[Perspectives on RIO+20 > Prof. Mohan Munasinghe ]


Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs) can preserve the planet, protect the poor and promote prosperity

The Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs) idea was proposed in January 2011 in New York, during preparations for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD or Rio+20) in Brazil 2012. 

It has roots in Agenda 21, which highlighted “unsustainable consumption and production”, and more recent initiatives like the 2003 Marrakech Process that highlighted the urgent need for sustainable consumption and production (SCP).

MCGs provide targets designed to motivate the rich in all countries to consume more sustainably. They will help make human consumption and production more sustainable -- improving overall well-being, reducing environmental harm, freeing up resources to alleviate poverty, and ensuring intra and inter-generational equity. MCGs for the affluent would complement the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that protect the poor.

Addressing under consumption of the poor, the very first MCG should ensure that basic human needs are met worldwide. Next, addressing overconsumption of the rich, several obvious and measurable MCGs would target issues such as greenhouse gas emissions; energy use; water use; land use; and pollution and waste.

Additional MCGs might cover: food security and agriculture; health, diet and obesity; livelihoods and lifestyles; economic-financial systems; and military expenditures

We need MCGs urgently, because unsustainable patterns of consumption, production and resource exploitation have led to multiple problems threatening humanity’s future – like poverty, resource scarcities, hunger, conflict and climate change.

Global production already uses environmental services drawn from the equivalent of 1.5 planet earth, which is unsustainable. The world’s 1.4 billion richest people consume over 80% of this output – 60 times more than the poorest 1.4 billion. 

Meanwhile, MDGs seek to raise consumption levels of over 2 billion poor people. Clearly, the rich are “crowding out” the poor. A business-as-usual attitude that ignores the problem will exacerbate conflict and increase the risk of global breakdown.

Instead of viewing the affluent as a problem, they should be persuaded to contribute to the solution – the MCG approach will lead to a more manageable and safer future.

MCGs will provide a set of benchmarks (not always mandatory), to which the more affluent could aspire. These targets would encourage a combination of voluntary actions by rich consumers, supported by enabling government policies promoting sustainable consumption and production.

Existing and planned research provides a basis for already setting both targets and policies. The proposed strategy is inclusive and multi-track. A top down effort is moving the MCGs forward on the UN agenda -- creating a mandate, setting global benchmarks, and establishing an enabling implementation framework. Since this process may take some time, many prefer to act NOW.

This bottom-up approach involves pioneering individuals, communities, organisations, firms, cities, regions and nations, who are already declaring their own voluntary MCGs and implementing them. MCGs often provide an attractive and meaningful “umbrella” for already existing ad-hoc goals. In short, voluntary MCGs are being pursued by the willing, at whatever level they choose, and focusing on some preferred consumption target. 

To move this idea forward, the Millennium Consumption Goals Initiative (MCGI) was launched at the UN by a broad coalition of stakeholders called the MCG Network. It is action-oriented, inclusive, multi-level, pluralistic and trans-national. The MCGI is targeting the UNCSD 2012 conference or Rio+20 to establish an international mandate for the proposal.
MCGs have many advantages.

First, they would apply worldwide, cutting across developed and developing country boundaries, and reducing the potential for deadlock due to nationalistic and regional self-interest.

Second, relatively small reductions in rich peoples’ material consumption (using existing technologies, laws and best practice), can even improve their well-being, while significantly lowering environmental harm and freeing up resources to alleviate poverty.

Third, MCGs can be implemented using an inclusive, multilevel strategy, which combines both bottom up and top down approaches. The MCG concept is both fractal and subsidiary, because the basic idea remains unchanged (like a snowflake) at finer levels of detail, and effective implementation is still possible.

Fourth, MCGs have the potential for quicker results, by galvanizing civil society and business to ‘act now’. This could shift the behaviour of affluent households and businesses, without relying only on government policies and long-term investments.

Furthermore, rich individuals and communities could be motivated to act effectively in their own enlightened self-interest, since they are better educated, have more influence and command more resources.

Fifth, MCG-MDG twinning is possible, by linking an MCG in a rich community/country with an MDG in a poor community/country.

Sixth and finally, MCGs could mobilise, empower and link sustainable consumers and producers, including associated global supply chains, into a virtuous cycle. The same advertising that now promotes over-consumption and waste could be used to encourage more sustainable consumption.

Over a period of time, social values and habits could be changed to favour more sustainable behaviour--one thinks of the gradual change in attitudes towards smoking. MCGs would “empower the person to define consumption rather than permitting consumption to define the person.”

The MCGs are designed to be an important practical tool within an overall strategy for sustainable development, which supplements ongoing initiatives like sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and a transition to a green economy (GE).

They are all essential steps on the path to sustainable development, and clearly linked to a holistic, practical framework for making development more sustainable called ‘Sustainomics’, which I had proposed at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. It would be fitting if the MCGs were included in the agreements at UNCSD 2012, twenty years later. By acting together now on the MCGs, we will make the planet a safer and better place for our children and grandchildren.

Mohan Munasinghe
Millennium Consumption Goals Initiative (MCGI)

September 2011


The opinions expressed in these articles are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of UNEP

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Prof. Munasinghe is Chairman, Munasinghe Institute of Development (MIND), Colombo; Professor of Sustainable Development, SCI, University of Manchester, UK; Distinguished Guest Professor, Peking University, China; and Honorary Senior Advisor to the Government of Sri Lanka.


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