Choices, Capabilities and Sustainability

Report
Choices, Capabilities and Sustainability
Second Conference on Measuring Human
Development
March 4th -5th 2012
Jean-Paul Fitoussi and Khalid Malik
Sustaining Human Development
“Human beings are born with certain potential capabilities.
The purpose of development is to create an environment in
which all people can expand their capabilities, and
opportunities can be enlarged for both present and future
generations”. HDR (1994)
“Human development involves equal rights applied to all”.
Anand and Sen (2000)
“Sustainable freedom” implies preserving human’s
capabilities today without “comprising those of future
generations”. Sen (2009)
The Challenge
Source: HDRO calculations
Sustainability: Traditional discussion
• Consumption and capital based
• Weak Sustainability
- natural capital and physical capital substitutable
- maintain levels of total capital
- Example: Adjusted net savings
• Strong Sustainability
- Beyond a certain level, loss of natural capital irreplaceable
- Example: planetary boundaries, applicable to different forms
of natural capital
Capabilities and Choices
• K: Stock of capabilities in a society
- Individual capabilities
- Social competencies
• Ch: Choices afforded by the stock of K
• Ch=fE(K)
The stock of capabilities (individual and social)
implies a certain set of choices available to
individuals.
E- environmental conditions, influence f
Capabilities, Choices and Sustainability
• Sustainability: choices made today should not, in the net,
deplete the stock of capabilities that will determine the
availability of choices for future generations.
• Stock of capabilities, K, must evolve in a way that
Ch1≥Ch0
The set of choices available at the end of the time period is
at least as large as the set of choices at the beginning of the
period.
Comprehensive view of sustainability
Capabilities approach implies a ‘strong’ and comprehensive view of
sustainability
- choices of current and future generations are included
- social, economic and environmental dimensions are
included
- requiring each dimension to be individually sustainable
Examples:
- HDR 2013: Rise in fertility rates in some Sub-Saharan associated with
cuts in education during structural adjustment programs of the 1980s.
- Recent trends of rising inequality damage the social fiber, reducing
social competencies and thereby threatening social sustainability.
- Current austerity programs erode education and health capabilities,
threatening economic and social sustainability.
“A Balance Sheet”
Assets
Liabilities
Tangible Assets
Public assets, private assets, an educated
population, natural resources
Public Debts
Intangible Assets
Social competencies such as the degree of
social cohesion, social inclusion, belief in
democracy and democratic institutions
Private Debts
• Even if austerity policies meet their goal of debt
sustainability, the situation cannot be called sustainable
• Balance sheet is being impacted negatively
Critical Thresholds for Sustainable Human
Development
• Tipping points: Capability stock and therefore choices available to
future generations fall below critical thresholds.
• Examples include high levels of inequality precipitating social
unrest.
- Local thresholds can vary and differ from global
thresholds.
• Environmental ‘tipping points’: Risk of crossing thresholds that will
trigger abrupt environmental change in continental or planetaryscale systems
- Local and planetary ‘boundaries’
“What we measure affects what we do” (
Stiglitz-Sen-Fitoussi report 2010)
• Measuring changes in critical capability stocks:
- education (ΔE), health (ΔH) and command over
resources (ΔI) and others.
• Measure of E, state of the environment
- Planetary boundaries apply
• Defining and minding social, economic and
environmental ‘tipping points’.
Tension between Rights and ‘global’
responsibility
• Rights approach: universality, equal or “fair” use of
the environment
- Every person has the right to achieve higher
human development within the limits imposed by
the sustainability of our planet
• Larger countries have greater responsibility, since
they have a potentially larger impact on global
sustainability
Incorporating environment thresholds
• Partial approach
• “Discounting” Human Development rankings to reflect
environmental sustainability
140
120
Rank
100
80
60
40
20
0
United States
China
Russian
Federation
Number of position lost
Source: HDRO calculations
Japan
Rank HDI
Germany
Rank SHDI
European
Union
Alternative approaches
• Why not just adjust the income dimension of the HDI?
– Command over resources is not the only channel in which
unsustainable behavior today affects future choices
• e.g. education, health, inequality, resources availability , conflict
• Why not add an environmental dimension to the HDI?
– Environment is not a capability, but it can affect them
• Why not combine the HDI with existing measures of
sustainability?
– e.g. Ecological Footprint, Environmental Performance Index, Adjusted
Net Savings
• Valid and useful measures but our aim is to focus explicitly on people
and their choices both present and in the future

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