Proposal on Millennium Consumption Goals to the UN Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012

Establish a set of Millennium Consumption Goals for the period 2012-2020 and for subsequent decades, complementing the Millennium Development Goals, and helping to ensure that the basic needs of the poor are met, preserve and strengthen earth’s natural resource base on which human society depends, and enhance global prosperity, while ensuring a good quality of life and well being for everyone by 2020, improving intra- and inter-generational equity, and accelerating the shift to more sustainable consumption and production as an essential step towards the ultimate goal of sustainable development.


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Chapeau/Summary of proposal

Establish a set of Millennium Consumption Goals for the period 2012-2020 and for subsequent decades, complementing the Millennium Development Goals, and helping to ensure that the basic needs of the poor are met, preserve and strengthen earth’s natural resource base on which human society depends, and enhance global prosperity, while ensuring a good quality of life and well being for everyone by 2020, improving intra- and inter-generational equity, and accelerating the shift to more sustainable consumption and production as an essential step towards the ultimate goal of sustainable development.

Background to Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs)

The Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs) generally support the major objectives and themes of Rio+20: Securing Political Commitment, Assessing Progress, New and Emerging Challenges, Green Economy, and Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development. In particular, they will:

  1. help to secure not only political but also wider multi-stakeholder commitment to the ultimate goal of sustainable development;
  2. facilitate the assessment of progress towards existing international agreements (especially environmental commitments);
  3. address the emerging challenges of unsustainable consumption and resource shortages (including climate change);
  4. become an important tool to achieve the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication; and
  5. be a key element of the new governance framework for sustainable development.

The MCG idea was proposed in January 2011 in New York by Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, during the inter-sessional preparations for Rio+20 – the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil. It has received worldwide support since then. It is linked to Agenda 21, which stressed the need for “changing unsustainable consumption and production”, and to the component on sustainable consumption and production within the 10 Year Framework of Programs mandated by the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg.

Millennium Consumption Goals are needed urgently because unsustainable patterns of consumption, production and resource exploitation have led to multiple problems threatening the future of humanity – like poverty, unequal consumption, resource scarcities, conflict and climate change. The global economy driven by consumption already uses natural resources equivalent to 1.5 planets earth. The 1.4 billion people in the richest 20th percentile of the world’s population consume over 80% of global output – 60 times more than those in the poorest 20th percentile. Meanwhile the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) seek to raise consumption levels of over 2 billion poor people. Clearly, the consumption of the rich is not only unsustainable, but also “crowding out” the prospects of the poor. A business-as-usual attitude that ignores the problem will exacerbate conflict and increase the risk of global unrest. Instead of viewing the affluent as a problem, the novel concept of MCGs  will persuade them to contribute to the solution without having to reduce their quality of life – thereby yielding a more positive result. The MCG approach offers the hope of a more manageable future rather than an unpredictable and potentially disastrous outcome.


Basic MCGs

The long term objective of the MCGs is to achieve sustainable development, by:

a. making consumption and production more sustainable in economic, environment and social terms;

b. improving overall well being;

c. reducing the burden on natural resources;

d. freeing up resources to alleviate poverty; and

e. ensuring intra- and inter-generational equity.

MCGs seek primarily to provide consumption targets designed to motivate the world’s rich to consume more sustainably. MCGs for the affluent would be designed to complement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which seek to empower the world’s poor.

The MCGs should begin by addressing under-consumption of the poor:
1. Meet basic human needs (food, water, energy, shelter, health, education, etc.)

Addressing unsustainable consumption of the rich, the following well studied, resource-related MCGs would target:
2. GHG emissions reduction
3. Energy use (conservation, fossil fuels, renewable energy, transport, buildings, urban, etc.)
4. Water use (conservation, quality, re-use, etc.)
5. Land and biomass use (urban habitats, rural land, buildings, forests, protected areas, agro-ecol. balance, biodiversity, etc.)
6. Ores, metals and industrial minerals
7. Construction materials and minerals
8. Pollution and waste (air and water effluents, solid waste, toxic waste and chemicals, etc.)

