Call for governments and corporations to redefine wealth

Pavan Sukhdev, President of the World Wild Fund for Nature, argues 'irreversible damage' is being done to the environment

The president of the World Wide Fund for Nature has called on governments and corporations to help redefine wealth by moving away from traditional economic indicators.

Pavan Sukhdev, a former banker from India, said mankind’s obsession with profits had created a worrying imbalance to the detriment of human happiness.

Speaking at Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, the 59-year-old claimed a fundamental rethink was required from key decision-makers.

He argued that the world’s vast natural wealth was not in infinite supply, and that more had to be done to protect the globe from lasting destruction.

"We live in an age where humanity has begun to significantly impact the Earth's geology and ecosystems, causing irreversible damage and rapidly using up resources as if they happened to be unlimited,” he said.

“What is required instead is a change of economic direction and a new type of corporation whose goals are perfectly aligned with society rather than at its expense.”

Mr Sukhdev was named president of WWF’s International board in November 2017.

A passionate environmental economist, he is also the head of the United Nations’ Green Economy Initiative as well as the founder and CEO of GIST Advisory, a consultancy specialising in helping governments and businesses measure and manage impact on natural and human capital.

Mr Sukhdev’s speech was attended by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.

His lecture focused on his perceived need to move away from traditional economic metrics such as GDP, and look instead at developing human capital.

“It is no surprise then that we find ourselves unbalanced on this one-legged chair of man-made wealth, having discarded the other three legs,” he said.

“To me, when economies talk about [the] development of policies I keep reminding them that there should be a different strategy of human wealth.”

Mr Sukhdev went on to remind his audience that philosophers had long seen the importance of not only economic wealth, but community and public wealth too.

“They saw society as it is; not only wealth but also community and public wealth," he said.

“And it is not only man-made but also natural and human and based on relations between societies.

“These aspects are essential for us to be able to redefine wealth; those aspects refer to natural wealth and social wealth in addition to produced wealth and all of those are essential - we cannot be stable on one-legged stool.”

Last year, world-leading scientists warned there were only 12 years left to limit catastrophic climate change and keep global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Beyond this figure, experts believe even a half degree rise will significantly worsen the risk of drought and floods for millions of people.

The Paris agreement pledged to keep temperatures between 1.5C and 2C. The half-degree difference could also protect coral reefs from being completely destroyed.