We CAN create a world in which more than 9 billion people live well, by 2050

Published: 1 Jun 2021
Author: Filippo Veglio
Type: Insight

Filippo Veglio is Managing Director of the People & Society Program at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD)

We recently launched Vision 2050: Time to Transform. It’s a comprehensive framework for business action in line with the urgency of the challenges we face: the climate emergency; nature in crisis; mounting inequality. We want it to inspire companies to seize the opportunities that transformation holds, but also to be realistic about what it will take to drive change at the scale and rate required.

This blog is the first of many that WBCSD will be sharing this year, exploring Vision 2050 in more detail. We’re starting with what it means to live well, within planetary boundaries.

One of the things Vision 2050 provides companies with is a common understanding of what a sustainable future will look and feel like in practice. Drawing from the latest science, a broad range of expert inputs, and close consultation of intergovernmental instruments and frameworks, we have laid out a tangible picture of the world that we can and need to create, where 9+ billion people live well, within planetary boundaries. A future that isn’t just possible, but necessary.

“Living well” means a world in which everyone’s dignity and rights are respected, basic needs are met, and equal opportunities are available for all. Living “within planetary boundaries” means that global warming is stabilized at no more than +1.5°C, and nature is protected, restored and used sustainably. It also means that societies have developed sufficient adaptive capacity to build and maintain resilience in a healthy and regenerative Earth system. And together, these are the conditions that future business success and long-term prosperity will rely on.

As head of WBCSD’s work on People & Society, I’m particularly excited about the human focus that Vision 2050 provides, in particular through its definition of what it means to live well. Vision 2050 lays out, in detail, five fundamental foundations for living well that we need to realize. Here’s a brief overview:

People are free and equal in dignity and rights

All human rights are fully recognized and embedded in societies globally. The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights are upheld with all states and businesses fulfilling their respective duties and responsibilities.

There is health and happiness for all

Communities all over the world enjoy universal access to nutritious food, water, sanitation, reliable energy, safe and resilient living spaces, quality education, healthcare and social protection. Individuals everywhere are able to live healthy, happy and self-determined lives.

Communities are thriving and connected

Both urban and rural communities flourish. These communities are connected to each other and to essential goods and services by affordable mobility solutions and universally accessible digital and communication technologies. 

No one is left behind

People are not discriminated against, and everyone has equal opportunities to advance their needs and interests. The gap between rich and poor has been significantly reduced and, poverty is ended in all its forms everywhere.

People have access to a world of opportunities and aspirations

All people have access to decent and meaningful work that sustains them and their families. Work and living wages provide people globally with financial security, a sense of self-worth, and the opportunity for personal and professional self-advancement. 

It is true that a great deal of progress has be made when it comes to human rights, poverty reduction, and access to healthcare and nutrition, and business has played a key role in bringing about these gains. Its products, services and jobs support people’s ability to sustain themselves and their families. Business activity has significantly contributed to innovation, wealth creation, and rising living standards, all around the world.

But an enormous number of people have yet to benefit from the explosion of wealth that we have seen over the last 70 years. More than 700 million people are still living in extreme poverty, over 800 million people are undernourished and there are more that 150 million cases of child labor globally. The COVID-19 pandemic looks set to push more than 100 million people back into poverty and has revealed the reality of widening inequality in society. In recent decades we have seen wealth being distributed increasingly unevenly, with real middle incomes stagnant and the top 1% of earners capturing nearly 30% of all income growth since 1980. More and more people are being left behind.

The narrow focus of our current model of capitalism has encouraged business practices that have widened social and economic gaps.  Especially in more developed economies, we are seeing increasingly wide swaths of people that are dissatisfied with their circumstances and pessimistic about their futures. Social cohesion is breaking down, trust in key institutions is eroding, and protest movements are gaining strength, even becoming violent in some cases.

None of this is good for long-term business success. Inequality is a great source of risk and missed opportunity: limiting productivity and innovation, constraining consumer spending and growth, destabilizing supply chains, breeding political instability, and jeopardizing license to operate. Inequality also acts as a threat multiplier, making other problems worse, something we have witnessed all too clearly as the COVID-19 pandemic has both fed on and fuelled inequality globally. 

Business has an essential role to play in reducing inequality and in generating shared prosperity that can be enjoyed by all. Structural inequality is not a fact of nature but the product of our systems and practices – it is driven by persistent income polarization and wage stagnation; the rising costs of essential services such as housing, healthcare, and education; work fragility; persistent gender and race gaps; failing safety nets; and skewed tax systems.

Business can drive change in every one of these areas and WBCSD will be working with its members to significantly increase action on inequality. We have also just launched a new project to advance global health and wellbeingHealthy People, Healthy Business – which will focus on the role that business can play in supporting universal access to the highest possible standards of physical health and mental wellbeing, and the ways that health is deeply connected to issues including equity and the climate crisis.

These are just two angles through which we aim to contribute to the vision – other themes we tackle collaboratively include skills strategies for the new world of work; putting people first when it comes to the impact of technology on how work is carried out by direct employees, contract and temporary workers, and workers throughout the supply chain; advancing human rights policy and practice in the agribusiness sector; and zooming in on sector-specific contributions to people and communities.

Please get in touch if you are interested in hearing more about Vision 2050: Time to Transform and feel free to access all assets we have developed to support businesses in moving from vision to action. 

We can create a world in which more than 9 billion people live well. But the decade ahead is critical, and every day counts! Join us and our members in accelerating the transformations required.


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