Poorer without It? The Neglected Role of the Natural Environment in Poverty and Wellbeing

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Schaafsma, M 
Burgess, N 
Danks, F 

The relationship between sustainable development’s prime goal, human wellbeing, and the natural environment has been narrowly conceived. This paper focuses on the possibility and the implications of treating the natural environment as a ‘constituent’, or internal element, of the concepts of wellbeing and poverty, as opposed to a ‘determinant’, or instrumental, external factor. Our review of philosophical accounts and conceptual frameworks of wellbeing and poverty suggests that treating the environment as a constituent element is philosophically sound, conceptually robust and empirically grounded. We argue that failing to consider these missing environmental aspects can result in an incomplete capturing of the multiple dimensions of wellbeing and poverty, and their underlying drivers. This broader framing of the environment– wellbeing relationship has the potential to inform a new generation of individual level wellbeing and poverty indicators, creating measures of multidimensional poverty that reflect the broadened scope ambitiously articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals.

sustainable development, natural environment, multidimensional poverty, human wellbeing, ecosystem services, nature
Journal Title
Sustainable Development
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NERC (via United Nations Environment Programme's World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC)) (NE/M00760X/1 2198/CAMBRIDGE/15)
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/P003583/1)
Natural Environment Research Council (NE/M00760X/1)
This work, ‘Ecosystem services as a missing dimension of poverty’ (NE/M00760X/1), was funded with support from the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme. The ESPA programme is funded by the Department for International Development (DFID), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).