Global Policy Forum

Support Piles Up for Millennium Consumption Goals

Mohan Munasinghe, a Sri Lankan physicist and economist, has proposed a set of ideas meant to constrain obscene consumption habits in the rich world. He has named his set of principles the Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs) after the Millennium Development Goals which were created to lift poor people across the developing world out of poverty. The MCGs are intended to reverse the logic by redistributing wealth and pushing the rich to embrace sustainable lifestyles which are less harmful for the planet.

By Feizal Samath

February 25, 2011


Suggestions are pouring in from all corners of the world on how the world's rich could reduce climate-damaging consumption habits, called Millennium Consumption Goals (MCGs), envisioned to be the flipside of the eight-point Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set for the poor.

These suggestions range from reduced working hours to increased use of bicycles and more walking, and from wearing second-hand clothes to reduced meat and dairy consumption.

Prof. Mohan Munasinghe, a Sri Lankan expert on global sustainable development and climate change, proposed the MCGs for the world's rich in an interview with IPS in Colombo three weeks ago. Since then, the suggestion has triggered a lot of discussion, debate and suggestions.

Some want an eight-point MCG drawn up and then submitted to the United Nations, where it could get the attention and commitment of member-states. Others prefer setting personal goals in helping reduce lifestyle habits that damage the environment.

Erik Assadourian, Transforming Cultures Project Director and Senior Researcher at Worldwatch Institute, listed five suggestions.

First, to cut obesity and overweight rates by half by 2020 to reduce mortality, morbidity and economic costs, as well as ecological pressures driven by overconsumption of food.

Second, Assadourian said, could be to slash the workweek by half to distribute jobs and wealth, promote healthier living, and reduce economic activity. Third, raise taxes on the wealthiest members of society. Fourth, double the use of non-motorized transport such as bikes, and fifth, guarantee health care for all.

"Help me add three more to the list to get it to eight and then we can see about getting this submitted to the United Nations," Assadourian wrote. "After all, if those in overdeveloped countries can set goals for those in developing countries, the UN should show the same concern to those living poorly in industrial countries."

Writer Matthew McDermott from, a media outlet on sustainability, suggested doubling the amount of organically-produced food which would reduce fossil fuel, chemical fertilizer and pesticide usage, and cutting household electricity use.

"If your electricity comes from fossil fuels this would reduce pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and indirectly increase energy independence. If your electricity is generated from renewable energy, it reduces the amount of energy that needs to be generated and the amount of land needed for wind farms, solar power plants, hydropower, biofuels," he wrote.

In an email posted on Munasinghe's website, Philip Vergragt proposed reducing per capita living space by 25 percent. He also suggested cooking more meals at home with fresh and possibly local ingredients. Other proposals include reducing shopping for new products, reduce waste through composting, recycling, and buying less.

Jeremy Williams, a freelance writer from the UK, on his website 'Make Wealth History', suggested a reduction in air travel, eliminating food waste and creating a stable banking system.

Several websites and blogs have taken forward the idea of MCGs for the rich.

In one such comment, one Dr Kishor Mistry said he was setting some personal goals for himself. Part of his list reads, "I will not buy new cloths/shoes until my old cloths/shoes have worn out; I will use the stairs instead of the elevator; I will not buy new car/other gadget if my old car/gadget is functioning; I will not accept or give gifts to the economically well off friends/relatives, but will restrict giving it to the children and poor/needy people; I will teach my children the habits of preventing wasteful use of papers, toys, cloth, etc."

Another writer going by the initials "CH" urged people to focus on their eating habits. "I vote for a 90 percent reduction in meat and 70 percent in eggs and dairy products. Consequently, when meat eating becomes less frequent, it wouldn't matter if prices went up, so we could abolish industrial livestock farming at the same time," the writer says.

Commenting on the proposal for a shorter working week, Thomas Colley says this means individuals would have more time for voluntary missions, among other benefits.

"Time is a critical factor in enabling people to be part of transition efforts. Without such time, people are stuck in the industrial treadmill. With it, they become agents of change," he says.

The proposal for reducing meat consumption found favour with many commentators. Anders Strandberg says in addition to cutting meat consumption, the amount of recycled, reused and reduced articles should be doubled.

Comments were also made on the MDGs adopted in 2000, which are targeted for completion by 2015. The MDGs seek to reduce world poverty through eight goals that cover education, gender equality, child mortality, maternal health, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

For his part, Munasinghe is setting his own goals. "Personally I have my own carbon emission goals. I have planted a tree to reduce my carbon footprint. I have also made a conscious effort to reduce air travel and rely on video conferencing," he said.


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