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No country is meeting its sustainability needs, says new study

When a team of researchers estimated the sustainability of resources in 151 countries, they found that no nation is capable of meeting the basic human needs of its population.

The unprecedented analysis revealed that human needs are not being met when social and global requirements are both taken into consideration.

Dr. Daniel O’Neill from the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds is the study’s lead author.

“Almost everything we do, from having dinner to surfing the Internet, uses resources in some way, but the connections between resource use and human well-being are not always visible to us,” said Dr. O’Neill.

“We examined international relationships between the sustainability of resource use and the achievement of social goals, and found that basic needs, such as nutrition, sanitation, and the elimination of extreme poverty, could most likely be achieved in all countries without exceeding global environmental limits.”

Dr. O’Neill explained that other social goals, such as secondary education and life satisfaction, are not as clearly attainable.

The current study expands upon previous research by the Stockholm Resilience Centre, which identified nine crucial environmental processes as being “planetary boundaries.” Crossing these limits, such as freshwater and land use, could lead to devastating climate change.

“Meeting these goals could require a level of resource use that is two to six times the sustainable level,” said Dr. O’Neill.

The research team developed an evaluation based on each country’s resource use and well-being achievements.

“Our results suggest that some of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, such as combating climate change and its impacts, could be undermined by the pursuit of other goals, particularly those focused on growth or high levels of human well-being,” said study co-author Dr. Andrew Fanning.

The researchers examined seven planetary boundaries as they related to each country’s population, and then compared these limits to resource consumption while accounting for international trade.

The experts also rated countries on 11 social objectives that represented a “safe and just” level of development. Life expectancy and democratic quality were observed, among other objectives.

Ultimately, the researchers found that no country performed well under the conditions of both planetary boundaries and social indicators.

“In general, the more social thresholds a country achieves, the more planetary boundaries it exceeds, and vice versa,” said co-author Dr. William Lamb.

“Although wealthy nations like the US and UK satisfy the basic needs of their citizens, they do so at a level of resource use that is far beyond what is globally sustainable. In contrast, countries that are using resources at a sustainable level, such as Sri Lanka, fail to meet the basic needs of their people.”

The study is published in Nature Sustainability.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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