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13 July 2023

The New Frontiers Dialogues are a series of three regional dialogues led by UNITAR in collaboration with Professor Robert Costanza that took place between 20 June and 10 July across different regions for discussing the challenges that a crisis-driven world presents to advancing a fair and green economic transformation, as well as identifying policy levers. The dialogues involved the PAGE community, funding partners, government representatives, Resident Coordinators and RCO Economists.

The objectives of the Dialogues were threefold: they aimed to inform policy discussions in PAGE partner countries, use the opportunity to advise PAGE on global programming and priorities for the coming years, particularly in response to multiple crises, and contribute to relevant international debates at regional and global levels.

Themes such as building resilience to shocks, driving circularity and technological innovation through targeted policy, deepening collaboration with international finance institutions and reinforcing the energy transition were identified as key levers.

The New Frontiers Dialogues followed a dialectic style, kickstarted by a keynote speaker, a senior economist engaged with UNITAR, and a challenging “inconvenient note” serving to present unorthodox or unpopular perspectives, making the case for policies or strategies that are allegedly better suited to achieve the 2030 Agenda and Paris climate goals. This was aimed at encouraging participants to reflect on why progress is so slow despite the apparent consensus on the need for rapid system change.

The New Frontiers Dialogues finished on the 10th of July and were largely successful thanks to Professor Robert Costanza, Professor of Ecological Economics at the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London (UCL). Professor Costanza is regarded as the founding father of the discipline of ecological economics. His transdisciplinary research integrates the study of humans and the rest of nature to address research, policy and management issues at multiple time and space scales. 

We need to shift our societal goals to a broader conception of sustainable wellbeing in order to finally overcome our current addiction to fossil fuels and GDP growth that benefits only the top 0.1 per cent. If we can do that, we can create the kind of world we all want to leave to coming generations—a world that is killer smog and smoke free, sustainable, equitable, and prosperous. We have used environmental crises before to learn and make major changes and it can and will happen again.

Robert Costanza
Robert Costanza (2020). "From smog to smoke to sustainable wellbeing". Asia & The Pacific Policy Society.

Root Causes 

It was evident from all three dialogues that the root cause that prevents greening of our economies is the current development paradigm that overemphasizes GDP growth while ignoring the broader contributors to sustainable wellbeing. GDP is still the major policy objective in countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean. However, this is changing, partly driven by the need to achieve all 17 SDGs in a coordinated way. In fact, it must be recognized that GDP growth (goal 8) can contribute to the other goals in both positive and negative ways. 


Of particular concern in the Dialogues were the trade-offs between short-term needs and long-term objectives. The debt crisis, recovery from the Covid pandemic, growing inequality, and rapidly expanding climate and other environmental crises imply that dealing with long-term goals, including the SDGs, is difficult to impossible, the Dialogues found. The fossil fuel, pharmaceutical, industrial agriculture, and defense sectors are a major part of the current economic system that must be redirected toward achieving the SDGs.


Political Economy

The participants discussed that the green transition will thus have to deal with winners and losers, in particular certain sectors in the economy with the most to lose. For example, the transition requires a rapid shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy. Many governments are still interested in revenues from fossil fuel extraction and the political advantages from this industry, and thus concerted political action will be necessary to move forward in this sector and others. 



A key conclusion from the three regional Dialogues was that society must move beyond incrementalism to transformative solutions. It was noted that this will require redefining development and progress to include a more comprehensive notion of sustainable wellbeing. To overcome the policial ailments that slow down the green transition, it was discussed that a civil society movement aimed at achieving the SDGs and sustainable wellbeing more broadly is important. Notably, participants raised that this movement must be large and coherent enough to change the political dynamic and empower decision makers who can make the difficult, transformative changes necessary. 


A Move in the Right Direction

Rather hopefully, there is already significant movement in this direction. For instance, the Wellbeing Economy Alliance is an attempt to bring together all of the various groups and movements around sustainable wellbeing. There is also the Wellbeing Economy Governments initiative, including Scotland, New Zealand, Iceland, Finland, Wales, and Canada, who have committed to sustainable wellbeing as their primary policy goal. Finally, the younger generation is vigilant of the consequences if things do not change towards a green transition. With increasing knowledge and education about the topics, they will increasingly support more transformative solutions and the political changes needed to achieve them.



Achieving the 2030 Agenda requires a new type of economic transformation, one that is inclusive, resilient and job-intensive that leaves no one behind.Many participants emphasized the utility of such an open discussion space enabling critical reflections on big picture issues like the triple planetary crisis or the threat of a prolonged stagflation.

The New Frontiers Dialogues was a step towards facilitating discussions regarding the strategies that are best for tackling the triple planetary crisis and why global climate action has been slow. The open discussion among the ‘PAGE Family’ featured a series of virtual dialogues across Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean whose insights and conclusions will inform PAGE’s strategy and programming for the next years.


The Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) has grown into a prominent alliance of five UN agencies, funding partners, and 22 partner countries that work together to transform economies into drivers of sustainability by supporting nations and regions in reframing economic policies and practices around sustainability.

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