example, ensuring universal access to healthcare or high-quality early childhood development (ECD) are important commitments for every government. Goals and targets that focus on these outputs will ensure operational focus and accountability. In some instances it also makes sense to target inputs. For example, official development assistance (ODA) is critical for ensuring many SDGs and needs to be mobilized in every high-income country. Mobilizing resources for sustainable development is difficult, so subsuming ODA as an implicit input into every SDG would make it harder for government leaders, citizens, and civil society organizations to argue for increased ODA. It would also weaken accountability for rich countries. Similar considerations apply, for example, to the proposed target on integrated reporting by governments and businesses on their contributions to the SDGs.

What does reducing to “zero” or “universal access” mean?
Many targets call for “universal access” (e.g. to infrastructure) or “zero” deprivation (e.g. extreme poverty, hunger). For each such target, the technical communities and member states will need to define the precise quantitative standard for their commitment to “universal access” or “zero” deprivation. We hope that in most cases these standards will indeed be 100 percent or 0 percent, respectively, but there may be areas where it is technically impossible to achieve 100 percent access or 0 percent deprivation. In such cases countries should aim to get as close as possible to 100 percent or 0 percent, respectively.

Why are some targets not quantified and marked with an asterisk? Why do some targets have numbers in square brackets?
It is important that every target can be measured at the national or local level, but not every target can be defined globally in a meaningful way, for three distinct reasons:

i. The starting points may differ too much across countries for a single meaningful quantitative standard at the global level;
ii. Some targets need to be adapted and quantified locally or may be relevant only in subsets of countries (e.g. those that refer to specific ecosystems);
iii. For some targets no global consensus exists today, and these still need to be negotiated, as is the case with greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. In the meantime, countries should establish their own plans and targets.

In some cases proposed numerical targets are presented in square brackets since these numbers are preliminary and may need to be reviewed by the corresponding technical communities.