Green growth and sustainable development

Sustainable Development's glossay



Non-living; devoid of life


Bequest value

A non-use value, usually measured by willingness-to-pay, attached to an environmental or cultural asset that people want to transmit to their children or to future generations


The accumulation of a substance (typically a persistent chemical or heavy metal) in the tissue of a plant or animal, generally through the uptake of water or food, at a rate faster than the plant or animal can excrete it, resulting in a steady increase in contamination over the organism's lifetime.


A substance, such as an enzyme, that initiates or modifies the rate of a biological process and is generally consumed in that process (in contrast with a chemical catalyst, which accelerates a chemical reaction without being consumed).


Shorthand for biological diversity: the variability among living organisms. It includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems.


The accumulation of a substance by an animal that preys on other animals that have themselves accumulated the substance. This process can deliver remarkably high concentrations of persistent chemicals or heavy metals to top predators even if the levels in the surrounding physical environment are quite low. Chemical burdens, built up over a lifetime, can also be passed to young via the egg (in the case of birds) or through the placenta and breast milk (in mammals).


The total weight of a designated group of organisms in a particular area.


A small area with uniform biological conditions (climate, soil, altitude, etc.).


Cap-and-trade system

A regulatory or management system that sets a target level for emissions or natural resource use, and, after distributing shares in that quota, lets trading in those permits determine their price.

Carrying capacity

The maximum population (of humans and other species) that a particular environment can sustain without irreversible environmental damage.

Catchment area

The area from which rainwater drains into a river, lake or other body of water.


A chemical compound made up of carbon, fluorine, and chlorine. CFCs have been used as propellants in spray cans, coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners, and in foam, plastics, and cleaning solvents. They are very stable in the troposphere, but are broken down by strong ultraviolet light in the stratosphere and release chlorine atoms that then deplete the ozone layer.

Contingent valuation

A formal survey technique that requires respondents to specify their preferences for different goods or services and how much they would pay to obtain them.

Cost-benefit analysis

The appraisal of an investment or a policy change that considers all associated costs and benefits, expressed in monetary terms, accruing to it.


A monetary transfer to one group of customers (or line of business) financed at the expense of another: e.g. the use of surplus revenue from an urban bus route to support the operation of a rural one.



When applied to an economy, refers to the phasing out of its dependence on (carbon-containing) fossil fuels.


The transformation of arid and semi-arid land into desert, generally due to overgrazing, deforestation, poor irrigation and tilling practices, climate change, or a combination of these factors.


A general term that describes a large group of chemicals that are highly persistent in the environment. The most toxic compound is 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin or TCDD. Dioxins are generally formed as unintentional by-products of industrial processes involving chlorine (such as waste incineration, chemical and pesticide manufacturing and pulp and paper bleaching), but also during the combustion of biomass, such in wood stoves.

Distortionary subsidy

A subsidy that creates an unintended distortion in the allocative efficiency of the local or global economy (separate from the distortionary effects related to the financing of the subsidy).



Information (typically provided on a label attached to a product) informing a potential consumer of a product's characteristics, or of the production or processing method(s) used in its production.

Economy in transition

A country that is moving from a centrally planned economy to a market-oriented economy.

Ecosystem service

A service provided by group of organisms (including humans in some cases) that is directly or indirectly beneficial to humans. Examples include the conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen by photosynthesising plants, and the detoxification of harmful chemicals by aquatic and soil-based microbes.


A dynamic complex of plant, animal and micro-organism communities and their non-living environment, interacting as a functional unit.

End-of-pipe technology

A technology designed to control pollution from another technology, generally installed at the point of emission.


The ecosystem in which an organisms or a species lives, including both the physical environment and the other organisms with which it comes in contact.

Environmental tax

A tax that is of major relevance for the environment, regardless of its specific purpose or name.


The process by which a body of water accumulates nutrients, particularly nitrates and phosphates. This process can be accelerated by nutrient-rich runoff or seepage from agricultural land or from sewage outfalls, leading to rapid and excessive growth of algae and aquatic plants and undesirable changes in water quality.

Existence value

The value to an individual of knowing that a particular environmental or cultural asset exists. It is independent of any use that the person may make of the asset.

Extended producer responsibility

An obligation placed on one or more producers of a product to take back the product for recycling or safe disposal.


