New index shows lower growth for major economies

Sun Jun 17, 2012 10:31am EDT
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By Nina Chestney

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Some large economies show significantly lower growth when natural assets such as forests and water are factored into growth indicators, an index showed on Sunday, a few days before an international sustainability summit starts in Rio de Janeiro.

The Inclusive Wealth Index was unveiled by the United Nations University's International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (UNU-IHDP) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Scientists and environment groups have been pressuring governments to include the value of their countries' natural resources - and use or loss of them - into future measurements of economic activity to show their true future growth prospects.

The idea of an expanded indicator known as GDP+ to include GDP and natural capital will be on the agenda of the Rio+20 summit from June 20 to June 22, when environment ministers and heads of state from around 200 countries will try to define sustainable development goals.

The index shows the "inclusive wealth" of 20 nations, taking into account manufactured, human and natural capital like forests, fisheries and fossil fuels, instead of relying only on gross domestic product (GDP) as a growth indicator.

The index assessed Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Japan, Kenya, Nigeria, Norway, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, United States, Britain and Venezuela, from 1990 to 2008.

Together, these countries accounted for almost three-quarters of global GDP over the 19-year period.

The index showed that 19 out of the 20 countries experienced a decline in natural capital. Six nations also saw a decline in their overall inclusive wealth, putting them on an unsustainable track, UNEP said.   Continued...