New growth doesn't have to cost the earth


James P. Leape, Director General, WWF International


WWF's 2010 Living Planet Report demonstrates that we are currently using 50 % more resources than the earth can provide . If we allow current trends to continue, by 2030 we will need two planets to support us. It's clear that “business-as-usual” is not the pathway to a prosperous future.


We must be able to develop and to grow our economy in ways that the earth can actually sustain. That means growth without carbon. It means using the earth's amazing larder of natural resources in ways that keep ecosystems healthy .


Leading companies are already recognising that in a world where land, water and other resources are increasingly scarce, a high-footprint business model is fraught with risk. And they are finding that sustainability solutions can be big business.


A recent report from banking giant HSBC predicts that the global market for low-carbon energy will almost treble over the next decade to some $2.2 trillion a year. China has set its sights on leading that market. It's now the largest manufacturer of wind turbines, solar panels and the most efficient grids, and is making big investments in electric cars and high-speed trains. President Hu Jintao has stated China must "seize pre-emptive opportunities in the new round of the global energy revolution”.


We are also seeing explosive growth in markets for commodities that are produced sustainably-seafood from well-managed fisheries; palm oil produced without cutting down valuable rainforest. In recent years t he markets for these and some other certified sustainable products have been growing by more than 50 %.


Government can unlock the potential of these new markets. They can set ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions, targets for renewable energy, standards for energy efficiency, and stronger management of public resources like fisheries and forests can help spur change. One priority is to eliminate the huge public subsidies that are taking us in the wrong direction - more than $500 billion for fossil fuels, for example. Ending those subsidies opens up the market to new industries. Redirecting some of those subsidies can accelerate the transition. To take one example, global fishery subsidies are reported to be $27 billion annually, and if governments were to redirect just one-third of these to rebuilding and effectively managing the world's fisheries, it would yield an increase in production of $34 billion annually .


Surely the defining challenge of this century is to find ways to meet the needs and aspirations of a growing population within the limits of this single planet. That is no mean task, but it offers abundant new opportunities for growth to those who offer solutions.


Recommended links and references

  • WWF (2010), 2010 Living Planet Report, Gland, Switzerland
  • WWF website:



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