Defining the green economy means defining prosperity.
By Philip Monaghan
According to media reports and unofficial briefings the UN has finally given up on a credible, binding global climate deal on carbon reductions ever happening. Commentators are saying the North and South will never be able to agree on common ground, politicians do not have the appetite to think long-term anyway, and to make matters worse, the world recession has given professional sceptics everywhere a wonderful excuse not to take a difficult decision anyhow.
It would appear all hope is not lost however. The UN is already making manoeuvres with its ‘Plan B’ – the green economy.
A round of applause please for those UN folk; they do not give up on a good idea easily. The thinking here is that by focusing on close-to-home, populist issues – like growth, jobs and skills arising from building a new generation of electric vehicles – politicians and the general public will warm (no pun intended) to the idea of taking climate action. In short, economic development is a good news story, asking voters to pay more for the gasoline in their cars is a bad news story. One only needs to look at the interest China’s new 5-year plan aroused recently to see this in action because of its focus on low or zero carbon industries.
So is this a viable alternative or a regressive step by the UN?
The answer is ‘yes.’ Not wishing to confuse you, what I mean by this is if we get the working definition right, it could be a game changer. If we fail to put in place the appropriate governance arrangements, however, it could make matters much worse.
Starting with a clear, agreed, commonly used definition may seem an academic point. Yet it is crucial to it working at all. Yes, it must be about uncoupling growth in wealth from growth in emissions. But more than this, it needs to be about shared prosperity; if there are to be winners and losers as a result of the transition, then it should not be the poor or global South that fails to benefit. There is work already afoot from various organisations like the World Future Council and collaborators to come up with useful ideas on such a definition, but hopefully this is the beginning of the conversation not the end, as we need the discussion to be led from or with Southern partners.
Turning now to governance, it is vital appropriate local and national governance arrangements by the OECD and others are put in place to hold any firms or governments accountable for the plethora of new public-private partnerships being established to develop major urban infrastructure (rapid transport, smart grids) or special trading zones (wind or solar industrial parks) to ensure there is no cynical stripping of community assets or green patents. Especially so as public spending shortfalls owing to the global recession may weaken the negotiating power of our world city mayors and leaders.
The Earth Summit 2012 – the Rio+20 anniversary – is a legitimate and timely forum to begin to craft a better understanding of both these issues, given it will bring together best minds from local government, industry and NGO. But only if the two issues are seen to work in tandem will they become critical to climate resilience. Let the big debate begin.
About Philip Monaghan
Philip Monaghan is author of the acclaimed new book Sustainability in Austerity, which has been praised by respected commentators from the UN, Harvard, WWF and Accenture.
He is a strategist and change manager in the fields of economic development and environmental sustainability.
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