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The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Collective reflections about development practice and cities


Can Green Economy save the world?

Tina Ziegler7 April 2011

Post written by: Tina Maria Ziegler. DPU alumna 2009

The UNEP recently published “Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication – A synthesis for policy makers” and this is just one of many publications, about this alleged solution to most – if not even all – of our global problems.

Although the term itself does not necessarily imply the social side of economics or development, Green Economy is defined as ‘key theme in the context of sustainable development and poverty reduction’ (UNEP, 2011). This new economic concept claims to be central to poverty alleviation; creates jobs and enhances social equity; recognises the value of, and invests in nature capital; substitutes renewable energy and low-carbon technologies; promotes enhanced resource and energy efficiency; delivers more sustainable urban living and low-carbon mobility; and grows faster than a Brown Economy over time whilst at the same time maintaining and restoring natural capital (ibid). It seems to be the Swiss army knife of sustainable development. However, at the same time this concept also seems to have a quite high potential to become the new buzzword in development likely to succeed the expressionless heritage of sustainability, by pretending to tackle all current global problems and crises without suggesting a fundamental change in economic mainstream ideology.

UNEPs publication states that, “although the causes of these crises vary, at a fundamental level they all share a common feature: the gross misallocation of capital” (p. 1). However, the theory of Green Economy does not seem to challenge the economic concept which reinforces this misallocation. The basis of the Green Economy concept is: fuelling economic growth whilst generating employment and eliminating poverty (ibid). This shows a fundamental believe in the trickle-down theory. Yet, a theory which hardly materialises to truly reach the poor and underprivileged, but usually reinforces the hegemony of superior transnational companies and imperialising governments. I doubt that in the future the installation of solar panels will eradicate extreme poverty just because it was one of the mechanisms of Green Economy.

And doesn’t it seem like an oxymoron to speak about fuelling growth in a world with finite resources? As stated in UNEPs publication the basis for Green Economy are renewable energies and resource efficiency, however, without compromising the current way of production and consumption. The paradox of being more material efficient in producing so called gadgets which are designed to break after two years in order to make more profit by feeding the demand side is simply not tackled by the principles of Green Economy. I sentimentally think back to my former professor for electrical engineering, who opened his first lecture with following statement: “Truly clean electricity is electricity we never used”. Although so simple and trivial when heard, I still find this quote an eye opener. And a good basis for a real change. In my point of view efficiency is not about more efficient products, but about less consumption. This cannot be achieved by clinging onto the capitalist feedback loop of demand-production-consumption.

All I read so far about Green Economy really makes my ‘greening’ alarm bells ring. Actually the expression of ‘greening’ processes and mechanisms is even used quite regularly in this context and I truly hope that this does not imply approaching a rather superficial change of irrelevant economic processes, only to appear more sustainable or responsible and to resell an economic system, which was not successful to tackle poverty and resource exploitation in the past, but to change substantial underlying principles to pursue equity and resource efficiency. However, there is a long way to go. I am in doubt how far this new concept will be of help. I guess I should keep reading about Green Economy, since hope springs eternally.

Reference: UNEP, 2011, Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication – A Synthesis for Policy Makers, www.unep.org/greeneconomy

Image Credits: Image via Yeşil Ekonomi Konferansı, http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/06/can-green-new-deal-boost-turkey-economy.php