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What do we mean by Green Economy?

Opinion article by IPC-IG’s Leisa Perch publiched by Valor Econômico newspaper in Brazil.

The twentieth anniversary of the Rio Convention and Agenda 21 is upon us.  Twenty years ago, that global commitment signaled a fundamental change in development.  An honest assessment suggests that while advances have been made and innovations have occurred, we have often failed to consolidate these into new macro-policy frameworks which fundamentally represent a shift from business as usual. Years later, environmental damage of USD 6.6. trillion was estimated for 2008 alone (UNEP, 2010)  and a report by the International Energy Agency suggests that energy-related CO2 emissions in 2010 were the highest ever recorded[1]. Rio +20 cannot be ‘business as usual’;  there is a credibility gap which all countries must collectively own and take ownership of, despite differentiated responsibilities and capacities.

This meeting provides us with an opportunity to: (i) sustain the focus on people-centred development and to build on last year’s MDG Summit; (ii) undertake a critical review of what has worked and the cause of our failures; and (iii) bring inclusion and inclusiveness more centrally into the discussions. It is for this reason that the focus on institutional frameworks is as important as the green economy itself. Without strong and effective governance mechanisms, including formal and informal mechanisms for negotiating across competing needs and interests, much of the efforts to “go green” will likely follow-up the path of previous efforts. Research has shown that one clear weakness in development practice has been the failure to appropriately integrate social dimensions into natural resource management[2].

Often treated as important but not priority or strategic entry points, poverty and inequality reduction must now move squarely to the centre of the agenda. We have often failed to appreciate the way in which poverty forces the poor to rely exclusively on environmental resources for livelihoods and survival or how engines of growth are reliant on the quality and quantity of natural resources. 96% of Sub-Saharan Africa’s population is dependent on rain-fed agriculture.  At present, more than a billion persons still live on less than USD 1.25 a day, more than 2.6 billion lack access to safe and hygienic sanitation facilities (of these  more than 300 million are Africans (Osman-Elasha,2009) and women in Africa spend 4 billion hours collecting water annually (ActionAid, 2009).  In Sub-Saharan Africa alone about 140 million people live with the constant threat of droughts or floods (Pierro and Desai, 2008: 123).

What then does this actually mean for moving towards a green economy?

1. We do no further harm to those already impoverished and suffering from many shocks not of their own making. We must bear in mind that the needs of persons with disabilities, persons living with HIV/AIDS and indigenous peoples are distinctive from other groups.  The progress made on universal access to treatment must be complemented by secure, safe and consistent access to nutrition and shelter for PLHIV/PLWHA.

2. Women’s economic security needs to be given serious attention as it tends to impact directly on the health and development of their children and the household at large. This means also creating a dynamic, growing and sustainable rural development process, alleviating the need for many to move to cities for work and income, in many cases men, leaving families behind and wives to cope with additional burdens in keeping the family going. In Botijlaca, a rural community in Bolivia, male out-migration due to declining productivity which has accompanied the rapid melting of glaciers, has left women largely responsible for: the family’s day-to-day survival, maintaining some level of production to meet immediate food needs and keeping the community together[3]. In addition, Women’s Green Business (see UNDP Women’s Green Business Initiative and the Global Compact Principles) needs to be promoted, supported and sustained.

3. Expanded and accelerated support to small-scale technologies and innovations in these are needed. This will allow for more rapid transition by small farmers and small and micro-business in playing their role in green development, green commerce and green production. Arable land per head is smallest in Africa, often 50% or more of that in other regions. Small farming dominates the African agricultural landscape, contributing significantly to rural income.

4. That the market integrates more ethical principles including those of social responsibility.  There has been some movement in Brazil on the Solidarity Economy and in other countries a number of pacts exist between government, the private sector, labour and civil society.  For all to play their part effectively and in sync, a common vision and common principles are needed. Institutional mechanisms can support and facilitate visioning, the development of mutually-agreed principles and also hold partners accountable.

5. On employment, work must not only be “green” in terms of “cleaner”, it must also be decent, fairly paid, safe and enabling.  82 % of disabled people live below the poverty line (UN)[4] in developing countries; their employment needs require specific attention in a greening economy.

Development as a whole, going forward, must (i) mitigate the worst impacts of environmental change, in whatever form it takes, including climate change; (ii) safeguard the social and economic progress achieved, including the sharing of the risks and benefits of development actions, avoiding both “free riding” and “overburdening of the poor”; and (iii) ensure the compatibility of development actions at various levels. Failing to do so increases the likelihood of a temporary and transitory achievement of “green” with little hope for sustained progress.

A successful Rio +20 requires that civil society, government and private sector in all countries recognize their common interests, identify their comparative advantages and skills and work in harmony. No one sector has all the answers. Such efforts at the national level must also be accompanied by similar efforts at the international level. The challenge for Rio +20 is to define at least some initial answers to some of these very fundamental questions.

Leisa Perch is Policy Specialist and Team Leader – Rural and Sustainable Development, International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth (IPC-IG/UNDP)

[1] http://www.iea.org/index_info.asp?id=1959

[2] http://www.ipc-undp.org/pub/IPCOnePager126.pdf/

[3] UNFPA (2009). ‘State of World Population, 2009. Facing a Changing World: Women, Population, and Climate’, UNFPA website, <http://www.unfpa.org/swp/2009/en/pdf/EN_SOWP09.pdf>

[4] http://www.fidida.fi/english/MDG/

Interested in this subject? Refer to the following IPC-IG publications and articles for new ideas:

Green Equity: Environmental Justice for more Inclusive Growth

Understanding the Socio-Environmental Policy Space

Dimensions of Inclusive Development

Benefits Sharing: Blending Climate Change and Development in National Policy Efforts

Mitigation of What and by What? Adaptation by Whom and for Whom? Dilemmas in Delivering for the Poor and the Vulnerable in International Climate Policy

Inclusive and Sustainable Development: For Whom?


This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil)

Short URL: http://pressroom.ipc-undp.org/?p=5949

Posted by on Jun 14 2012. Filed under Featured News, IPC in the media, News, Thematic Areas. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “What do we mean by Green Economy?”

  1. Awesome post. I would love to see struggling economies and countries move toward a successful, green future.

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