A non-market effect on the utility of an individual, or on the costs of a firm, from variables that are under the control of some other agent.


Footprint (ecological)

A measure of the hectares of biologically productive area required to support a human population of given size.


Genetic diversity

The variation in the genetic composition of individuals within or among species; the heritable genetic variation within and among populations.

Genuine saving

A measure of sustainable development that corrects the traditional measure of gross savings for the monetary value of the degradation of natural capital, and of the accumulation of human capital.

Geothermal energy

Literally, the heat of the earth. Where this heat occurs close to the earth's surface, and is able to maintain a temperature in the surrounding rock or water at or above 150 degrees C, it may be tapped to drive steam turbines.


The way that a corporation or government organises and carries out its economic, political and administrative authority.


Granting an existing firm a legal exemption from a new or changed policy. In the case of tradable permits, it refers to the common practice of allocating permits to existing polluters or users of natural resources at no direct cost to them.

Greenhouse effect

The rise in temperature that the Earth experiences because certain gases in the atmosphere (water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, for example) trap energy from the sun. Because of their warming effect, these gases are referred to as greenhouse gases. Without them, more heat would escape back into space and the Earth's average temperature would be about 33ºC colder. Similarly, their rapid accumulation in the atmosphere can lead to rising temperatures.

Greenhouse gas

A gas such as carbon dioxide or methane that reflects infrared radiation emitted by the earth, thereby helping to retain heat in the atmosphere.



The place or type of site where an organism or population occurs naturally.

Heavy metal

A high-atomic-weight metal such as arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, mercury, uranium or zinc. Heavy metals can be toxic to plants or animals in relatively low concentrations and tend to accumulate in living tissue.

Human capital

The knowledge, skills, competence and attributes embodied in individuals that facilitate the attainment of personal well-being.


A compound consisting of hydrogen, fluorine and carbon. HFCs do not deplete stratospheric ozone, but they have global warming potentials anywhere from 90 to 12 000 that of carbon dioxide.



A summary measure that provides information on the state of, or change in, a system.

Invasive species

An introduced species that invades natural habitats.


Man-made capital

The manufactured means of production, such as machinery, equipment and structures, but also non-production related infrastructure, non-tangible assets, and the financial assets that provide command over current and future output streams. Also referred to as "human-made" or "manufactured" capital.

Market failure

A situation wherein market prices do not reflect the social opportunity cost of production or consumption. External effects or externalities are evidence of a market failure.

Market price support

An indicator of the annual monetary value of gross transfers from consumers and taxpayers (where export subsidies are given) to producers (if the difference is positive) or from producers to consumers (if negative) arising from policy measures that create a gap between domestic market prices and the border price of the good or service in question.

Maximum sustainable yield

The maximum amount of a renewable resource that can be harvested over an indefinite period without causing its stock to be depleted.


National accounts

The framework for recording the economic transactions of a country in monetary terms.

Natural capital

The renewable and non-renewable resources that enter the production process and satisfy consumption needs, as well as environmental assets that have amenity and productive use, and natural features, such as the ozone layer that are essential for supporting life.

Newly Independent States

Republics of the former Soviet Union that have since the early 1990s become sovereign states.

Non-market value

The value of an asset not reflected in market prices. Generally it includes non-use values and those indirect use values (such as certain ecosystem services) and option or quasi-option values for which there is no market.

Non-renewable resource

A resource with a more or less finite initial endowment that can be depleted over time.

Non-use value

The value to humans derived purely from the fact that an environmental or cultural asset exists, even if they never intend to use it or see it in person. It is can be further sub-divided into existence value and bequest value.


Off-grid electricity

Electricity produced by small generating units that are not connected to high-voltage transmission lines.

Option value

The benefits accruing to individuals not from the actual use of an environmental asset, but from the option to use it in the future.

Ozone layer

The region of the stratosphere (lying approximately 15-40 km above the Earth's surface) that contains the bulk of the world's atmospheric ozone.


A chemically unstable and highly reactive gas (each molecule of which consists of three atoms of oxygen in contrast with the usual two) found mainly at ground level in cities and in the stratosphere. At ground level, ozone can be a lung irritant. In the stratospheric ozone layer, the gas plays an important role in protecting the Earth's surface from high levels of biologically damaging ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is known to be a significant risk factor for skin cancers, eye cataracts, and the suppression of mammalian immune systems.


