Topic B: Economies for the people and the planet

As the principal driver of human-induced planetary change and the collective human condition, the global economy should be transformed to one that is fair, inclusive, circular and sustainable.

The research needs to advance understanding of the benefits, complexities, roles of different groups in society, necessary policies, regulations, incentives for advancing a more inclusive and sustainable economy in different contexts. More importantly, it will be critical to identify ways of overcoming existing impediments that slow the transition towards that economy, including regulatory barriers, market mechanisms, as well as social and cultural factors. The proposed research focus areas outlined below are intended to inform the transformation to such an economic future for humanity.

Just economies for a sustainable future: shifting from the growth paradigm to one that is in line with biophysical reality and with ethical considerations

Areas for scientific inquiry include:

  • Defining key characteristics of just and more sustainable economic models;
  • Identifying ways of decoupling economic growth from increasing environmental degradation;
  • Rethinking value: increasing the value given to ecosystem services, to the sustainable use of resources and to improving human health and wellbeing. Integrating the value of ecosystem services in measures of economic performance;
  • Identifying and addressing existing impediments that stall the adoption of a just, more sustainable economy;
  • Identifying ways of overcoming entrenched economic disincentives to sustainability, including perverse subsidies and taxes that promote wasteful and harmful use of natural resources;
  • Understanding the role of economic policy and regulations (e.g. trade, financial capital, WTO rules and free trade agreements) in hindering or facilitating the transition towards a more sustainable future and identifying required reforms;
  • Identifying mechanisms for dealing with monopoly position of multinational corporations and their shareholders in order to limit negative environmental and unfair societal impacts;
  • Building a better understanding of relationships between habits, social norms and regulations in transforming to a just, more sustainable economy; and
  • Identifying models for financing the transition to a just and more sustainable economy.

Human dignity and social cohesion through equity and poverty reduction

Areas for scientific inquiry include:

  • Identifying inclusive development practices that can deliver social cohesion, community resilience and a dignified future for all of humanity;
  • Identifying structural changes required in the economy to reduce inequalities within and across nations (e.g. the future of individual and community property rights, income distribution at global and national levels, equity and inclusion in resource management and reform of trade agreements);
  • Producing alternative bodies of knowledge on inequalities, outside Europe and North America; and
  • Identifying lasting mechanisms that overcome the poverty trap and empower vulnerable communities.

Shifts to sustainable production and consumption

Areas for scientific inquiry include:

  • Addressing the underlying drivers of unsustainable consumption and production patterns;
  • Assessing the potential of a circular economy to drive transformation of industries, value chains and sectors. Identification of novel, more sustainable business models, production processes, goods and services;
  • Dematerializing goods and services, particularly though increasingly circular life cycles;
  • Developing less resource and energy intensive materials; increased reuse and recycling of materials and goods to address basic needs (e.g. housing, transport and alimentation); promotion of low-tech life-styles;
  • Identifying regulations and incentives for directing private investments to sustainable production;
  • Understanding how to stimulate a shift to more sustainable life-styles, especially in developed countries and among the growing middle classes in emerging countries; and
  • Assessing the potential of a circular economy as a driver for more sustainable consumption.

The future of work

Areas for scientific inquiry include:

  • Understanding how the future of work might look in a digital age and its implications for human development;
  • Identifying key skills that will be required in the future to ensure continued economic participation and understanding how educational institutions and practices need to be reformed to build those skills; and
  • Assessing the impact of a circular economy on jobs.

Go back: A priority action agenda for science

Read the next topic: Towards integrated and inclusive governance and capable institutions at all levels

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