Millennium consumption goals (MCG) – how the rich can make the planet more sustainable

January 2011

Millennium consumption goals (MCG) could help make our development path more sustainable, by focusing on the 1.4 billion people in the richest 20 percentile of the world’s population. They consume over 80% of global output, or 60 times more than the poorest 20 percentile. Instead of viewing the rich as a problem, they should be persuaded to contribute to the solution. The MCG will complement the Millennium development goals (MDG) designed to help the world’s poor. The MCG need not be mandatory targets, but rather a set of benchmarks to be achieved by a combination of voluntary actions by sustainable consumers and producers, supported by enabling government policies.
Household consumption drives modern economies, but unsustainable consumption, production and resource exploitation have led to multiple crises that threaten the future survival of humanity. Climate change is now considered the ultimate threat multiplier which will exacerbate the formidable problems of development we already face – like poverty, hunger, illness, water and energy scarcities, and conflict.

The MCG pathway
While I have been arguing for MCG for many years in closed meetings, the time was ripe to formally propose the idea at the recent UN sessions preparing for the forthcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development UNCSD 2012 in Brazil.
There are many advantages to this complementary path to global sustainability. First, the rich live in both developed and developing countries, so the idea cuts across country boundaries, thus reducing the potential for deadlock due to nationalistic self-interest. Second, since they account for over 80% of consumption and pollution (including carbon emissions), small shifts towards more sustainable consumption can significantly reduce the burden on the environment and free up more resources to raise the consumption of the poor. Third, by relying on influencing the behaviour of large numbers of individual households, the approach has the potential to yield quicker results compared to top down government policies and large, long term industrial investments. Fourth, it mobilizes, empowers and links up sustainable consumers and producers (many of whom operate global supply chains) into a virtuous cycle that could spread quickly. In fact, the focus is on setting targets for ACTION NOW by civil society and business, without having to wait for governments, which move glacially. This process also puts pressure on leaders who lack the political will to act quickly and decisively.

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