The pursuit of human wellbeing is one of the primary goals for society, and is a key focus of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted in 2015. There is growing recognition that a holistic understanding of human wellbeing and poverty requires the consideration of the environment and natural resources. SDG 1 aims to eradicate all forms of poverty globally, and explicitly mentions the need to provide equal access to, and control over, natural resources, and to reduce the exposure and vulnerability of the poor to climatic and environmental hazards. Despite this, environment and natural resources remain a missing dimension of widely-adopted poverty alleviation strategies and indicators, such as the Multidimensional Poverty Index.
Failing to consider environmental aspects can result in an incomplete capturing of the multiple dimensions of wellbeing and poverty, and their underlying drivers. Consequently, the identification of the poor, and an understanding of what makes them poor, risks being incomplete, thereby posing a challenge to addressing poverty adequately in development and poverty alleviation strategies. In some instances, mainstream development projects put forward in the name of poverty alleviation and development may result in environmental degradation and have negative impacts on poverty.
As a result, there is a need to better integrate environment and natural resources into assessments of multidimensional poverty and wellbeing, and to create measures of multidimensional poverty that reflect the broadened scope articulated in the SDGs.
UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre has been working with a range of partners on a portfolio of projects aiming to advance our understanding of the environment-poverty relationships conceptually, empirically and methodologically. Our work in this area can help to improve the capture and measurement of the multiple deprivations facing the poor, thus ensuring poverty and human wellbeing are addressed more holistically in research and decision-making.
Our key activities in this area include:
UN Environment World Conservation Monitoring Centre plays a key role in international policy processes in relation to environment and development and is the leading repository of global environmental data. Within UNEP-WCMC, the poverty-environment work is led by the Science team and is carried out by Neil Burgess, Arnout van Soesbergen and Fiona Danks. Other key members of these projects are: Bhaskar Vira, Judith Schleicher, Marije Schaafsma, Nicole Gross-Camp, and Johan Oldekop.
We are working with a range of partners and donors on our poverty-environment projects. Partners include the Universities of Cambridge, Southampton and Sheffield, International Institute for Sustainability in Rio, and the Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies in Kathmandu.
Our work is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC; grant number ES/P003583/1), the UNDP-UN Environment Poverty-Environment Initiative and the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA; grant number NE/M00760X/1 and IAF2017-18-002) programme. The ESPA programme is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).