Development that respects ecological limits: a call for the new Administration

Jennifer Mitchell ·
1 de outubro de 2010 · 12 anos atrás

Ruling Workers’ Party candidate Dilma Rousseff, who is expected to win handily in the first round of Presidential elections, has been bullish about Brazil’s continued prospects for robust economic performance. With policies that focus on smoothing the way for industry and building on the country’s oil-based revenues, she has expressed confidence that the current 7 percent growth rate could be seen not as a high-water mark but as the new normal. For Brazil to enjoy continued prosperity, however, it must protect a key asset that has helped secure its rising position in the world: its vast ecological wealth. Development and prosperity are worthy goals. Bringing people out of poverty, creating opportunity and minimizing the gap between rich and poor are clearly among a government’s most important mandates. The key is to take resource constraints and biocapacity into account — otherwise, prosperity is destined to be short-lived and subject to reversal. Development that follows a sustainable path produces a clear win: for the economy, for the environment, and for the long-term well-being of the population. At Global Footprint Network, we come to leaders with a simple message: maintaining natural wealth is not something they must do for the good of other countries, but for their own. Nowhere is this more true than Brazil. With its booming economy and growing population, the country is at an important crossroads. Will it grow in a direction that maintains one of its most valuable assets? Or will it place that asset at risk? As previous readers of this column will know, Global Footprint Network’s research tracks nature’s supply against human demand the same way a bank account tracks income against expenditures. We compare countries’ Ecological Footprint – the amount of land area it takes to produce the resources their population consumes and absorb their carbon dioxide emissions – with biocapacity, the amount of resources a region (or the world) is able to produce. Brazil has the largest positive balance between the amount of resources its ecosystems produce and the amount its population demands for its own use. Its natural wealth also supports a critical part of its economy: agriculture counts for about 6 percent of the country’s GDP, and 36 percent of its exports. Even so, those reserves are not limitless. The amount of biocapacity available per person has declined steadily over the last four decades, with the gap between Footprint and biocapacity narrowing to less than half what it was in 1961. Brazil is not alone in these trends. Many nations around the world have seen their once-large ecological surpluses shrink almost entirely away. Ecuador is one Amazon-basin nation that has recently taken action to reverse this trend, its National Plan calling for maintaining its Footprint within biocapacity by 2013. Staying in the ecological black requires careful management of ecological assets. That includes taking resources into account in areas where they have not always been considered. Infrastructure is one key example. Rousseff helped launch Brazil’s Accelerated Growth Program (PAC) promoting investment in the areas of housing, transport, energy and water resources. Such infrastructure has a long life span, and poor choices can lock a society into a resource- intensive path for decades to come. As Brazil looks to put significant sums toward expanding PAC and building the next generation of infrastructure, its leaders must consider whether they are investing in opportunities that are sustainable in the long term or in resource traps that will make such development difficult. As a champion of economic growth, we would expect Brazil’s new leadership to keep careful track of its fiscal balance sheet. No less attention should be paid to management of the country’s ecological assets. It is fair to assume a downward trajectory in GDP would keep advisors working late into the night on developing strategies to reverse the trend. Similarly, having access to solid resource accounting metrics will help Brazil’s leaders navigate some of the tough resource choices they will face in coming years. If the new administration is to be successful in its promise to deliver an improving quality of life for Brazil’s citizens, it must do so in a way that protects the underlying assets that are the basis of its economy – and the well-being of all its people. *Jennifer Mitchell, Director of Strategic Initiatives, Global Footprint Network

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