Why the world urgently needs Millennium Consumption Goals?

 The Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs) idea was proposed in January 2011 in New York, for the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June 2012. MCGs provide targets to motivate the rich worldwide, to consume and produce more sustainably, thereby 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) for the poor.

 Addressing underconsumption of the poor, the first MCG ensures that basic human needs are met worldwide. Next, addressing overconsumption of the rich, several resource-related MCGs would target: GHG emissions; energy use; water use; land use and biomass; ores and industrial minerals; construction materials; and polluting discharges. Additional MCGs might cover: food security and agriculture; health, diet and obesity; livelihoods and lifestyles; economic-financial-trade systems; and military expenditures

 We need MCGs urgently, because unsustainable consumption and production have caused
multiple problems threatening humanity’s future – like poverty, resource scarcities, hunger, conflict and climate change. Global production already exceeds the environmental carrying capacity of planet earth by 50%. 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. Clearly, the consumption of the rich is both unsustainable and “crowding out” the poor. The MCGs will help to avoid a global resource crisis, by persuading the affluent to contribute to the solution, instead of viewing them as a problem.

 To move this idea forward, the Millennium Consumption Goals Initiative (MCGI) was launched at the UN by a broad stakeholder network. It is action-oriented, inclusive, multi-level, pluralistic and trans-national. MCGs provide a set of benchmarks, supported by a combination of voluntary actions by rich consumers, and enabling government policies promoting sustainable consumption and production. A top down effort is moving the MCGs forward on the Rio+20 agenda– establishing a mandate, benchmarks, and an implementation framework. While international discussions proceed, 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. For example, the biochemical giant Novozymes states: “The Novozymes target is a voluntary Millennium Consumption Goal (MCG) that supports the recently launched global Millennium Consumption Goals Initiative (MCGI).”

MCGs have strategic advantages. First, they would apply worldwide, cutting across nationalistic and regional self-interest. Second, small reductions in rich peoples’ material consumption can improve their well-being (eg. through healthier lifestyles and diets), while 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. Fourth, MCGs have the potential for quicker results, by galvanizing civil society and business to ‘act now’. This could quickly shift the behavior of affluent households and businesses, without relying only on long-term measures. Furthermore, rich individuals and communities could 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 – eg, by linking MCGs in rich communities with MDGs in poor communities. Sixth and finally, MCGs could mobilize, empower and link sustainable consumers and producers (including associated global value/supply chains). The same advertising that now promotes over-consumption could be used to encourage more sustainable consumption. Values and habits could be changed society-wide to favor more sustainable behavior (like the gradual change in attitudes towards smoking). MCGs would “empower the person to define meaningful consumption rather than permitting meaningless consumption to define the person.”

The MCGs are based on a practical framework for making development more sustainable called ‘Sustainomics’, and designed to supplement ongoing initiatives like sustainable consumption and production (SCP) and green economy (GE). By acting together on the MCGs at Rio+20, we will make the planet a safer and better place for our children and grandchildren.

 Mohan Munasinghe

 Millenium Consumption Goals Initiative (MCGI)