Sustainable Development in Developing Countries

Dr. Tim Jackson, author of Prosperity without Growth argues that while economic growth should not be continued as a blanket government policy, we have a social responsibility to continue economic development for the poorest of the globe until they are lifted out of poverty.  Recent well being studies show that in developed countries, more things does not equal more happiness. This suggests a plateau has been reached after a


Many groundbreaking Energy Descent and Transition / Resilient community models are being developed by Rob Hopkins and the Transition Network based in the UK. As Rob has said, this movement is global so the original UK plans must be adapted for communities around the globe.

Sustainable Development in Africa

Achieving sustainable development means ensuring that all people have the resources needed – such as food, water, health care, and energy – to fulfil their human rights. And it means ensuring that humanity’s use of natural resources does not stress critical Earthsystem processes – by causing climate change or biodiversity loss, for example – to the point that Earth is pushed out of the stable state, known as the Holocene, which has been so beneficial to humankind over the past 10,000 years. 

- A Safe and Just Place for Humanity, Oxfam 2012

Africa has some of the world’s fastest growing economies. It currently plays a central role in supplying resources to the global manufacturing machinery. Some critics argue that we cannot have development without global warming. f we are to uplift a billion people in Africa, can we do this without further polluting the planet? Oxfam says the answer is yes. In it’s 2012 discussion paper A Safe and Just Space for Humanity, study lead author Kate Raworth silences critics by saying yes, sustainable development is possible. It is possible to uplift a billion people on the continent in a way that will keep carbon dioxide levels below safe thresholds. Oxfam proposes a framework for achieving this:

  • The social foundation forms an inner boundary, below which are many dimensions of human deprivation.
  • The environmental ceiling forms an outer boundary, beyond which are many dimensions of environmental degradation.
  • Between the two boundaries lies an area – shaped like a doughnut – which represents an environmentally safe and socially just space for humanity to thrive in. It is also the space in which inclusive and sustainable economic development takes place.

Many of the arguments that development for the poor will significantly impact the environment are false. The report shows that inequity between developed and developing countries skew ecological impacts so that they are far greater for people living in developed countries:

Ending Poverty will not result in further stress

The first imperative of sustainable development is poverty eradication, and achieving that need not be a source of stress on planetary boundaries. Data available for some critical dimensions of deprivation indicate that bringing every person alive today above the social foundation could be achieved with strikingly little additional demand on resources:

  1. Food: Providing the additional calories needed by the 13 per cent of the world’s population facing hunger (850m people) would require just 1 per cent of the current global food supply. 1
  2. Energy: Bringing electricity to the 19 per cent of the world’s population (1.3bn people) who currently lack it could be achieved with less than a 1 per cent increase in global CO2 emissions.2
  3. Income: Ending income poverty for the 21 per cent of the global population who live on less than $1.25 a day (1.4bn people) would require just 0.2 per cent of global income. 3

More analysis is needed but just these three statistics alone indicate that addressing poverty need not be a cause of stress on planetary boundaries.

The wealthy few stress the planet

The biggest source of planetary boundary stress today is the excessive consumption levels of roughly the wealthiest 10 per cent of people in the world, and the production patterns of the companies producing the goods and services that they buy:

  1. Carbon emissions: Just 11 per cent of the global population generate around 50 per cent of global carbon emissions, while 50 per cent of people create only 11 per cent. 4
  2. Incomes: The richest 10 per cent of people in the world hold 57 per cent of global income. The poorest 20 per cent of people hold just 2 per cent. 5
  3. Purchasing power and electric power: High-income countries – home to 16 per cent of the world’s population – account for 64 per cent of the world’s spending on consumer products and use 57 per cent of the world’s electricity. 6
  4. Nitrogen: Humanity is using nitrogen at four times the globally sustainable rate. The European Union – home to just 7 per cent of the world’s population – uses up 33 per cent of the globally sustainable nitrogen budget simply to grow and import animal feed, while many Europeans eat far more meat and dairy products than is suitable for a healthy diet. 7

Developing Country Idiosyncrasies

It is possible to develop resilient and healthy communities in developing countries but the UK framework must be altered to take into account regional differences.  In developing country context, the regional idiosyncrasies are:

  • Urban: very sudden GDP shifts in geographically neighbouring regions
  • Very low GDP
  • Very poor infrastructure and capital
  • Africa: Much larger insolation than UK
  • Africa: Much more available agricultural land
  • Very high disease load
  • Low educational and skill level

These quite extreme factors must be considered when developing transition community models in developing countries. In particuliar, the ecological footprint in developing countries is already generally so low compared to developed countries that in most cases, transition communities are not necessary. Where it is applicable is in those urbanized and industrialized areas of developing countries. Still, even in the rural context, it is instructive to examine the model for sustainability development criteria.

Peak Oil in South Africa

For Peak Oil in South Africa, go here:

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 2
  3. Part 3


1  Calculated for each country by multiplying the average food deficit of the undernourished population by the total undernourished population, then dividing the global total by the global food supply (per capita global food
supply x global population). Sources (both last accessed January 2012): Food deficit and undernourished populationPer capita global food supply and global population
2  OECD/IEA (2011) Energy for All: Financing Access for the Poor, Paris: OECD/IEA. (last accessed November 2011)
3  L. Chandy and G. Gertz (2011) Poverty in numbers: The changing state of global poverty from 2005 to 2015, Washington DC: The Brookings Institution. (last accessed January 2012). The amont required, based on 2005 data, is estimated to be $96bn. It is the net additional income required to be transferred to people living in poverty and excludes overhead and distribution costs.
4  S. Chakravarty et al (2009) Sharing global CO2 emission reductions among one billion high emitters, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Vol 106, No. 29. July 2009. (last accessed November 2011), and S.Chakravarty, R.Socolow and
S. Pacala (2009) A focus on individuals can drive nations towards a low carbon world, Climate Science and Policy, 13 November 2009. Calculations are based on 2003 data.
5  B. Milanovic (2009) Global Inequality Recalculated: The Effect of New 2005 PPP Estimates on Global Inequality, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5061.(last accessed November 2011) Calculations are based on 2002 data with incomes expressed in international (PPP) dollars.
6  World Databank (2011) Data for 2008. Consumer spending is reported in purchasing power parity dollars. See New data and tools on climate change.(last accessed November 2011)
7  M.A. Sutton et al (2011) Too much of a good thing, Nature 472 (14 April). (last accessed November 2011)