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Speech by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, on The Global Green Economy and Israel

Tel Aviv, April 2009 - Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for inviting me to your distinguished University, home to close to 30,000 students and cutting edge research in fields ranging from nanotechnology and medicine to the humanities, astronomy and crop research.

My theme this evening is the Green Economy.

So it is fitting that it is held in a centre of excellence in learning and research.

Many of the transformational technological opportunities emerging across the globe right now - from renewables such as wind and solar power to desalination and smart, energy efficient materials and processes - were originally incubated in the world's universities, colleges and research institutes.

Why some ideas move from that 'Eureka' moment onto commercialization can be a source of fascination.

Time after time resource efficient, low carbon and environmentally-friendly products and processes have often languished on the research shelves.

We are told that unfortunately they did not pass mustard in terms of the market - giving the market a quasi-religious of semi-mythical power of ultimate arbiter of what society wants and needs.

During the oil crisis of the late 1970s-early 1980s around $1 billion was invested research and development in photo voltaics.

In a few short years, these investments halved the cost per unit of the electricity but not far enough to achieve commercialization.

The oil price dropped and so did wide-spread enthusiasm for solar power - only now are generation prices begin to fall towards competitiveness: we have wasted nearly three precious decades.

The Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb is also a case in point - the traditional light bulb which wastes over 90 per cent of the energy consumed in heat rather than light can trace its origins back to the British physicist Michael Faraday and the United States inventor Edison over a century ago.

Nobody seemed to care that far more efficient options have existed for decades until now - the market essentially failed to factor in externalities such as energy wastage and pollution.

Manufacturers of traditional light bulbs also had little interest in switching large production facilities into compacts until the market woke up to issues such as climate change and energy security.

So the market is not always so far-seeing, perceptive in terms of medium and long term trends or able to respond speedily to new realities and wider societal and environmental imperatives.

Governments have a clear role to play in shaping and focusing markets to deliver wider benefits and longer term goals. In short the Green Economy.

A point to which I will return in a moment.

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Further Resources

UNEP Green Economy Initiative

Global Green New Deal Policy Brief


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