The global economy massively overuses resources and yet still fails to meet basic human needs. This occurs because production is organized around corporate profit and elite accumulation rather than human well-being.
In 2012, the economist Kate Raworth created the “doughnut” framework to illustrate how countries perform with respect to planetary boundaries (the outer ring of the doughnut) and social foundations (the inner ring). A “safe and just” economy is one that keeps resource use within sustainable levels while also achieving necessary social goals. The graphic below draws on recent research to compare the global North and South (with and without China), animating changes in each region’s performance from 1992 to 2015.1 For more visualisations created by the lead author of this research, Andrew Fanning, see here.
No country meets human needs within planetary boundaries. Rich countries perform better on social indicators, but have very high levels of ecological overshoot. Lower-income countries have little or no ecological overshoot, but tend to fall short on social goals. Some nations, such as Costa Rica, come close to succeeding on both objectives. The better-performing countries tend to have strong social policy, which ensures resources are used to support human well-being.
The downside of this visualization is it erases the interactions between countries. In reality we know that high resource use in the rich nations is sustained through patterns of net appropriation from the global South, which negatively affects human development in that region (see our entry on drain from the South).
Social and ecological goals are not incompatible. We can ensure good lives for all within planetary boundaries, but this requires substantial changes to how our economies work. Rich countries need to dramatically reduce resource use (and end their exploitation of poorer countries). This will require post-growth strategies, organizing production to secure human needs and well-being, including through universal public services,2 while cutting the excess consumption of the very rich and scaling down less-necessary forms of production.3 Poorer countries, meanwhile, need to achieve social foundations by using progressive industrial and fiscal policy to pursue sovereign development and build universal public services.4
These two maps represent the same data geographically. Note that the national-level data used here may obscure both social and ecological inequalities within countries. For an example of such dynamics, see our entry on carbon inequality.
Note that the poverty metric used in this dataset relies on the World Bank's money-metric approach, which does not adequately capture people's access to essential goods and services (see our entry on global poverty). The framework is in the process of being updated and improved.
Notes and references
1. Fanning, A. L., O’Neill, D. W., Hickel, J., & Roux, N. (2022). The social shortfall and ecological overshoot of nations. Nature Sustainability, 5(1), 26-36.
2. Vogel, J., Steinberger, J. K., O'Neill, D. W., Lamb, W. F., & Krishnakumar, J. (2021). Socio-economic conditions for satisfying human needs at low energy use: An international analysis of social provisioning. Global Environmental Change, 69.
3. Hickel, J., Brockway, P., Kallis, G., Keyßer, L., Lenzen, M., Slameršak, A., Steinberger, J. & Ürge-Vorsatz, D. (2021). Urgent need for post-growth climate mitigation scenarios. Nature Energy, 6(8), 766-768.
4. Hickel, J. (2021). How to achieve full decolonization, New Internationalist.