Development aid or trade

Just as there is discussion around what we mean by ‘sustainability’ so too is there on the nature of development and how it should be pursued.

Named after the Nobel Prize winning economist Simon Kuznets, the Kuznets curve summarises the expected trajectories of sustainable development within countries. The idea is that in the initial growth phase of an economy from very low levels the focus is on growth to the neglect of the environment; as the income of the population grows they become more concerned with environmental issues and the governments and firms have the resources to respond.

Kuznets based the curve on empirical data, but there are also theoretical arguments for believing that something like this will be true. There are also many reasons for thinking that the relationship is much weaker than this, for example the ability of rich countries to outsource manufacturing and in effect export their pollution. And if we focus on one pollutant in particular, namely CO2, the evidence is very weak that this will reduce in absolute terms in advanced economies without international agreements and collaboration.

It is claimed that air and water pollution follow the curve. Pollution of the oceans with plastic hasn’t yet – although it may just be starting.

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