2. Principles for the realization of sustainable development

Working at the World Bank and for the Government of Sri Lanka

The turning point for Mohan was joining the World Bank. When he was studying economics at Concordia University while working at the IIQE, Professor Inagaki passed him a recruitment advertisement for the Young Professionals Program at the World Bank. Mohan applied for the job and passed its rigorous selection process. In 1975, he headed to Washington D.C. where the World Bank is headquartered. He opened up a career path to contribute to the developing world, instead of pursuing a career in engineering or physics.

When Mohan consulted his great mentor in physics, Dr. Abdus Salam , Dr. Salam said, "What a loss to physics!" Prof. Munasinghe says that it was one of the greatest intellectual compliments that he has ever received.

1977, 31 years

1977, 31 years. with Parents & 3 sisters.

1979, age 34

1979, age 34. Family portrait

In 1980, five years after he joined the World Bank, Prof. Munasinghe received an unexpected offer. Sri Lankan President J. R. Jayewardene requested him to become his senior energy advisor. Working in a senior policy-making position in his home country was a great honor for Prof. Munasinghe, who was just about to turn 35 years old.

1983, Age 37

1983, Age 37. A photo with Sri Lanka President Jayewardene

For five years from 1982 to 1987, he took a leave of absence without pay from the World Bank to work for President Jayewardene without remuneration. This experience cemented his desire to pursue a career in energy, development and poverty alleviation. His efforts for the government were highly acknowledged, and he was asked by the President if he would be interested in a political career. Prof. Munasinghe replied that although he was honored by the offer, he felt that he would be more effective in a behind-the-scenes policy advisory and implementation role. With that thought, he returned to the World Bank in 1988.

1984, age 37

1984, age 37. Autographed photo with UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher

1986, age 41

1986, age 41. with wife

After returning to the World Bank in 1988, Prof. Munasinghe became increasingly interested in the environment and climate change. In 1990, he was appointed Chief of Environmental Policy at the World Bank and began working with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He made significant contributions to the IPCC, by integrating more economic and social insights into the analyses, and facilitating greater involvement of developing countries' experts in IPCC work. From the early 1990s, he led IPCC efforts to integrate sustainable development and climate change issues.
In 1992, at the United Nations Rio Earth Summit, Prof. Munasinghe made a globally significant proposal.

The background of Sustainomics

At the Summit, Prof. Munasinghe proposed his novel Sustainomics framework designed to make development more sustainable. He was led to Sustainomics, by the contradictions in the global nexus of resource limits-inequality-poverty.

(1) Expanding humanity's ecological footprint

Given that one Earth is the amount of natural resources that are renewable every year, we are already overusing planetary natural resources equivalent to 1.7 Earths, and by the year 2030, we will need the equivalent of two planets to sustain our current way of life.

(2) Excessive consumption by the richest 20% of the world's population

It is the richest 20% of the world's population who consume more than 85% of planetary resources, which is 70 times more than the consumption of the poorest 20%.

The chart below shows this unfair situation, which Prof. Munasinghe calls a champagne glass because of its shape. Since rich people consume too many resources, there are no resources left to help the poor.

a champagne glass

(3) No progress for almost 75 years

"We have not been able to eradicate poverty. Since the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was endorsed by all countries in 1948, many promises have not been kept.
Today, we have the sustainable development goals (SDGs), but all 17 of these goals were already contained in the original UDHR", said Prof. Munasinghe. We have not been able to make any real progress for almost 75 years.

Prof. Munasinghe saw the urgent need to overcome this impasse, and proposed Sustainomics as a potential solution for the issue.

Four key principles of Sustainomics

Then, how can we overcome issues and make development sustainable using the concept of Sustainomics? Prof. Munasinghe says that there are four key principles of Sustainomics.

(1) Sustainable development triangle (Harmonizing economy, environment, and society)

The chart below shows the sustainable development triangle, which includes three key dimensions: economic, environmental, and social. It is essential to consider these three dimensions to make development sustainable. For example, economic prosperity is necessary to help billions of poor people. However, it is equally important to protect nature (including the climate) because economic growth alone is unacceptable if it destroys the environment. We also need an inclusive social framework to reduce poverty and inequality. So the first principle involves balancing and integrating these three different goals.

sustainable development triangle

(2) Empowering individuals to be proactive

The second principle is to make development more sustainable by empowering individuals to be proactive, without waiting for leaders to tell them what to do. We know what we have to do, like climbing a mountain, one step at a time. We can turn off unneeded lights, water taps that are running, and can plant trees. We can do many things to improve sustainability -- in our schools, companies, towns, and country.

(3) Going beyond the barriers in our own minds

The third principle is to break down and transcend the barriers in our own minds.
The first barrier includes unsustainable values, like selfishness, corruption and violence which we all have within ourselves. It is important to overcome such obstacles and to adopt ethical values.
The second barrier blocks stakeholder cooperation. In order to achieve a common goal, we need to work together, in particular, civil society and business must help government.
The third barrier is spatial. We need to think of our city, country and whole world, not just giving attention to our homes or neighborhoods.
The last mental barrier is time. We usually think about today, tomorrow, or maybe next month, but we need to consider the next year, next decade, and even 100 years ahead.

(4) Implementing solutions

The last principle is simple – implementing, by moving beyond debates, and taking action. Prof. Munasinghe says, "Discussion is not enough." Implementing solutions is the last step to solving problems.

3. Different pathways for rich countries
and poor countries to take


Prof. Mohan Munasinghe