Healthier Future For Humans, Economy And The Planet: Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions And Mitigate Climate Change Through A Metabolic Approach

UNDP's metabolic analysis strengthens Lao PDR's 9th five-year NSEDP for 2021-2025 prioritizing transition to a circular economy. 

December 21, 2021

Can you remember your last visit to a medical clinic for a checkup? What advice did you receive from the doctor? 

Was it to eat healthy and nutritious food? Reduce intake of sugar and salt? Exercise more to avoid heart disease? Drink less or maybe shun alcohol altogether? Boost your metabolism?

What is metabolism? 

It is our metabolism which keeps us alive by converting everything we eat into valuable building blocks and energy. Economies work very much in a similar manner. They extract and import, convert and consume, excrete and export. Analysing an economy as a metabolism can tell us a lot about its health.  Better understanding through data-based analysis of our metabolic intake and outputs can help us to understand the impacts of the variables such as diet, exercise, and environmental stresses on the human body associated with lifestyle. 

Similarly, the health of the environment and planet impact the past, present, and future of every nation, community, household and individual. The natural and social sciences history tells us that unsustainable economics and resource overconsumption can put an entire civilization at severe risk. Risks are experienced by all and particularly the most marginalized in urban and rural areas. Finding and maintaining a balance in development is critical.

Likewise, the sustainability of local and national socio-economic development strategies remain closely linked to our local environments' health and well-being and the ecosystems that sustain life and provide critical ecosystem services.

If our Earth is a body, how healthy is the diet for our people and planet?

Unfortunately, not healthy enough. A planetary emergency and a global pandemic, depletion of natural resources and widened poverty and inequality mean our planet is not nearly as healthy as it could or should be. Changes to production and consumption patterns are inevitable to avoid disastrous impacts.

Fortunately, there are tools available to understand better the challenges of human beings, communities, societies, and economies alike. How? By applying a metabolic approach. 

In economic terms, smarter production and consumption can build stronger and more stable households and communities, spur sustainable development from the local and grassroots to the domestic and international level and help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions toward a more prosperous and peaceful future worldwide.

Much of this balancing requires "closing the loop" to create a circular and sustainable economy.

Metabolic analysis to understand a circular and sustainable future 

A metabolic analysis is a cornerstone in identifying circular economy opportunities with a high mitigation potential. This is a 'whole-of-society', integrated approach that strengthens national environmental systems and triggers investments into transformative climate actions.   Policymakers, administrators and public and private sector leaders build on the insights from the metabolic analysis and be equipped with the knowledge to take sustainable actions while considering the landscape of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in a rapidly evolving natural environment.

How Does it Work?

In the case of Lao PDR, mapping the flows and stocks of the national economy, the metabolic analysis looks at the performance of the overall national economic system and "the development of an integrated development perspective that includes all levels and sectors".

This requires data on resource use and assets to determine how they work together to respond to individuals' needs.  Data visualization assists policy makers to develop a consensus on the current situation and, based on that consensus, determine the most promising circular economy opportunities in coordination with private sector. 

UNDP's "Circular GHG mitigation opportunities Lao PDR: A metabolic approach"

By moving towards a circular economy, Lao PDR is pursuing both the objective of reducing global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while securing the growth which allows the country to build up its material' stock' of produced goods to meet societal needs, such as shelter, nutrition, mobility, healthcare and education. 

In Lao PDR's population of some 7.17 million, about 65 per cent of the people live in rural areas, and 70 per cent of the population are working in the agriculture sector. 

Women play an essential role in agricultural production, managing almost 70 per cent of farms. By reducing natural resource exploitation, circular economy seeks to safeguard the proper use of human resources, in which gender considerations play an important role.  Evidence indicates that improving gender equality and women's participation in the economy drive economic growth.

Identified in the report as the most effective circular mitigation opportunities in Lao PDR are to: 

  • Reduce food losses,  

  • Expand climate-smart agriculture 

  • Improve livestock productivity, 

  • Produce biogas and organic fertilizer, 

  • Support agroforestry,  

  • Prioritize regenerative construction materials 

  • Implement industrial symbiosis and remanufacturing  

  • Recycle construction waste 

  • Promote active, shared and public transport 

  • Electrify transport 

  • Recycle municipal solid waste 

For a healthy nation and healthy families alike, the understanding of our nation’s metabolism is the catalyst to help leaders, policymakers, and administrators plan for and strategize necessary changes. 

To access UNDP's "Circular GHG mitigation opportunities Lao PDR: A Metabolic Approach" which summarizes the critical needs and strategies towards a sustainable future, click here.

The report has been funded by the German Federal Ministry for Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety (BMU), the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the European Union (EU) and the Government of Spain through the NDC Support Programme.


Contact details to get in touch with UNDP or Project Team 

Aksonethip SOMVORACHIT, UNDP Communications Analyst