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Abstract

Genuine savings is a conceptually valid one-sided indicator as to whether Australia is on a weak sustainability path (negative GS would warn that current welfare is unsustainable). The World Bank’s adjusted net savings (ANS) data summarise the available evidence, and by this indicator Australia is muddling along, at best. ANS misses some important pieces of the picture – net depletion of water, soil and biodiversity, and most kinds of pollution damage – and thus overstates Australia’s genuine savings performance. Weak sustainability can be promoted by getting the prices right, and piecemeal efforts are underway via regulatory approaches and resource/ environmental markets of various kinds. Nevertheless, particular resource problems – habitat conservation, biodiversity, climate change and dryland salinity – are likely to also require strong sustainability approaches. A sustainable future involves pushing weak sustainability as far as the body politic permits, invoking precautionary instruments for specific resource crises, and nurturing policy processes that encourage the consensus-building that will be necessary to get it done.

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