In search of the new utopia (in a world of multiple transitions, conflicts between their policies and current trends)

1. Current model of reference: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ‘(A2030 SD)

In September 2015, heads of state from all over the world met at the United Nations to launch a new global development strategy, the A2030 SD which still represents (with some limitations) ‘the’ theoretical development model of reference. Its objectives and recommended measures reflect increased awareness of the negative effects: (i) of environmental threats and the need for an urgent energy transition, (ii) of high inequality, (iii) of the impact on decent jobof a technology based on machine learning and’ artificial intelligence, which is increasingly skill – intensive and labor-replacing, and polarizes the labor market (iv) of the rapid population growth (in SSA and SA), of its slowdown in many OECD countries, and the migrations linked to these imbalances.

2. Macro-objectives of the A2030 SD strategy. They aim – inter alia – at: (a) the elimination of poverty and hunger, and the reduction of inequality; (b) achievement of basic quality needs for health, education, water, sanitation and clean energy; (c) access to decent work; (d) industry development, infrastructure and innovation; (e) adoption of environmentally responsible consumption and production; (f) ecological goals.

A2030 SD does NOT address the crucial question of whether, who, and to what extent the intertemporal sustainability of these objectives requires limiting growth (as discussed in the debate on ‘ de – growth ‘), or whether it is sufficient to delink (decouple) growth on the one hand, from environmental objectives, inequality, decent work, and migration on the other, for example by developing a circular economy. Instead, it seeks to establish general principles to find a difficult balance between environmental sustainability, distribution of the costs of the ecological/energy transition and the right of developing countries (DCs) to improve their standard of living to reduce poverty, hunger and inequality. For developing countries, the A2030 SD sets an annual GDP growth target of at least 7%[1]. Growth targets are not set for developed countries (PS) and emerging economies which must instead be at the forefront to reduce emissions and resource extraction and to rethink lifestyles with a high environmental impact (a high consumption of meat, massive use of packaging, consumption of unnecessary goods, food waste, car-based mobility, etc.)

3. Inconsistencies between policies in the 4 areas with SD goals, and recent unfavorable trends in the 4 areas. Tuning the A2030 SD has model certainly been useful. At least we know where the New Utopia stands. But problems have emerged since 2015, when the approach was agreed, (and even earlier):

  1. Deteriorations in recent trends in all four areas mentioned above :
  • The environmental problem has become more acute and none of the agreements to improve it (such as the Paris Agreement) seem to have reduced the problem yet,
  • The Gini of the distribution of income and wealth (which had improved between 2002-13 in Latin American and mid-SSA) has started to rise again due to the development of the technologies mentioned above and random shockssuch as financial crises and the Covid19 pandemic,
  • The spread of skill – intensive technologies and labor replacing has increased (as shown by a growing literature), while new atypical contracts have multiplied, such as ‘pirate contracts’, underpaid and without any protection, especially in the service sector,
  • The world population has already reached 8 billion and will rise to 11 by 2100, as a result of two opposing trends: (a) high growth rates in much of SSA and SA. In Niger, for example, which is affected by recurrent famines – this rate has risen over the past 15 years, with penalizing effects on the environment, resources and growth. In the OECD countries, on the other hand, there has been a further decrease,

Between 2000 and 2019, the stock of migrants rose from 175 to 272 million, corresponding to 3.3% of the world population, higher than the 2% recorded during the Great Migration of 1870-1914. Various projections (e.g. from the UN and INSEE) indicate that these trends will continue for years to come.

  • Recent analyzes show that the measures recommended by the A2003 SD for the 4 main objectives are sometimes at odds with each other, or with the objectives of the strategy.


  • The de – growth in development countries and emerging economies proposed to reduce the environmental impact would cause a drop in growth in developing countries (see below the strong correlation between the two) and in their ability to eliminate poverty, hunger, and improve income distribution.

Solutions? Accelerate the energy transition via the market (which will cause more inflation)? A (costly) decoupling between growth and environmental damage in rich countries? Or a decoupling between growth in the North and South? The latter solution would imply a difficult downsizing of North-Soutgh transactions, starting with international trade.

  • The necessary energy transition is too slow and risks undermining post -Covid growth
  • Without changes in technology and regulatory trends for the low sector skilled , the goal of ‘decent jobs’ for all cannot be achieved and income distribution will worsen. Solutions? Rediscovering the ‘appropriate technologies? as discussed at the IEA conference on 2/2/2022 with Rodrik, Stewart and Acemoglou? Adopt the former Swedish dual model where taxing the high-tech sector subsidizes the low – tech sector?  
  • If left unchecked, the current trends in denatality in developed countries will jeopardize the sustainability of pensions, health care and private spending on carers. Solutions? `Replacement migration’ is not considered viable in the long run. At least for France, it seems that beyond the threshold of 30% of the total pop, the share of immigrants (and their direct descendants) could become a source of problems.
  • In developing countries, the high birth rate would slow down the already precarious environmental balance, excessive extraction of resources, 7% growth, distribution and ‘decent jobs’, especially in SSA-SA. Solutions? Non-coercive population planning policies already implemented in Rwanda , Ethiopia , Bangladesh?
  • A further increase (already underway) in inequality will slow long-term growth in developing countries, developed countries and emerging economies, and the availability of public resources for the energy transition. Solutions? Social democratic measures (applied in Latin America between 2002-13)? Or more radical?
  • There are still other examples that we do not mention here …. .

4. Papers submitted to the September Conference. In addition to those illustrated above, there are other examples of conflicts between sectoral measures proposed by the A2030 SD, and between ongoing trends and its objectives – which risk derailing their achievement.

In this world of multiple transitions and random shocks, papers could be invited to the conference that illustrate general development themes or place special emphasis on the discrepancies (and the related solutions proposed) between: (a) the policies proposed by the A2030 SD (in the technological, distribution, energy / environmental fields , population / migration), (b) with current trends, and (c) with the steady state growth targets of developing countries.

The theme of the conference is therefore deliberately broad-spectrum (albeit with a clear leit-motiv ).

[1] This is in line with the findings of a recent study showing that, even assuming favorable trends for inequality, population growth and food prices, 16 of the 78 developing countries would not have been able to eradicate poverty in 2030 in the absence of a increase in the growth rate of GDP / c . See: Cornia, GA (2019), ‘ Eradicating Poverty by the Year 2030: implications for Income Inequality , Population Policies , Food Prices (and Faster Growth ?) ‘, Journal of Globalization and Development , vol. 9 (2).