Governments, businesses push for green future

Governments worldwide, as well as large businesses are now pushing for green economies, a new report released by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has stated.

According to the report, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication released earlier this week in Beijing, China, the latest Bloomberg figures indicate global investments in renewable energy jumped 32 per cent in 2010, to a record US$211 billion.

It adds that after the emerging economies of Brazil, China and India, countries in Africa posted the highest percentage increase of all developing regions, with renewable energy investment in Egypt rising by US$800 million to US$1.3 billion as a result of the solar thermal project in Kom Ombo and a 220 megawatt onshore wind farm in the Gulf of Zayt.

In Kenya also, investment climbed from virtually zero in 2009 to US$1.3 billion in 2010 across technologies such as wind, geothermal, small-scale hydro and biofuels, whereas  in the California Mojave Desert, one of the world’s largest solar-thermal power plants is under construction and others are also being built in Spain and other parts of the United States.

China however, according to the report, is the world’s lead investor in renewable energy, overtaking Spain in 2009 and spending US$49 billion in 2010.  It says overall, China is committed to spending US$468 billion over the next five years, more than double the previous five years, on key industries, including renewable energy, clean technologies and waste management.

Commenting on China’s huge investment, Mr. He Bingguang, Director General of the Department of Resource Conservation and Environmental Protection in China’s National Development and Reform Commission said, “China considers the Green Economy to be a strategic choice in an increasingly resource constrained world, and we have made that choice in our development plans.”

“We appreciate UNEP’s contribution in promoting a global Green Economy transformation, which holds the potential for all countries to benefit,” he added.

Some countries, such as Barbados, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea and South Africa, for their part, already have national Green Economy plans that reflect the Report’s recommendations.

Others such as Armenia, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Kenya, Jordan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, Senegal and Ukraine are focusing on greening priority sectors, such as agriculture, renewable energy, tourism and clean technologies.

Meanwhile in Rwanda, East African countries have met to explore how laws and regulatory frameworks can help drive a Green Economy at the national and regional level.  Participants from Burundi, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, as well as Rwanda, were expected to examine case studies and continent-wide initiatives, the latter being led by the African Union.

The China Council was also due to meet this week, to put forward its own study for moving towards a Green Economy.

On the business side, UNEP has teamed up with 285 of the world’s leading investors, representing US$20 trillion in assets, who called on governments to mobilise action on climate change, including investments in emerging industries – like renewables and green buildings.

Similar calls have been echoed by the International Chamber of Commerce, which represents hundreds of thousands of businesses in more than 130 countries, a statement announcing the release of the report said.

In the statement, UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon commented that: “With the world looking ahead to the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development in June 2012, the UNEP Green Economy report challenges the myth that there is a trade-off between the economy and the environment.”

“With smart public policies, governments can grow their economies, generate decent employment and accelerate social progress in a way that keeps humanity’s ecological footprint within the planet’s carrying capacity,” he added.

To Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) however, the elements of a transition to a Green Economy are clearly emerging across developing and developed countries alike.

“There are now some nations going further and faster than others which is in many ways generating a ‘pull factor’ that, if maintained, may bring others along over the coming months and years” he maintains, adding that the Durban climate convention meeting in a few week’s time and Rio+20 next year are key opportunities to accelerate and scale-up the Green Economy.

In his view, “central cooperative actions range from advancing Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), moving on green procurement to switch national efforts into the sustainability space up to a new indicator of wealth that goes beyond GDP and internalises the costs of pollution and degradation, while bringing the true value of the planet’s nature-based assets into calculations of a successful and sustainable economic path.”

The report, a result of a three-year global research effort involving hundreds of experts as well as a three-month public review, confirms that an investment of two percent of global GDP across 10 key sectors is what is required to kick-start a shift from the current brown, polluting and inefficient economy to a green one.

It estimates that such a transition would grow the global economy at around the same rate, if not higher, than those forecast, under current economic models but without rising risks, shocks, scarcities and crises increasingly inherent in the existing, resource-depleting, high carbon ‘brown’ economy.

In addition to higher growth, it states that an overall transition to a Green Economy would realise per capita incomes higher than under current economic models, while reducing the ecological footprint by nearly 50 per cent in 2050, as compared to business-as-usual.