MCGs would aim to increase human and ecological well-being by bringing about less material-intensive lifestyles, and improved livelihoods including reduced working hours and better working conditions. Focus areas might include:
1.  Food and agriculture
2.  Health and obesity (diet, smoking, exercise, etc.)
3.  Transportation, housing and habitats
4.  Recreation and leisure

Other MCGs could target:
1.  Economic-financial systems (progressive taxation, banking reform, measures of well being, etc.)
2.  Military expenditures

Additional Path to Sustainability

The MCGs provide an effective additional path towards global sustainability, for the following reasons:

  • MCGs would apply everywhere, so the idea cuts across developed and developing country boundaries, thus reducing the potential for deadlock due to national and regional self-interest.
  • Since the rich account for over 80% of consumption and pollution, shifts in their consumption can effectively reduce the environmental burden and free up resources to raise poorer peoples’ living standards. While doing so, the affluent could also maintain or improve their quality of life, starting with existing technologies and methods.
  • MCGs lead to an inclusive, multilevel strategy, which combines both bottom up and top down approaches. They seek to influence the behaviour of affluent people at individual, community, city, enterprise, regional, and country levels. This complements the more conventional approaches that rely on top-down, large scale actions (by UN, central government, etc.).The MCG concept is both fractal and subsidiary, because the basic idea remains unchanged (like a snowflake) at finer levels of detail, and effective implementation is possible from the global/government to local/individual levels.
  • MCGs have the potential for quicker results, by energizing civil society and business to ‘act now’. This could shift the behaviour of many high-consumption households and businesses, without relying only on central government policies and long-term investments. Furthermore, rich individuals could be motivated to act more effectively in their own enlightened self-interest, since they are better educated, have more influence and enjoy better access to resources.
  • MCGs will empower the middle tier of decision makers (eg., Mayors of cities, leaders of community organisations, and CEOs of companies), and enable them to act more decisively and quickly – for example, to establish voluntary MCGs and implement them. They are more effective, in touch with ordinary people and form the critical bridge between the general public and national/global leaders.
  • MCG-MDG “twinning” is possible, by directly linking an MCG activity in a rich community/country with an MDG activity in a poor community/country – some cities have already launched such activities.
  • MCGs could mobilise, empower and link sustainable consumers and producers (including associated global supply chains) into a virtuous cycle. The same advertising that now promotes over-consumption and waste could be used to encourage more sustainable consumption. Over a period of time, social values and habits could be changed to favour more sustainable behaviour (like the gradual change in attitudes towards smoking). More ethical and moral behaviour that is socially responsible would be encouraged, especially among the young.
  • MCGs will empower the person to define meaningful consumption rather than permitting meaningless consumption to define the person.


To move this idea forward, the Millennium Consumption Goals Initiative (MCGI) was launched at the UN by a broad coalition of stakeholders called the MCG Network. It is action-oriented, multi-level, pluralistic and trans-national. The MCGI is targeting the UNCSD 2012 conference to establish an international mandate for the proposal.

The MCGI seeks to encourage consumers and producers (especially the more affluent) to behave more sustainably without lowering their quality of life. This is a broad-based initiative, and there will be a role for all stakeholders, including the UN system, civil society, business, government, international financial institutions, and the academic/research community. The MCG Network is engaging with civil society through all major groups. The MCGI feels that by acting together now on the MCGs, we will make the planet a better and safer place for our children and grandchildren.


The MCGs are intended to be an important practical tool within an overall strategy for sustainable development, which would supplement broader, ongoing initiatives in the areas of sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and the green economy (GE).

There is broad initial consensus supporting the MCG concept, but stakeholder consultations and robust dialogue is needed to move this idea forward sensibly and systematically. This process has already been launched through the MCGI and its partners. Ongoing and planned research provides a basis for already setting preliminary targets and policies. There are also many existing examples of best practice that enable us to act now. We hope that the deliberations at  Rio+20 will resolve any remaining issues, build the consensus and provide the first mandate to establish MCGs for an initial period 2012-2020, with more to follow in subsequent decades. Suggestions for further discussion are given in Annex 2.

Parallel approaches: top-down and bottom-up

The MCGs will be a set of benchmarks to which the more affluent could aspire, while improving their own well being and helping to ensure the basic needs of the poor. These targets would encourage a combination of voluntary actions by rich consumers, supported by enabling government policies that will help to achieve more sustainable consumption and production. The proposed strategy is inclusive and multi-track. A top down effort at the international level seeks to move the MCG forward on the UN agenda, including creating a mandate, setting benchmarks at the global level, and establishing an enabling governance and implementation framework. Rio+20 is a key event in this process, and a robust and constructive discussion followed by a broad statement of support from delegates at Rio+20 is sought. The MCGs would then become an UN initiative, with clear global targets in designated areas.

