Limited natural resources bind all human activity. However, contemporary societies consume these natural assets vastly beyond the sustainable level, leading to crossing the threshold of planetary boundaries. The world is struggling to meet the basic necessities for its residents in a sustainable way, irrespective of its region.
Raworth’s economic perspective, as encapsulated in her concept of the doughnut, offers a significant departure from traditional economic development approaches, such as the “foundational economy”. Unlike economic development approaches like the “foundational economy” that primarily focus on economic output tied to the production and consumption of goods and services, the perspective envisions the economy as a doughnut. Instead of being preoccupied with the growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it places a higher emphasis on social and environmental foundations.
The “safe and just space” framework (also known as the “doughnut model”) builds on the “planetary boundaries” framework. It is a socially and ecologically integrative approach to assess the sustainability of societies. Planetary Boundaries is a framework to identify and assess critical thresholds in the Earth’s system. These critical thresholds represent the limits beyond which the Earth’s environment can undergo sudden and irreversible changes. The framework helps us understand the safe operating space for humanity, where we can carry out our activities without pushing the Earth system beyond these critical limits.
Two critical thresholds for human societies form the framework’s core: the environmental ceiling, above which the consumption of natural resources leads to critical planetary degradation, and the social foundation, below which the consumption of natural resources leads to critical human deprivation. The doughnut-shaped space between these thresholds represents “a safe and just space for humanity,” which should be the goal of all economic activity.
The planetary boundaries as defined are climate change, biosphere integrity (genetic diversity and functional diversity measured as biodiversity loss), land system change, freshwater use, biochemical flows (nitrogen and phosphorus loading), ocean acidification, atmospheric aerosol loading, stratospheric ozone depletion, and novel entities (e.g. new substances or modified life forms causing unwanted geophysical or biological consequences).
Fig. 1. Illustration of the Doughnut. The green area is the safe and just operating space, defined by the environmental ceiling on the outside and by the social foundation on the inside. Source: Planetary Boundaries and the Doughnut frameworks: A review of their local operability – ScienceDirect
Key steps and strategies for implementing this alternative economic framework:
Public Awareness and Education:
Increase public awareness and understanding of the doughnut model and its principles. Public support and understanding are essential for policy changes.
Local and Regional Initiatives:
Encourage local and regional governments to adopt doughnut economics principles in their policies and practices. This can involve community engagement, sustainable urban planning, and resource management.
Resource Efficiency and Circular Economy:
Promote resource efficiency and the transition to a circular economy where resources are conserved and reused, reducing waste and environmental impact.
Green and Sustainable Finance:
Encourage financial institutions to invest in green and sustainable projects and divest from environmentally harmful activities.
The concept moves away from the myopic focus on GDP growth and emphasizes the well-being of people and the planet. Recognizing the interdependence of economic, social, and environmental factors offers a more sustainable and equitable approach to economic development.