Meeting needs within limits

The ecological case for universal basic services

Universal basic services (UBS) aims for universal access to life’s essentials within planetary boundaries. Ecological sustainability is built into its purpose and design. It is not a social add-on’, but indispensable for achieving environmental goals. This briefing summarises its proposals, then details how it can play a key role in protecting nature and reaching net zero.

What UBS proposes

The first job of a good government is to meet people’s needs universally and sufficiently. Some needs can be met through markets, but all require collective measures: public services, investment of public funds, and regulation in the public interest. The term UBS is shorthand for this combination of measures.

UBS seeks to improve services that already exist, such as healthcare and schools, and to extend collective measures to areas where basic needs are not adequately met – including housing, domestic energy, childcare, adult social care, transport and digital access.

As different needs are bound to be met in different ways, UBS offers a principled framework to guide policy and practice in every case. Key features are a universal right to life’s essentials, built-in sustainability, devolved powers, a mixed economy of providers bound by public interest obligations, and fair pay and conditions for service workers.

Why UBS matters for environmentalists

UBS is grounded in the vision of a safe and just space for humanity’. It seeks to realise the vision by cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and safeguarding ecological limits, and promoting greater equality and by establishing secure social foundations for all. It resonates strongly with UN Sustainable Development Goals and findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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