Day 1, Session 1: Can the ‘green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication’ deliver?

Panel debate, followed by roundtable discussions

Soledad Ghione (Latin American Center of Social Ecology)
Veerle Vanderweed (Director of the Group of Energy and Environment, UNDP)
Victoria Johnson (Head of Energy and Climate, new economics foundation)
Tara Rao (Lead author, Danish 92 group)

Chair: Aron Belinky
(Coordinator, International Processes, Vitae Civilis)

The session focused on definitions of growth and whether the green economy was about ‘green growth’ – with the focus on efficiency rather than transformation/ dematerialisation of the economy. All panellists recognised this was a problem, and this type of ‘green economy’ could not deliver on poverty eradication or sustainable development. Instead greater emphasis must be placed on equity and a transition that is fair and just.

Key quotes from the presentations
Soledad Ghione: “In common definitions of the economy, natural resources are proposed to be used more efficiently and be incorporated in the economic accounts (interanlised), but natural resources are still presented as a new engine of growth, and the ultimate goal is still economic growth. In the context of this definition, we doubt that the green economy can deliver on sustainable development and eradication, because the right of nature is not considered. If the rights of nature were considered within the green economy, it would mean we no longer have to value nature – in terms of commodification (e.g. carbon sequestration services from forests), because it would have an instrinic value. This would mean that limits were considered to be absolute not relative, and the ultimate goal would be to maximise quality of life within this limit.”

Veerle Vandeweerd: “Sometimes I’m a bit nervous that we are going to make the same mistakes with the green economy as we did with the previous economic growth paradigm – which has been ‘focus on  growth first, then clean up the mess afterwards’…Now it looks as if we have this mantra that the green economy will solve everything. But if the green economy does not address issues of equity , is not inclusive for the poor people, does not  look at long-term sustainability, then, the green economy is going to present exactly the same problems as the current economic paradigm.”

“The green economy will not be sustainable if we do not include equity ensure that it is inclusive of the poor people. There are four elements that will ensure the green economy is pro-poor. These are:   Environmental and social safeguards and checking points should be applied to all policies and all investment decisions. We cannot afford to think about poor people after we have made a decision and then see how it should work. Historically, we know it doesn’t work this way. Second,  we need to look at sectors that deal with agriculture, forestry and fisheries as these are the sectors that the poorest are dependent on for their livelihoods. Very often, the green economy has a lot to do with technology and we forget that 3/5 of the world population depend on agriculture, forests, fisheries. Third, when we talk about the private sector, let’s talk about the local private sectors, let’s talk about the woman who lives on $1/day and if you provide her with sustainable energy it can earn her $2/day. Let’s talk about the business man who earns  $50/day and not just about the big international private sector.  Fourth and finally, the green economy will bypass some people,  so lets make sure that when we take part in the green economy, we think about the social safety net, and think about how we will transfer some of the benefits to the poorest members of society and make sure they are not the victims of the transition. Overall, we need to think a about poor people when we talk about the green economy.”

Viki Johnson: “Economic growth is currently incredibly inefficient at addressing poverty reduction. The past few decades has given us the paradox that ever smaller amounts of poverty reduction at the bottom of the global economic income pile, requires ever more consumption by the already rich and over consuming. So much so, that using the ecological footprint measure, lifting everyone in the world to an income of $3/day – this is the level the strong link between income and life expectancy starts to break down – with prevailing levels of global inequality, would require the natural resource equivalent to 15 planets like Earth. As such, we need a new economic model that is capable of delivering relatively long and happy lives for all, whilst staying within the tolerance levels of the biosphere. We need to develop national transition plans that recognise planetary boundaries and occur over timescales that are concomitant with scientific understanding of global environmental change. We need to move away from a growth perspective, purely based on GDP. Instead, we need to move towards measures of progress that tell us whether the economy is delivering relatively long and happy lives for all.”

Tara Rao: “Governments until now have used sustainable development as a reaction to the environmental problems, or as a response to the poverty problem. But we cannot afford to be so pointed about what needs to be solved. Instead we need to understand how transformation happens and how it happens for all. Equity isn’t about targeting specific people, it is about driving people en mass and creating transformation for positive change. Equity is not a correction of poverty on its own. From this perspective, the Green Economy takes on a whole different purpose. So what is the Green Economy? The definition we [Fair Green Solutions] came to is this. ‘The green economy is not a state, but a process of transformation and a constant dynamic progression. The green economy does away with the systemic distortion and the dysfunction of the current mainstream economy and results in human wellbeing and equitable access to opportunity for all people, whilst safeguarding environmental and economic integrity in order to remain within the planet’s finite carrying capacity.’ In other words, the economy cannot be green without being equitable. In order to trigger this transformation we need: Technology, capacity and finance; institutions across different levels so top-down and bottom-up initiatives meet and create action; accountability, transparency and participation; new ways of measuring progress to make sure we are on the right track.”

Can the Green Economy Deliver?

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