Persistent organic pollutant

A complex organic chemical which resists decomposition in the environment and can migrate over great distances, which bioaccumulates and biomagnifies, and which is suspected of being toxic to humans or other organisms exposed to even low concentrations if such exposure occurs over a long period of time. Examples include certain pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, and toxaphene), industrial chemicals (PCBs and hexachlorobenzene, which is also a pesticide), and unwanted by-products of combustion and industrial processes (dioxins and furans).

Photovoltaic (solar) cell

Generally speaking, a device incorporating a semiconductor that generates electricity when exposed to (sun)light. The technology may be further sub-divided into crystalline, multi-crystalline, thin-film and concentrator variants.

Polluter Pays Principle

The principle that polluter should bear the expenses of carrying out pollution prevention and control measures decided by public authorities, to ensure that the environment is in an acceptable state (i.e. costs of these measures should be reflected in the cost of goods and services which cause pollution).


Action taken in the face of unresolved uncertainty, especially if the costs of inaction are potentially both high and irreversible.


A framework for the presentation of environmental information in terms of indicators of the pressures that human activities exert on the environment, of the state of the environment, and of society's responses.

Producer Support Estimate

An indicator of the annual monetary value of gross transfers from consumers and taxpayers to producers (measured at the producer's property), arising from policy measures, regardless of their nature, objectives or impacts on production or income. The percentage PSE is the ratio of the PSE to the value of total gross farm receipts, measured by the value of total production (at farm gate prices), plus budgetary support.

Public good

A special kind of externality in consumption where the availability of a good to one individual does not reduce its availability to others (non-rivalry) and the supplier of the good cannot exclude anybody from consuming it (non-excludability).


Regulatory capture

The capacity of narrow interest groups to shape regulations to suit their own goals.

Regulatory impact analysis

The ex-ante analysis of the effects of a proposed regulation, or the ex-post assessment of an existing one.

Renewable resource

A resource that is capable of being replenished through natural processes (e.g., the hydrological cycle) or its own reproduction, generally within a time-span that does not exceed a few decades. Technically, metal-bearing ores are not renewable, but metals themselves can be recycled indefinitely.


In geology, a reserve refers to an estimated quantity of a natural material (mineral, mineraloid, rock, gas or liquid) in the ground that has been explored to the extent that the probability of producing the material from it economically (at current market prices and with available technology) is reasonably assured. Reserves are sub-sets of, and not synonymous with, resources.

Resource rent

The financial surplus, after deducting production costs, associated with the extraction or harvest of a natural resource.


Generally, a tangible asset. In geology, resources refer to accumulations of natural materials that are known or expected to exist and for which there is a reasonable assurance that a given quantity of the material can be recovered economically at current or expected future market prices using currently available technologies or technologies that can reasonably be expected to become available in the foreseeable future.


Social capital

The networks and shared norms, values and understanding that facilitate co-operation within and between groups.


Somebody who has a "stake" or interest in a public policy, programme or, in some uses of the term, a corporation's activities.


The layer of the earth's atmosphere just above the troposphere, extending from 10 km to about 50 km above the earth.


The notion that decision-making should occur at the level at which the people most directly concerned can take responsibility.

Sustainable development

A development path along which the maximisation of human well-being for today's generations does not lead to declines in future well-being.


Technology foresight

A process for establishing common views on future technology development strategies. Typically it seeks views from a large number of communities, including civic groups, as well as academic, government and industrial research bodies.


When used in reference to a species, an ecosystem, or another natural system, it refers to the level beyond which further deterioration is likely to precipitate a sudden adverse, and possibly irreversible, change.

Transitional economy

See economy in transition.


The region of the atmosphere closest to the Earth, extending from the surface up to about 10 km in altitude (its exact height varies with latitude). Almost all weather takes place in the troposphere.


Use value

A value obtained through the use of an environmental or cultural asset.


Volatile organic compound

A carbon-containing compound, such as gasoline or acetone, that vaporises at a relatively low temperature, generally below 40°C. VOCs can contaminate water, and in the atmosphere can react with other gases in the presence of sunlight to form ozone or other photochemical oxidants.



The amount an individual is willing to pay to acquire some good or service. This amount can be elicited from the individual's stated or revealed preferences.