While progress is being made at the UN/international level, the MCGI will encourage and work with many who prefer not to wait for broad multilateral, and are acting NOW. This bottom-up approach involves pioneering individuals, communities, organisations, firms, cities, regions and nations, who are willing to set up their own specific voluntary MCGs, monitor and implement them, and report progress. In particular, decision makers at the level of cities and companies are more willing to commit to voluntary MCGs than national leaders, and better able to achieve their targets .

Voluntary MCGs could be pursued by the willing, at whatever level they choose, and focusing on the goals they prefer. A sensible commitment is all that is required to make a start.


Activities that contribute to the MCGs include various sectoral interventions involving a range of actors, from local to global, and are essential at every level, especially at the city, community, local, company and organisational levels. Enabling actions will be necessary at national and international levels, taking full account of regional and subregional conditions to support a locally driven and country-specific approach.

Generally, the programmes should be designed to:

(a)  Use the principle of subsidiarity to delegate authority, accountability and resources to the most appropriate level, and empower cities, communities, local groups, firms and organisations to ensure that the programme will be implemented at all levels;

(b)  Develop immediate measures to encourage and support those groups who wish to establish and implement voluntary MCGs;

(c)  Contain a long-term strategy aimed at establishing the best possible conditions to meet the basic human needs of the poor, and eliminate poverty and reduce inequalities, with special emphasis on the most disadvantaged groups – in particular, women, children, youth and refugees.

(d) Link with and complement the MDGs, wherever appropriate.

(e) Empower poor groups and communities to meet their basic human needs, and empower affluent groups and communities to establish and achieve MCGs.

(f) Give priority to key national  and sub-national capacity-building efforts for implementation of the above activities, focusing at the city and local community level and firm level, in order to support a community-driven approach to MCGs and to establish and strengthen mechanisms to allow sharing of experience and knowledge.

(g) Effectively deploy a range of known economic and non-economic policy tools, and explore the use of new instruments to encourage more sustainable consumption and production.

Role of Government

Governments (at all levels) should provide an enabling framework of policies and measures to assist appropriate international, non-governmental and local community organizations, cities and businesses to establish and implement appropriate MCGs.

Governments should improve the collection of information on target groups and target areas in order to facilitate the design of focused MCG programmes and activities, consistent with national sustainable development objectives, target-group needs and aspirations. Follow up and monitoring implementation will be a major responsibility of governments, to ensure that commitments and agreed targets made by specific actors are indeed achieved.

In addition, governments should be encouraged to develop policy objectives and instruments to achieve sustainability goals relating to their own activities (eg., sustainable procurement, reduction of military spending, and greening all relevant operations).

International and regional cooperation and coordination

The UN system, through its relevant organs, organizations and bodies, in cooperation with Member States and with international financial institutions, appropriate international and non-governmental organizations and the business community, should make the MCGs a major priority and should:

(a)  Assist Governments, when requested, in the formulation and implementation of national action programmes on MCGs;

(b)  Promote technical cooperation among developing countries for MCG activities;

(c)  Strengthen existing structures in the United Nations system for coordination of action relating to MCGs, including the establishment of a focal point for information exchange and the development, formulation and implementation of replicable programmes and projects on MCGs;

(d)  In the follow-up of the implementation of emerging Rio+20 agreements, give high priority to the review of the progress made on MCGs and sustainable consumption and production;

Financing and cost evaluation

A mechanism should be set up to estimate costs of setting up, promoting and administering the MCGs, and for raising the necessary funds. Costs and financial terms, including any that are non-concessional, will depend upon, inter alia, the specific strategies and programmes Governments and other stakeholders decide upon for implementation.


