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Redefining Prosperity

27 June 2003


The Sustainable Development Commission is urging the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer to focus urgently on improving true quality of life for all citizens, and to rethink the dominance of economic growth as the principal driving force in modern politics.

Announcing the Commission's latest report, Redefining Prosperity, Chairman Jonathon Porritt says: "We can no longer depend on our growth-obsessed model of progress to generate the improvements in quality of life and personal wellbeing that people are now so hungry for. The evidence shows that even as they get richer people aren't getting any happier. Yet our entire macro- conomic strategy is still dedicated to a set of policies that demonstrably are not delivering the goods".

The Sustainable Development Commission is calling on politicians, policy experts, the business community, religious leaders and NGOs to join the debate about economic growth, sustainable development and personal wellbeing. It will be organising a series of seminars this autumn designed to influence policy.

Redefining Prosperity:

(1) highlights the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit's own research which shows that despite large increases in national income and expenditure over the last 30 years, levels of life satisfaction have not increased commensurately (Eurobarometer Survey graph demonstrating this:

(2) calls on the Government to re-think its strategy for resource productivity, which 'will not, on its own, deliver the desired reconciliation between the pursuit of economic growth and the imperative of learning to live within the Earth's biophysical constraints and carrying capacities'

(3) recommends that the forthcoming review of the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy must not shirk this issue and should re-think the four overarching objectives (see editors notes) on which it depends

(4) urges that much greater priority be given to the principles of sustainable development in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill now that it has been delayed

(5) calls on the Treasury to commit itself formally to the annual publication of 'satellite accounts', showing the depletion of non-renewable natural capital, alongside the end-of-year regular accounts, thereby decoupling growth from environmental degradation.

The report states: 'Economic growth may well have served post-war politicians well as a reasonably accurate proxy for human wellbeing or contentment, but now that the environmental, social and psychological externalities entailed in generating economic growth in that way are weighing more heavily on people than ever before, there is a pressing need to reopen the debate about economic growth and wellbeing itself'.


(1) The Sustainable Development Commission is the Government's independent sustainable development advisor, reporting to Tony Blair and the devolved administration leaders. The Commission's objectives include advocating a compelling vision of a sustainable economy and society, and reviewing how far sustainable development is being achieved in the UK across all sectors.

(2) Sustainable development provides a framework for redirecting our economies to enable everyone to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life while ensuring that the natural resources on which they depend are maintained and enhanced, both for their benefit and for that of future generations.

(3) Four strategic objectives lie at the heart of the Government's Sustainable Development Strategy:

o Social progress which meets the needs of everyone
o Effective protection of the environment
o Prudent use of natural resources
o Maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment

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