The chart sums up the challenge of sustainable development: meeting human demands within the ecological limits of the planet.

It is a snapshot showing how different countries perform according to the United Nations Development Programme's (UNDP) Human Development Index (HDI) and Global Footprint Network's Ecological Footprint.

In countries to the left of the vertical line marking a score of less than 0.8 on the HDI, a high level of development, as defined by UNDP, has not been attained. Countries above the horizontal dotted line and to the right of the vertical line have achieved a high level of development but place more demand on nature than could be sustained if everyone in the world lived this way.

In order to move toward a sustainable future the world will need to address all dimensions of this chart - the concepts of success and progress, the biocapacity available per person, as well as helping countries either improve their levels of development or reduce their ecological impact (several countries face both challenges).

Vision 2050 of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development has identified five types of major changes that will be required:

  • Buy into the vision: accept the constraints and opportunities of a world in which 9 billion people live well and within the limits of the planet
  • Redefine success and progress at national, corporate and individual levels
  • Get more out of the planet by increasing bioproductivity
  • Develop solutions to lower ecological impacts while maintaining quality of life in countries that have high human development but are overusing ecological capacity
  • Improve levels of human development in countries below the threshold for high human development without increasing their ecological impact beyond acceptable limits.

If the world buys into these five types of change the result will be to adopt a global steady state economy.


But this has radical implications for a root and branch reorganisation of global society.