Peru: The Only Nation in the World Hitting the Sustainability Sweet Spot

Guillén Pérez/CC BY-ND 2.0

Worldwatch Institute has released its latest version of the State of the World report (now in its 29th annual edition), plugging it with the headline "Time Running Out to Ensure Sustainable Prosperity for All." Indeed.

Like every edition of this report, it's a dense thing, interesting and compelling. But also probably more than the average TreeHugger reader has time or inclination to wade though. Which is why it's good that Worldwatch now has a less-wonky but no less compelling new website to accompany the report: Moving Toward Sustainable Prosperity.

Lot's of good stuff there, but there's one particular piece which everyone needs to take a long look at. Worldwatch highlights research done by WWF Global, based on data from Global Footprint Network and UNDP, that attempts to define the "sustainability sweet spot". That is, what does a truly socially just and ecologically sustainable nation look like?

© WWF Global

It's a bit tough to see in the chart above, but places that have both met the minimum standards for "high development" under UNDP's Human Development Index, while at the same time consuming just over 1.5 global hectares per person (a level that everyone could do so without over-consuming the available resources on the planet) are in that orange box. There aren't too many of them.

Before we go into what nations are meeting both these criteria, if you're not up to speed on this talk about global hectares per person, the Human Development Index, ecological footprint in general, and why these are critically important issues, please check out the related links to the left. The language is a bit clunky, but the concepts are very simple once you've familiarized yourself with them.

OK, so who's in the sustainability sweet spot? What nations have both high levels of human development and ecologically sustainable levels of resource consumption?

Peru. That's it, based on 2007 data. Peru is the only nation on the planet that has gotten human development and resource consumption balanced.

Cuba had been doing this the year before—the widely admired post-Soviet transition of necessity towards organic agriculture really helped—but has expanded ecological footprint just enough to miss the mark. Ecuador and Colombia are in a similar position.

Worldwatch sums up the situation in Peru:

Sustainability is easier for a country blessed with abundant natural resources. Approximately 50 percent of Peru is covered by lush rainforest, providing ample timber and water resources. While much of Peru’s rainforests are conserved, there is a high level of both legal and illegal deforestation due to illegal squatting, road expansion, mining, and petroleum drilling. Though Peru struggles with wealth inequity and environmental degradation, it recognizes that moving towards sustainable prosperity requires government intervention. Peru’s Environment Minister hopes to virtually eliminate deforestation using international aid in addition to Peru’s own resources. Peru’s Prime Minister has vowed to not allow environmental pollution, and the government demands environmental impact assessment for mining operations. However, it appears that much of Peru’s sustainability is due to natural resources and a decent level of equity that ensures a basic level of development for most. Of course, there are also a variety of organizations working to protect Peru’s natural resources and thus create a truly sustainable country.

So why is this such a big deal? Simply, because it gives very clear current examples of how much nations that are unsustainably consuming resources (as in all the so-called developed nations of the world) need to cut back and adjust their consumption patterns; and, because it gives a very clear benchmark for how much more consumption is possible in those places not yet hitting the mark of high human development.

In many way this is one of the most crucial pieces of data to keep in mind when discussing what a truly ecologically sustainable and socially just world can look like.

And, remember that no place is perfect: Peru's Oil Exploration Violates UN Guidelines on Uncontacted Tribes

Tags: Consumerism | Developing Nations | Economics | Environmental Footprint