The intergenerational impact of the usage of natural resources

The Gulbenkian Foundation launches a study on the ecological limits of each generation, the causes for breaching these limitations and the legacy left for future generations.

After having approached questions around housing, the sustainability of public finances and employment in Portugal, the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is launching another study under the auspices of its project dedicated to Intergenerational Justice: Ecological Limits: The Intergenerational Impact of the Use of Natural Resources, written by Tiago Domingos and Ricardo da Silva Vieira (Higher Technical Institute), peer reviewed by Antonieta Cunha e Sá (NOVA SBE) and Miguel Bastos Araújo (University of Évora).

The patterns of human development and economic activities drive challenges to sustainability on an unprecedented scale and level of urgency, such as climate changes and the global loss of biodiversity. This type of development posts a critical question: do the pressures induced by mankind exceed the environmental limits of the planet?

With the exception of Generation Z (who have not yet reached an age that typically reflect the highest levels of consumption), all generations have overstepped various different ecological limits.

The oldest generations, these authors state, have per capita environmental impacts far higher than the younger generations, especially as regards water pollution and pressures on ecosystems – but the older generations also contribute to the implementation of policies such as natural gas, investments in renewable sources and cleaner forms of transports as well as valuing waste, which all help to partially offset the GDP environmental indicators.

Economic growth, this study concludes, is the main cause for overstepping these limits. To be sustainable, current and future generations have available a carbon emissions limit 41% lower than that prevailing in the 1990s. A study to consider for keeping within the environmental limitations of our planet.

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Updated on 10 december 2021

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