Published Date: May 27, 2012
EARTHLY MATTERS: THE GREEN ECONOMY FACTOR
It has been 20 years since the landmark Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro — two decades since the world leaders came together to sign the UN conventions on climate change and biological diversity and announce the ambitious Agenda 21 to save humanity. In the Rio declaration it was stated: “Humanity stands at a defining moment in history. We are confronted with a perpetuation of disparities between and within nations, a worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which we depend for our wellbeing. However, integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future. No nation can achieve this on its own, but together we can — in a global partnership for sustainable development”.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and many other organisations including Leadership in Environment and Development (LEAD) and the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in Islamabad were conceptualised in Rio.
Twenty years on, it appears that the world has failed to deliver on the promise of sustainable development — we are today faced by multiple crises, including climate change, rising food prices, increasing poverty, water scarcity, energy insecurity and decreasing biodiversity. So what happened? Where did we go wrong and more importantly, how can we change our course?
These questions will be answered at the Rio +20 conference to be held in June this year once again in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.
One of the themes of this year’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development is the green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. To discuss what Pakistan can contribute to the global discussion on this theme and what can be done for the green economy in Pakistan, a national consultation was held last week in Islamabad, organised jointly by LEAD-Pakistan, SDPI, UN Joint Programme for Environment and the newly appointed federal Ministry of Climate Change.
Shafqat Kakakhel, a former UNEP official and a former ambassador helped bring everyone together on one platform and gave an overview of the consultation to the packed hall at the Hotel Margala. Tariq Banuri, the Pakistani expert who now works for the UN Department of Sustainable Development in New York, flew in specially to draft recommendations from the stakeholders on what Pakistan should present in Rio. In his speech, he highlighted what he considered were the two main challenges: “First, what should we do here that will be practical and feasible and second, how can we influence the global system in supporting us in what we want to do? What are the shared global goals?”
To give some background, Tariq Banuri stated that in the 1960s, there was the success story of development in Pakistan and a high growth rate, while India was lagging behind. Today it has been reversed — Pakistan has a growth rate of 2-3 per cent while India is growing at 8-10 per cent. China has also burst through the seams and is now producing for the world market. In the future, with energy becoming scarce, prices going up and with the fear of global conflict over resources, countries like Pakistan will be pushed out of the system. We should by now be doing what India and China are doing already, which is investing in renewable energy and finding a way to make it affordable.
Rio +20, in his view, will provide an opportunity for all countries to develop a common framework to do something about the multiple crises that are confronting all of us. In the 1970s, there was a similar financial crash and energy and food shortages.
The solution was found through pricing and structural adjustments, which favoured the rich countries and pushed developing countries into indebtedness, reversing their development. “We already have lost two decades of development,” he noted.
Today, as we stand at the threshold of yet another global crisis, we have to find a new way to address it. This can be done through the green economy.
“Instead of repeating the mistakes of the 1970s by fixing prices, we can instead choose to invest in certain sectors. We can invest in what can work — the time is ripe to make investments in renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, more efficient transport, forestry and water”. He concluded that the green economy is the only way to progress and to set the stage for prosperity instead of war.
Sheng Fulai, Chief of the Research and Partnership Unit at UNEP, helped to define the green economy for the audience in his presentation. According to him, the concept of green economy was created in 2008 to get governments to spend money on environment and in 2009 it was presented by UNEP as a way forward in response to the global financial crisis. The idea behind it was to “shift investments away from business as usual to green activities making economic sense (which could be competitive and generate jobs)”.
He further defined green economy as “a vehicle to carry us to a destination of sustainable development”. He explained that the “green economy vehicle has four wheels: green technology across a range of sectors, natural resources such as ecosystems, educated and healthy people and a social protection system that is fair and equitable”. He pointed out that it was up to each country to decide which wheels should be up front and in the back to “run the vehicle in a balanced and synchronised manner”.
The priority seats, in his view, should be reserved for the poor and vulnerable. Public finance should be used to power the vehicle and a ticketing system should charge people who take the non-green vehicles to get on board the green vehicle. Of course, the green economy vehicle needs traffic lights — rules and regulations, which are both international and local in shape and design. Road blocks like some of the WTO (World Trade Organisation) rules need to be removed so there is no green protectionism. The green economy vehicle can benefit from innovation and technology and enabling policy measures.
The next stop for the green economy is of course, the Rio +20 conference, where it is hoped that governments can be encouraged and inspired to create their own green models.