An amicable divorce: Unleashing the power of public money

The cold hard truth, as we know, is that the mismanagement and over consumption of natural resources is unsustainable.

According to UNEP’s International Resource Panel (IRP) we need to decouple human well-being from resource consumption by linking local or national development strategies to resource flow strategies.  Their analysis concludes that by 2050 the level of resources used by each and every person each year will need to fall to between five and six tonnes in order for us to live within our environmental limits. IRP also points out however that rapid urbanisation combined with technological and systematic innovation offer an historic opportunity to reduce our ‘metabolic rate’.

To put the importance of the role of urbanisation in context, one only has to look at the economic power of cities compared to companies or countries. As is evident from this extract of the world’s top 100 economies from 2008 by the World Bank, cities matter because they are large economies in their own right. For instance, the city of Tokyo accounts for half of all of Japan’s national economic power and is nearly 6 times larger than its biggest company Toyota Motor.

Ranking   Country/City/Company GDP/Revenues (US$bn)
1 USA 14,204
2 China 7,903
3 Japan 4,354
7 UK 2,176
12 Tokyo 1,479
14 New York 1,406
32 Royal Dutch Shell 458
67 Toyota Motor 263
90 General Electric 183
100 Barcelona 140


So how can city leaders decouple development from carbon? And especially so in an age of financial austerity with local budget spending cut by 10% and 28% in the US and UK respectively for example? One route in addition to looking at planning frameworks is public procurement policy. Take for instance the huge carbon footprint of the UK Government’s UK£220bn supply chain – accounting for 77% of total greenhouse emissions – with UK£42bn spent through local authorities (i.e. goods & services, construction & roads, waste and social care etc).

Getting a better handle on which suppliers are more or less carbon-intensive is good for local government in many ways. As well as increasing economic resiliency by weaning municipalities off fossil-fuel-dependent key suppliers it potentially reduces operating costs and stimulates local green economy trade too. This is a concept some cities are already advancing, indeed are coming together through communities of practice to do so.

Decoupling development from carbon in this way is surely an amicable divorce then?


By Philip Monaghan, August 2011


Philip Monaghan is a writer, strategist and change manager in the fields of economic development and environmental sustainability.

He is the acclaimed author of the books Sustainability in Austerity (2010) and Hard to Make, Hard to Break (forthcoming 2012).
Philip’s Sustainability in Austerity has recently been named in CPSL’s Top 40 Sustainability Books of 2010.

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One thought on “An amicable divorce: Unleashing the power of public money

  1. Pingback: An amicable divorce? « Sustainability in Austerity

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