2017 Conference Declaration

ANZSEE Conference Declaration


The Australia-New Zealand Society for Ecological Economics (ANZSEE), meeting in Adelaide January 9-13, 2017, hereby declares.


Whereas: Economies all over the world are currently driven by policies based on maximizing the rate of growth in Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  Yet, GDP was never designed to measure societal well-being or sustainability and is an increasingly poor proxy for economic prosperity as well. GDP counts only market transactions and conflates costs with benefits. Moreover it ignores the increasingly inequitable distribution of wealth and income, the consumer surplus derived by an increasingly digital economy, the positive contributions to well-being made by household work, volunteer work, ecosystem services and community trust, and the costs of natural and social capital depletion.


Whereas: Arguments that economies can ‘decouple’ GDP growth from environmental impacts are ultimately fallacious. While ‘relative decoupling’ (e.g. improvements in resource use efficiency) and ‘partial decoupling’  (e.g. reductions in carbon emissions per unit of GDP) have been experienced in some cases, the claim that we can reduce all material impacts in absolute terms while continuing to grow GDP has no basis in science and appears to be a contradiction in terms. Indeed, most GDP growth is fuelled by the exploitation of the environment, which means we need a different model of development if we intend to promote well-being with an ever decreasing impact on the planet.  Ultimately, even if absolute decoupling were possible, it would only address impacts on natural resources, leaving out the social crises and imbalances generated by GDP growth.


Whereas: The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), recently agreed to by all member states, represent a much broader conception of sustainable well-being. These 17 goals include eliminating poverty and hunger, reducing inequality, enhancing education, building sustainable cities, protecting terrestrial and marine environments, taking urgent action on climate change, and more. However, implementing the SDGs will require understanding the dynamics of the synergies and trade-offs among the various goals, as well as measuring overall progress toward the overarching goal of sustainable well-being.


Therefore we conclude that: GDP urgently needs to be replaced with better measures of sustainable well-being to guide and motivate progress toward this broader goal.  The problems with using GDP as a proxy for prosperity and well-being have been known since its creation 80 years ago.  Efforts to salvage GDP growth as the goal by appeals to the possibility for decoupling are misguided.  Indefinite GDP growth is neither sustainable nor desirable. The time has come to dethrone GDP


Recognizing that: There have been several alternative approaches to aggregate indicators of societal wellbeing and progress developed over the years. These can be divided into three broad groups: (1) those that adjust economic measures to reflect social and environmental factors (e.g. the Genuine Progress Indicator – GPI);  (2) subjective measures of well-being drawn from surveys (e.g. Gross National Happiness – GNH); and (3) weighted composite indicators of well-being that include a range of components that cover, for example, housing, life expectancy, leisure time, democratic engagement, etc.  (e.g. the OECD better life index)


We urgently need: hybrid, aggregate indicators that include both subjective and objective components and include the contributions of built, human, natural, and social capital to sustainable well-being.  These indicators also need to assess the relative contribution of each of the SDGs and their interactions with each other in order to assess overall progress.


We urgently need: an underlying systems dynamics model to assess interactions and synergies over space and time, including both stocks and flows, causes and effects.


We urgently need: better, ongoing monitoring, measuring, modeling, and management of all the contributors to well-being, including ecosystems and social systems, within a framework of policy reforms and societal change that make the achievement of the SDGs possible at local, provincial, national, regional and global levels.


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Footnote: These statements generally reflect the views of members of the Australia New Zealand Society for Ecological Economics who attended the bi-annual meeting in Adelaide.  They have been approved by a quorum of ANZSEE executive members. However, they may not represent the views of all ANZSEE members.  We encourage ongoing dialogue and discussion of these important issues among ANSZEE members and with the larger academic and policy communities through the various forums we offer, including  membership in the society, our biennial conferences, website and social media platforms and our related networks. ANZSEE and its parent organization ISEE are devoted to pluralism and constructive dialogue about the full range of issues affecting our society’s sustainable wellbeing.