  1. Mohan Munasinghe, Chairman, Munasinghe Institute for Development (MIND), Colombo, Sri Lanka.; and Professor of Sustainable Development, SCI, Univ. of Manchester, UK .
  2. Uchita De Zoysa, Executive Director, Centre for Environment and Development, Colombo, Sri Lanka.
  3. Philip Vergragt, Research Professor, George Perkins Marsh Institute, Clark University Worcester MA USA; and Senior Associate, Tellus Institute, Boston, MA, USA.
  4. Andrew Crone, President/CEO, Trailhead Perspectives, Whitewater, WI, USA,
  5. Sylvia Lorek, Chair, Sustainable Europe Research Institute Germany, Cologne,
  6. Jeffrey Barber, Executive Director, Integrative Strategies Forum (ISF), MD, USA,
  7. Leida Rijnhout, Executive Director, ANPED – Northern Alliance for Sustainability, Brussels, Belgium.
  8. Luis Carlos Silveira, Director, Vale Sustainable Development Institute, Belem, Brazil,
  9. Janis Brizga, Chair of the Board, Green Liberty, Latvia, Riga,
  10. Thomas Brose, Director, Climate Alliance, Frankfurt, Germany,
  11. Faiz Shah, Head, Development Management, Asian Institute of Technology, Pathumthani, Thailand,
  12. Fatima Rodrigo, UN Representative, International Presentation Association of the Sisters of the Presentation,
  13. James Gustave Speth, Former Administrator-United Nations Development Programme/Professor of Law-Vermont Law School, USA.
  14. Allen L. White, Vice President and Senior Fellow, Tellus Institute, USA,
  15. Bjarne Pedersen, Global Director, Partnerships and Organisational Empowerment, Consumers International, United Kingdom,
  16. Sena Alouka, Jeunes Volontaires pour l’Environnement,Togo,
  17. Helen A. Ojario, Congregation of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, NY, USA,
  18. Richard Clugston, Executive Director, Earth Charter US,
  19. Victoria Wyszynski Thoresen, Director, Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living ( ),and Associate Professor of Education, Hedmark University College, Norway.
  20. Celine Paramunda, Medical Mission Sisters, Philadelphia, PA, USA,
  21. Felix Dodds, Executive Director, Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future, UK,
  22. Caroljean Willie, UN Representative, Sisters of Charity Federation, NY, USA,
  23. Sue Riddlestone, CEO, BioRegional Development Group, UK,
  24. Kassem El-Saddik, Vice President, Development Sans Frontieres (DSF), Lebanon,
  25. Winifred Doherty, UN Representative, Good Shepherd International Justice Peace Office, NY, USA.
  26. Ashwani Vasishth, Associate Professor of Environmental Planning / Director, Sustainability Studies Program, Ramapo College of New Jersey, USA,
  27. Jean Stoner, UN Representative, Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, NY, USA,


a. Are the candidate areas for MCGs given above broad enough, or should the initial MCGs be limited to a few key areas (say 8-10 MCG like the 8 MDG)?

b. How do we identify the primary target groups? The poor whose basic needs are to be met, may be identified through existing poverty programmes. The rich could be the world’s top 20 percentile of income earners in the world (both developing and developing countries), or should the MCGs use another criterion (like wealth)?

c. Recent work (eg., International Resources Group) provides sufficient data to identify preliminary targets for sustainable use of key resources and environmental media at the global level. How can we facilitate scalability, by building in sufficient flexibility into the definition of MCGs, so that they can be adapted and harmonized to fairly reflect characteristics at lower levels (e.g., country, province, city, community, organisation, family, individual)?

d. How can we set up an effective governance mechanism to measure, report, monitor and implement the MCGs? We could draw on the past experience of UN programmes, including the MDGs. Specific questions include:
- finding the right balance between bottom up (voluntary actions and behaviour change encouraged by social pressures) and top down (govt. policies and mandatory measures to change consumption habits)
- achieving better coordination among stakeholders, including consumers, producers and govt.
- linking up with the MDGs to raise poor people’s consumption along more sustainable paths

Some long term considerations also need to be explored, although they need not be resolved immediately to implement the MCGs. Key questions include:
- How do we improve the measurement and reporting of well-being, since current measures like GDP imply that more material consumption is better. We need to develop and popularize measures that encourage sustainable development (e.g., include environmental and social externality costs).
- What the other indicator or target-linked projects are being proposed at Rio+20? Are there any ties or synergies possible with these efforts?
- What information and measures are needed to shift values, public opinion and behaviour in the direction of sustainable consumption and production in the long run (e.g., like attitude changes re. smoking during past decades). Such information and measures should be reliable, understandable, convincing and meaningful, and speak to the needs and interests of the particular audiences they are targeting, delivered through trusted channels by trusted and credible knowledge brokers.

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