The “winds of change”: Fostering Sustainable Human Development in Europe

The “winds of change”: Fostering Sustainable Human Development in Europe

Robust evidence supports an increasingly shared consensus that economic growth, while crucial for improving well-being, does not automatically equate to Sustainable Human Development. The current scenario urges us to redefine the links between economic activity, well-being, and sustainability. The time to act is now, with shifts in the global landscape (including the digital transition) offering a crucial window of opportunity to make deep transformations in our economic and social systems. These need to be characterized by new social dynamics and more sustainable, innovative and inclusive forms of development.

Sustainability transitions are complex systemic changes that involve multi-level and multidimensional processes, experimentation, and adaptation. Therefore, appropriate governance mechanisms, dialogue with societal stakeholders, and a priority on innovation and resilience capacities are crucial. These should further be tailored at different levels, combining a common global responsibility for Sustainable Human Development with the necessary differentiated commitments between the world regions and the population groups.

In the current debate, the starting point of such structural changes is the recognition that the lives of human beings – as agents, beneficiaries, and judges of progress – and the sustainability of our societies in terms of People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership should be the ultimate concern for any government intervention at all levels. This assumption requires a shift in the vision of development at all levels. This can be done by combining two major paradigms – sustainable development and human development – that are increasingly supporting global and supranational institutions, national policymakers and scholars in shifting the focus from economic growth to the well-being of people and the planet.

Having a sound framework is a key element of this process as it enables the key interrelationships among development theories, their definition, objectives, related policies and performance measurements to be addressed. This is the main ambition of the SPES (Sustainability Performances, Evidence and Scenarios) project: identifying and discussing the “winds of change” to offer a clear direction for policies towards Sustainable Human Development, in order help to push Europe and the world towards a better future for all.


Policy Recommendations

In line with the SPES framework, the overarching goal of all European policies should be to foster a fundamental transformation of socio-economic systems to fulfill societal needs while respecting planetary boundaries. This requires that


1. Ensuring appropriate governance mechanisms as an accelerator for sustainability transitions

Good and “conscious” governance refers to collaborative principles and practices for the effective, inclusive and ethical management of institutions and resources in a society. It emphasises the significance of collective action through multi-stakeholder involvement and engagement, while prioritising transparency and mutual responsibility. Furthermore, the combination and coordination of resources, actions and capacities from different governance levels, policy fields and societal actors are seen as fundamental enabling factors for sustainability transitions, which must result in policy coherence for Sustainable Human Development.

Therefore, the combination of “whole-of-government” and “whole-of-society” approaches in policy design and implementation is essential to establish partnerships based on multilevel and collective efforts, steering policy coherence towards Sustainable Human Development.


2.Steering capital investments towards Sustainable Human Development

Different forms of capital, accumulated and inherited from the past, contribute to the well-being of both present and future generations. Therefore, the pillars of Sustainable Human Development give a new direction for capital investments at a broad societal level.

Investing in – while also preserving – different forms of capital (natural, human, built/physical, economic/financial, social/cultural) is fundamental for sustainability transitions. The public and private sectors should create a supportive environment for well-rounded capital investments towards Sustainable Human Development, also through public-private partnership pooling risks linked to transitions. In particular, assets representing the shared and common good, such as education and training, basic research, public health, infrastructures, and natural resources, particularly require public investment or proactive governmental intervention. Furthermore, governments should regulate market inefficiencies, ensuring that private investments in wealth generation align with the broader public interest.


3. Pushing to definitively go beyond GDP in our measurement systems

In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that GDP is not able to accurately capture the state of social, economic, and environmental development of countries, regions and cities. Thus, it is essential to define and ensure the uptake of an appropriate measurement system to capture the real progress on Sustainable Human Development and transition performances in Europe. Indeed, despite several global initiatives pushing to go “beyond GDP” on development measurement, this is not part of the mainstream views and is therefore not embedded in policy and public debate.

Therefore, it is fundamental to direct all efforts in “valuing what counts”, developing new definitions and metrics of sustainable well-being and social progress, as well as of productivity and value-added for sustainability transitions.


4. Making Research & Innovation policy fully transformative towards Sustainable Human Development

Science, Research and Innovation are not merely technical but have a social and political impact. Therefore, the purpose of R&I policy can no longer be the non-directional promotion of innovation for growth and competitiveness. Rather, R&I processes can be at the core of system transformation processes, playing a fundamental role in questioning the status quo and to pave the way for (and accelerate) this transformative change towards Sustainable Human Development.

In other words, R&I policy should not remain neutral, but should pursue an integrated and balanced perspective on economic, environmental and social sustainability.


5. Promoting critical, creative, and caring citizenship

Fuelling the process of systemic change requires shaping values and attitudes of current and future managers, entrepreneurs, policy makers, researchers, activists, and consumers towards Sustainable Human Development. Therefore, investing in education, training and learning systems to further incorporate sustainability perspective can facilitate the transition processes, which, in turn, can lead to an increased awareness of intergenerational responsibilities and attention for the common good. At the same time, creating the conditions for community participation fosters social cohesion, makes societies stronger and more resilient, and it also positively affects good governance.

Policy recommendations are part of the first Policy Brief delivered by the SPES Consortium

The Policy Brief has been written by Mario Biggeri, University of Florence;  Andrea Ferrannini, University of Florence.

Contributors and peer reviewers:
Jacopo Cammeo, European University Institute; Laura de Bonfils, Social Platform; Albert Ferrari, European University Institute; Adam Francescutto, University of Florence; Luca Lodi, University of Florence; Katja Reuter,
Social Platform; Pierre Vigier, independent researcher and consultant.