Making Development More Sustainable: Prologue and Acknowledgments

This book is the sixth major volume in the Munasinghe Institute of Development (MIND) series on growth and sustainable development. Earlier volumes are listed at the front of this book.

A range of ideas about addressing the complex problems of sustainable development and poverty are set out in this text. Therefore, the reader may find some relevant background information helpful in understanding and interpreting my viewpoint. Physics and engineering were my first loves and sustained me all the way through a PhD. However, the lure of development was hard to resist and led me to concurrently pursue a post-graduate degree in development economics. My focus on the issues of poverty and development has continued ever since, and I have had no cause to regret this choice.

I began working in the development area during the early 1970s, concentrating on development planning and natural resource management (especially energy and water) -- amidst the “limits to growth” debate and the first oil crisis. Although the concept of sustainable development was not known at the time, much of this early work on marginal cost pricing, integrated resource planning, and macroeconomic modeling was not only based on sound economic principles, but also included important social and environmental considerations including poverty, equity and externalities. From the mid-1980s my efforts shifted more towards environmental and natural resource issues and their links with macroeconomic policies and poverty. With the publication of the Bruntland report in 1987, I began to focus on getting a better understanding of the new concept of sustainable development.

The core framework of sustainomics was developed from around 1990, and now draws on more than 15 years of direct applications. Thus, the bulk of this book draws on work done since 1990. At the same time, I have also made use of previous research where the issues, principles and policy options involved are still relevant. Some of the broader development insights, concepts and case studies in this volume are based on over 35 years of professional work. During this period, hands-on involvement in designing and implementing projects and policies in a variety of countries helped to build up practical experience in development activities. Meanwhile, continuing research and teaching sharpened my analytical insights. The basic foundation for intellectual growth was of course the 20 preceding years of formal education, as well as absorption of knowledge whilst growing up amidst the problems of development in Sri Lanka. To summarize, I have learned about development while playing many roles – be it as a student or teacher, researcher or field practitioner, policy analyst or decision maker.

Two major international events (i.e., the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the 2002 UN World Summit on Sustainable Development – WSSD, in Johannesburg) provided major impetus for two seminal publications (Munasinghe 1992a, 2002a). The first paper set out the conceptual framework for sustainomics, based on the results of a major research programme I led at the World Bank. At this time, the Vice Presidency for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable Development was established in the Bank, with the sustainable development triangle as its official logo. Shortly afterwards, some senior colleagues and I presented an important policy paper on Economywide Policies and the Environment to the Bank’s Board of Executive Directors, proposing policy remedies to address the adverse environmental and social impacts of structural adjustment programmes. The findings were then presented to the world’s finance ministers at a special seminar during the World Bank–International Monetary Fund fiftieth anniversary celebrations in Madrid, in 1994. My 2002 paper at WSSD elaborated on the initial sustainomics framework – based on a range of practical applications and lessons learned during the intervening decade.

I wish to emphasize that sustainomics is not the creation of one person. Isaac Newton’s classic remark about “seeing further by standing on the shoulders of giants”, is most appropriate. Thus, sustainomics is a practical transdisciplinary framework (or “transdiscipline”) which makes use of my own ideas, as well as many existing concepts, methods and tools developed by others – gladly acknowledged in the text. Such an eclectic approach is necessary because sustainable development is so broadly defined and vast in scope that it cannot possibly be dealt with by any single traditional discipline. Furthermore, there is no need to “re-invent the wheel”, when practical techniques and solutions are already at hand. Chapter 1 describes my main current motivations for writing this book. However, the original motivation that led me to coin the neologism “sustainomics” was more basic – simply the lack of a discipline or practical framework that focused explicitly on sustainable development problems in a policy-relevant manner.

The first basic principle of sustainomics – making development more sustainable – was my practical reaction to the endless (and ongoing) theoretical debate on the ultimate definition of sustainable development. It motivates and validates those who wish to immediately address urgent issues like poverty and hunger. The second core element – balanced treatment of the sustainable development triangle – was prompted by the lively discussions that took place in the run-up to Rio 1992, about how the “three pillars” (environment, economy and society) might be integrated within development policy. It emphasizes that the sides and interior of the triangle (representing interaction among the three pillars) are as important as the three vertices. Other core elements like the need for trans-disciplinary thinking are ideas that have been around for many years and proved quite appropriate for sustainomics. Finally, the sustainomics kitbag of methods, models and tools borrows widely from other disciplines. A few policy-focused tools like the Action Impact Matrix (AIM), Issues-Policy Transformation Mapping (ITM), and Policy Tunneling were developed specifically in the context of sustainomics. Others like sustainable development assessment (including cost-benefit analysis, and environmental and social assessment), environmental valuation, green accounting, various macroeconomic and sectoral models, etc. were adopted and adapted from existing material. The empirical case studies are designed to be not only rigorous applications of the theory, but also practical and policy-focused.

A brief word would be appropriate here, about the creation of the Munasinghe Institute for Development (MIND) in the year 2000. Working many years abroad within the UN system provided me unique opportunities and insights. Nevertheless, I felt that I could improve my understanding of development problems and contribute more by taking early retirement and returning to live and work in Sri Lanka. This is another decision I do not regret, because the view from Colombo is refreshingly different from the “Washington Consensus” perspective. The outcome was MIND, a small non-profit research centre based in Sri Lanka, whose official logo is the sustainable development triangle, and whose motto is “making development more sustainable”. A balanced South-North partnership, built on mutual-respect and cooperation is essential to save the planet. To facilitate this process, MIND is building capacity in the South, and fostering both South-South and South-North collaboration to address sustainable development issues.

