[Viewpoint] Toward a global green economy

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[Viewpoint] Toward a global green economy

The G-20 has acted to stabilize banks and to counter the financial and economic crisis: A recovery is under way, albeit and in many places, still fragile.

But what about the G-20’s future role in embedding a fundamental transition to a more sustainable global economy that looks beyond the current, narrow definition of wealth and GDP?

Could this week in Seoul be a watershed in international financial and economic affairs, where the pledge, made at the G-20 in London, toward a green and more sustainable recovery moves from communique to concrete commitment?

There are encouraging signs, not least from the G-20’s Korean hosts, whose own economic stimulus package had earmarked close to 90 percent of its funds to a short- and long-term vision of green growth.

The country’s leaders have also made the indivisible link between the leadership role of public policy making in terms of unleashing private sector investment into clean tech and other green sectors.

For the first time at a G-20 Summit, about 100 CEOs are meeting at a business summit, which is expected to provide invaluable input toward shaping the outcome inked by world leaders.

Finance and trade are two of the key themes before CEOs but so, too, are how to advance green growth and corporate social responsibility.

Themes that look into how future - perhaps more traditional - economic crises can be minimized must also look into the even bigger and more complex ones emerging as a result of climate change, environmental degradation and unsustainable overexploitation of the planet’s natural assets.

Business in the broadest sense is certainly looking long and hard to governments for more forward-looking and imaginative responses, which clearly emerged last month in Nagoya, Japan, at the Convention on Biological Diversity.

An increasing number of banks and pension funds see rising risks to their investments from the loss of ecosystems, such as forests and wetlands, and the multitrillion dollar services they produce.

And a rising number now see the disruption to food supplies, supply chains and other challenges linked with natural resource losses as a bigger threat than that from international terrorism.

This dramatic shift is in part linked with the findings of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), an assessment requested by the G-8 and developing country environment ministers.

It has calculated the global, multitrillion dollar losses being sustained while spotlighting the huge returns - including social returns such as new green jobs - from investing and reinvesting in natural systems.

Some countries have begun to take the lead. Brazil and India, for example, announced that they will be carrying out similar country-level TEEB studies: a first step toward factoring and mainstreaming the economics of nature into policy making.

Japan and the European Union have also signaled interest, as has the Asian Development Bank for a continentwide assessment.

The World Bank, in partnership with organizations including UNEP, will be assisting initially up to 10 developing countries ranging from Colombia to Mexico with developing national, green accounts.

By acting in concert and cooperation, G-20 as a whole has the potential to become a key and pivotal enabler of these transitions.

In terms of combating climate change and restoring fish stocks, canceling or phasing-down global subsidies totaling up to $800 billion and over $27 billion a year respectively would be a good start.

However, financial sustainability, more sustainable employment prospects and wider challenges such as addressing poverty in the 21st century will not happen just by fixing the contradictions inherent in existing economic models.

It will only happen if public policy and private sector investments are aligned in ways that meet the short-term recovery challenges with a longer-term vision of opportunity for the many and not just the few.

A year ago in London, G-20 leaders articulated this vision as building an “inclusive, sustainable and green recovery.”

In Seoul, this vision needs to be evolved toward not only a green recovery, but to inclusive, sustainable green growth underpinned by clean technologies and the economic importance maintaining nature’s multitrillion dollar services.

*The writer is UN Undersecretary General and Executive Director of UNEP.

by Achim Steiner
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