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Transformation of the world towards sustainability in line with the 2030 Agenda requires progress on multiple dimensions of human well-being. We track development of relevant indicators for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) 1–7 against gross domestic product (GDP) per person in seven world regions and the world as a whole. Across the regions, we find uniform development patterns where SDGs 1–7 – and therefore main human needs – are achieved at around US$15,000 measured in 2011 US$ purchasing power parity (PPP).
How does GDP per person relate to the achievement of well-being as targeted by the 2030 Agenda? The 2030 Agenda includes global ambitions to meet human needs and aspirations. However, these need to be met within planetary boundaries. In nascent world-earth modelling, human well-being as well as global environmental impacts are linked through economic production, which is tracked by GDP. We examined historic developments on 5-year intervals, 1980–2015, between average income and the advancement on indicators of SDGs 1–7. This was done for both seven world regions and the world as a whole. We find uniform patterns of saturation for all regions above an income threshold somewhere around US$15,000 measured in 2011 US$ PPP. At this level, main human needs and capabilities are met. The level is also consistent with studies of life satisfaction and the Easterlin paradox. We observe stark differences with respect to scale: the patterns of the world as an aggregated whole develop differently from all its seven regions, with implications for world-earth model construction – and sustainability transformations.
Social media summary
Reaching human well-being #SDGs takes GDP levels of $15k. This may help shape transformation to a world that respects #PlanetaryBoundaries.
The world agreed to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Nine planetary boundaries set an upper limit to Earth system impacts of human activity in the long run. Conventional efforts to achieve the 14 socio-economic goals will raise pressure on planetary boundaries, moving the world away from the three environmental SDGs. We have created a simple model, Earth3, to measure how much environmental damage follows from achievement of the 14 socio-economic goals, and we propose an index to track effects on people's wellbeing. Extraordinary efforts will be needed to achieve all SDGs within planetary boundaries.
The vast majority of the decisions made in our global society are responses to problems in which cause and effect are closely related in time and in space. When a problem becomes important, its source is usually obvious, and any appropriate response usually becomes effective in time to eliminate the difficulty. For this class of phenomena it is satisfactory to react after a problem is already apparent. Thus, the institutions involved need only monitor the current status of the system; they need not maintain a long planning horizon. It is important to realize that most environmental problems do not fit into this category. The delays associated with most environmental processes will require us to add an explicit consideration of the time dimension in formulating environmental policy.
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