During the course of this intellectual journey, I have benefited from my association with a wide range of people, each of whom has contributed generously to my understanding of development issues in his (or her) own way. While the core framework presented in the first few chapters of this book are based mainly on my own papers, the case studies have benefited greatly from ideas in selected co-authored publications. The list of names of the many erudite colleagues I have worked with over the years is far too numerous to set out here, but among them I would like to especially thank those with whom I have had the privilege of co-authoring journal articles and books that are the sources of material on which parts of this volume are based. They range from young students and researchers to eminent experts and Nobel-prize winners. Working with them has enriched my professional growth and deepened my insights into the problems of development. Their valuable contributions are explicitly acknowledged in the relevant chapters. The list includes:

Kenneth Arrow, Caroline Clarke, Matthew Clarke, William Cline, Wilfrido Cruz, Carlos de Miguel, Chitrupa Fernando, Claudio Ferraz, Sardar Islam, Susan Hanna, Paul Kleindorfer, Randall Kramer, Karl-Goran Maler, Jeffrey McNeely, Peter Meier, Robert Mendelsohn, Braz Menezes, Sebastian Miller, Risako Morimoto, Raul O’Ryan, Annika Persson, Martha Preece, Walter Reid, Shyam Rungta, Niggol Seo, Ronaldo Seroa da Motta, Narendra Sharma, Walter Shearer, Joseph Stiglitz, Osvaldo Sunkel, Rob Swart, Jeremy Warford and Carlos Young.

I am equally grateful for the kind courtesies and good wishes extended by the following international journals where relevant papers have appeared:

Ambio, Conservation Ecology, Ecological Economics, Ecological Economics Encyclopedia, Environment and Development Economics, International Journal of Ambient Energy, International Journal of Environment and Pollution, International Journal of Global Energy Issues, International Journal of Global Environmental Issues, Land Use Policy, Natural Resources Forum, Natural Resources Journal, Proceedings of the IEEE, The Energy Journal, World Bank Economic Review, and World Development.

Thanks are also owed to the following institutions who have published books and monographs I have authored, from which material is drawn:

Asian Development Bank (ADB), Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics, Cambridge University Press, Butterworths-Heinemann Press, Edward Elgar Publishing, Indian Society of Ecological Economics (INSEE), Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR), International Society of Ecological Economics (ISEE), Johns Hopkins University Press, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), United Nations University (UNU), Westview Press, World Bank (WB) and World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Generations of students have helped to sharpen my concepts and logical thinking over the years. I would like to express my gratitude for the valuable feedback provided by students and faculty from the following academic and research institutions where I have given courses or lectures on various aspects of sustainable development in recent years:

American University, USA; Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand; Boston University, USA; Cambridge University, UK; China Meteorological Administration, China: Colombo University, Sri Lanka; Concordia University, Canada; Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Gotenberg University, Sweden; Groningen University, Netherlands; Harvard University, USA; Indian Institute of Management (Calcutta), India; Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, India; Institute of Economic Growth, India; Institute of Social and Economic Research, India; Japan Development Bank, Japan; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA; Moratuwa University, Sri Lanka; Oxford University, UK; Peking University, China; University of Pennsylvania, USA; Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University, Japan; Sorbonne University, France; State University of New York, USA; Tellus Institute, USA; Tsinghua University, China; United Nations University, Japan; Wuppertal Institute, Germany; and Yale University, USA.

I am deeply indebted to the following, who provided detailed and insightful comments, and helpful material:

Johannes Opschoor, Rob Swart, and Harald Winkler.

I also thank the following for useful suggestions and advice:

Michael Chadwick, Nazli Choucri, Cutler Cleveland, Shelton Davis, Surendra Devkota, Sytze Dijkstra, Chitru Fernando, Prasanthi Gunawardene, Anders Hansen, Jochen Jesinghaus, Steven Lovink, Risako Morimoto, Eric Neumayer, John O’Connor, Paul Raskin, Terry Rolfe, Fereidoon Sioshansi, Jeremy Warford, and Robin White.

The MIND team who helped to prepare this manuscript provided invaluable assistance for which I am most grateful. They include:

Sria Munasinghe, Nishanthi De Silva, Yvani Deraniyagala, Irusha Dharmaratna, Priyangi Jayasinghe, and Sudarshana Perera.

Last but not least, my wife Sria deserves special praise for her advice and steadfast support, and for putting up with the many impositions and pressures arising from the preparation of this book. Support provided by my children Anusha and Ranjiva and my mother Flower Munasinghe were also much appreciated.

All my generous benefactors deserve full credit for their valuable contributions to the ideas expressed in this book. Any errors, omissions, shortcomings and misinterpretations are my own responsibility.

To conclude, sustainomics is a preliminary framework and as yet incomplete. It is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with ill-fitting pieces and gaps. Nevertheless, it does seem to provide a promising and practical start, which is allowing the bigger picture to emerge. My earnest hope is that other practicing and potential “sustainomists” will step forward to rapidly correct any errors, reconcile inconsistencies, and fill in the empty spaces in the framework, as they move on towards the ultimate goal of sustainable development. The final take home message is optimistic – i.e., although the problems are serious, an effective response can be mounted, provided we begin immediately. Sustainomics shows us the first steps in making the transition from the risky business-as-usual scenario to a safer and more sustainable future.

Mohan Munasinghe
November 2006


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Munasinghe, M., & Development, M. (2007). Making Development More Sustainable: Prologue and Acknowledgments. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/154367

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