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April 21, 2020

Amsterdam takes the first bite

One of the more welcome byproducts of the lockdown has been its impact on pollution levels – a glimpse perhaps of what life could be like. A few years ago, Kate Raworth published some work on what she called Doughnut Economics which was essentially an attempt to demonstrate how the needs of everyone could be met within the finite resources of the planet. It drew a lot of interest at the time but the challenge was always to demonstrate how the theory might be converted into practice. Looks like Amsterdam is about to take the plunge.

Kate Raworth

The Amsterdam City Doughnut

The Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries envisions a world in which people and planet can thrive in balance – in other words, it offers a compass for guiding 21st century prosperity.

The Doughnut’s social foundation, which is derived from the social priorities in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, sets out the minimum standard of living to which every human being has a claim.  No one should be left in the hole in the middle of the Doughnut, falling short on the essentials of life, ranging from food and water to gender equality and having political voice.

The Doughnut’s ecological ceiling comprises nine planetary boundaries, drawn up by Earth-system scientists in order to identify Earth’s critical life-supporting systems and the global limits of pressure that they can endure. Humanity must live within these ecological boundaries if we are to preserve a stable climate, fertile soils, healthy oceans, a protective ozone layer, ample freshwater and abundant biodiversity on Earth.

Between the social foundation and the ecological ceiling lies a doughnut-shaped space in which it is possible to meet the needs of all people within the means of the living planet – an ecologically safe and socially just space in which humanity can thrive.

If humanity’s goal is to get into the Doughnut, the challenge is that we are currently far from doing so, as shown below. Worldwide, billions of people still cannot meet their most essential needs, yet humanity is collectively overshooting at least four planetary boundaries, and is driving towards climate breakdown and ecological collapse. The red wedges below the social foundation show the proportion of people worldwide currently falling short on life’s essentials. The wedges radiating beyond the ecological ceiling show the current overshoot of planetary boundaries

The challenge of our times is that we must move within the Doughnut’s boundaries from both sides simultaneously, in ways that promote the wellbeing of all people and the health of the whole planet. Achieving this globally calls for action on many levels, including in cities, which are proving to be leaders of driving such change. The Thriving City Portrait aims to amplify that potential.

The Amsterdam City Doughnut