The Green Economy Report further acknowledges that in the short-term, job losses in some sectors – fisheries, for example – are inevitable if they are to transition towards sustainability.

However, it adds that over time the number of “new and decent jobs created” in sectors – ranging from renewable energies to more sustainable agriculture – will offset those lost from the former “brown economy”.

The report shows that investing the equivalent of two per cent of global GDP into agriculture, energy, buildings, water, forestry, fisheries, manufacturing, waste, tourism and transport would not only shift the global economy onto a more sustainable growth course, but would actually maintain or increase growth over time.

Policy recommendations on each of the 10 key sectors, as well as on finance and enabling conditions, are outlined in the report and includes transport, for which the report suggests that prices need to take account of the societal costs accumulated as a result of congestion, accidents and pollution, which in some cases amount to over 10 per cent of the national or regional GDP.

In Beijing, a 2009 study estimated that the social costs induced by motorised transportation are equivalent to between 7.5 and 15 per cent of the city’s GDP.   Meanwhile, between 2007 and 2030, the transport sector is expected to account for 97 per cent of the increase in the world’s primary oil use.

With the number of vehicles in China expected to more than triple during this period, the government is promoting low-carbon, energy efficient cars and related infrastructure and in the city of Shenzhen, home of China’s first electric car, plans are underway to build large recharging stations and replace traditional buses with more than 7,000 electric ones in five years time.

Generating Jobs

The Green Economy Report suggests that over time “new and decent jobs” will be catalyzed in the 10 key sectors and concludes that while 800,000 workers in small coal power plants in China for example, are likely to lose their jobs due to climate mitigation actions, some 2.5 million jobs could be created by 2020 in the wind energy sector alone.

Currently, Denmark is home to the world’s top wind turbine manufacturer in terms of market volume, and China is in second place, followed by the United States and then another Chinese company.

However, Germany which ranks fifth has recently committed to scale up its renewable energy, following a decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022, and has thus set a target to source 35 per cent of its electricity from renewable energies by 2022, instead of the earlier target of 19 per cent.

The report states that in Africa, despite recent economic gains, there is increasing interest in creating green and decent employment. It reveals that representatives from 11 African countries met in June this year with ILO, UNDP and UNEP to look at case studies in the areas of recycling, sustainable construction and natural resource management.

As a result, participants adopted action plans for creating green jobs in fisheries, agriculture and forestry, sectors which represent over 70 per cent of the employment in the region.

In Brazil also, the ILO recently helped support the construction of 500,000 new homes with solar heating systems, resulting in 30,000 new jobs, while  in South Africa, a similar project on water ecosystem restoration created 25,000 green jobs for previously unemployed people, and at the same time, restored vital freshwater sources.

Generating Social Equity

The Green Economy Report argues that by moving to more sustainable agriculture practices, the approximately two billion small scale farmers of the world who live in poverty could increase their yields and profits.

Globally, an investment of US$100-300 billion per year in green agriculture, between now and 2050, could lead to better soil quality and better yields for major crops, representing a 10 per cent increase over the current business-as-usual strategies, it argues, adding, as many of these farmers are also women, any benefits would most likely be shared with their families and communities.

The waste sector is another area that is expected to enhance social equity but efforts to green the sector are often driven by cost savings, environmental awareness and resource scarcity.

However, the report notes that greening the sector not only requires improving the often sub-standard waste treatment and disposal facilities, but also training the workers, providing more equitable compensation and ensuring proper health care protection for them.

It notes that decentralising large scale, capital-intensive waste management operations could also provide more employment opportunities in the community.

The report also expresses concern about electronic waste (or e-waste), particularly for developing countries, saying current estimates suggest 20 to 50 million tonnes of e-waste are generated each year, while trade in waste becomes more prevalent, heightening threats to human health and the environment.

As sales in mobile phones and computers continue to grow in China, India, and across Africa and Latin America, the report finds that resource recovery and recycling offer the greatest potential in terms of contributing to a Green Economy.
The follow up meeting to the 1992 UN Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+20 in Brazil in June 2012, is expected to tackle Green Economy “in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication” as one of the main themes governments are expected to address.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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