Deben's redefinition of economic growth

| 13th May 2020
A bluetit sits on a branch with a seed in its mouth

Biodiversity and health should be measured alongside material wealth
The success of a society should not be measured just in terms of material wealth, according to climate advisor Lord Deben.

The measurement of the success of a society is not just the sort of growth we've been talking about.

The definition of economic growth needs to include the improvement of human health, biodiversity and the environment, according to the government’s climate change advisor.

Lord Deben, chair of the Committee on Climate Change, made the comment during a virtual debate on whether the economy should still focus on growth after the Covid-19 crisis hosted by campaign group Positive Money.

He was responding to the group’s call for the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to abandon the publication of statistics on gross domestic product (GDP), and instead place more emphasis on other social and environmental indicators to help save lives and the environment.


Deben said that the ONS should still publish GDP data, because otherwise there would be a lack of transparency and that would divide people, he said. Some would believe that a society without growth was “sterile and stationary”, but that was not the case, he said.

While the definition of growth should include the ability to create material wealth, which is needed to achieve other things, it must also include the improvement of health, biodiversity and the environment, Deben said.

“The measurement of the success of a society is not just the sort of growth we've been talking about,” he said.


In a survey of over 2,000 British people, Positive Money found that more than eight in ten thought that health and wellbeing should be prioritised over GDP during the Covid-19 crisis; while six in ten believe that social and environmental outcomes should be prioritised over GDP when it is over.

The polling comes ahead of the ONS publication of its first estimate of GDP growth from January to the end of March, which is expected to show the dramatic impact of the pandemic on the UK’s economy.

Fran Boait, executive director of Positive Money, said: “With the coronavirus crisis hitting after a decade of anaemic economic growth, we are heading towards a ‘post-growth’ economy whether we like it or not.”

Society had a choice of whether this will mean mass unemployment, deepening inequality and lower quality of life, or whether people are able to live longer, happier lives while avoiding catastrophic climate collapse, she said.

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Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She can be found tweeting at @Cat_Early76.

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