This year's "State of the World" report by US research institute Worldwatch warns that consumerism is ruining the planet. It suggests taxing pollution to get back on a sustainable trajectory.
How can we make the planet more livable for all? That question underpins this year's "State of the World" report put out Wednesday by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute. But the authors don't limit themselves to asking questions, they also suggest solutions for a sustainable future.
According to the report, rich countries are squandering too many resources, and the authors suggest that a shift in the tax burden would best tackle this problem. Taxing environmentally destructive goods and services would help dampen their appeal, they say, as would incentives for cleaner alternatives.
The report finds a positive model in Japan. There, manufacturers of fridges and televisions are required to display the energy efficiency on all their appliances. The most efficient machine is then taken as the standard, which the next generation is required to surpass.
Worldwatch likes efficiency labels for electric appliances
The Worldwatch report also calls for shorter working hours to improve quality of life. They say most people would prefer to work less – and earn less – in return for more time for themselves and their families.
The think tank also makes suggestions for improving transport infrastructure around the world. Targeted support for public transport and bicycle infrastructure could help reduce pollution and road congestion, the report said.
"We have to find a way for all people to have a right to a certain level of prosperity without ruining the planet," Michael Renner, one of the authors, told DW.
Renner said today's discussions about prosperity pay too little attention to the legitimate needs of developing countries.
He hopes the report, entitled "Moving Towards Sustainable Prosperity," might inspire ambitions at the Rio +20 talks in Brazil in June: the follow-up to the 1992 Earth Summit.
In the first of the report's 17 chapters, Renner says it's time to make progress on ambitions set out 20 years ago, because "on a small and increasingly crowded planet, the 'winners' will lose if the losers don't win." The chapters cover topics as various as "green" economics, redesigning cities, reforming farming and limiting consumption.
Worldwatch has been filing its "State of the World" analyses since 1984. As well as identifying global environmental problems, the reports typically advocate workable solutions.
"Worldwatch stands out for its optimism," said Klaus Milke of affiliated organization Germanwatch. "And it's an optimism we share."
Milke's organization publishes the German version of the report, in conjunction with the Heinrich Böll Foundation, a think tank associated with the Green Party.
The German section this year focuses on the environmental credentials of Europe's private sector, Milke said. It will be published on May 15, among 20 international adaptations of the report to be released in the coming weeks.
Author: Helle Jeppesen
Editor: Ben Knight