Inequality and the biosphere


Rising inequalities and accelerating global environmental change pose two of the most pressing challenges of the twenty-first century. To explore how these phenomena are linked, we apply a social-ecological systems perspective and review the literature to identify six different types of interactions (or “pathways”) between inequality and the biosphere. We find that most of the re- search so far has only considered one-directional effects of inequality on the biosphere, or vice versa. However, given the potential for complex dynamics between socioeconomic and environ- mental factors within social-ecological systems, we highlight examples from the literature that illustrate the importance of cross-scale interactions and feedback loops between inequality and the biosphere. This review draws on diverse disciplines to advance a systemic understanding of the linkages between inequality and the biosphere, specifically recognizing cross-scale feedbacks and the multidimensional nature of inequality.

Lima, Perú

This short talk is part of a Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue: Inequality and the SDGs: synergies and tradeoffs organized by fellows form the Beijer Young Scholars network. We hope the dialogue will allow us to identify research priorities when it comes to reducing inequalities and their potential tradeoffs with other sustainable developement goals.

Countries around the world have committed to achieve 17 SDGs. Increasing inequality has become an urgent issue across both developed and developing economies and it has been considered one of the defining challenges of our time. A number of the so-called ‘planetary boundaries’ has been crossed, putting the planet at risk of detrimental environmental change. Managing SDGs is complex for policy- makers. The challenge is to know how SDGs interact, and which policy tools would be most effective to simultaneously meet the SDGs of the Agenda 2030. This session will examine SDGs synergies and tradeoffs, the role of inequalities therein, as well as examples of how to replicate and scale up or scale down emerging and innovative policy solutions to meet SDG challenges. We ask: How does inequality impact the achievement of SDGs at different scales? Which countries (examples from Peru), if any, are simultaneously “prosperous, equal, and green”, and why? Does there exist a ‘trilemma’ inhibiting the simultaneous achievement of the three goals (the “triple bottom line”), and therefore sustainable development? If so, what are the respective tradeoffs, and how might these evolve over time? The concepts of “prosperous, equal, and green” encompass virtually SDGs 10, 2, 13, 14 and 15 (Reducing Inequality, Climate Action, Life Below Water and Life on Land). While inequality is often considered as a statistical pattern in the distribution of observables, such as income or wealth at the national scale, perception of inequality and fairness tend to act at much lower scales (e.g. community). Yet, it remains unclear at which scales tradeoffs between inequality and other SDGs will emerge or need to be accounted for when dealing with, for example, problems of common-pool resource management.