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GC Today - 17 February 2009

Coverage of the Day's Proceedings:

Ministerial Consultations: Plenary


“The same Chinese character –  – is used to mean both ‘crisis’ and ‘opportunity’.” It was with this statement that the BBC’s Nik Gowing opened an animated roundtable discussion on ‘Global crises: national chaos? – Towards a green economy’ held on day two of ministerial consultations during GC-25/GMEF.

Project Leader of the Green Economy Initiative, Pavan Sukhdev, gave a keynote address in which he underscored how the economic costs associated with the loss of ecosystem services worldwide rivaled market losses as a result of the current financial crisis. Warning against mis-allocation of an estimated US$2.5 trillion in economic stimulus packages across the world, he urged policy makers to support the emerging green economy.

“Nurture these green shoots of recovery – the rewards will be tremendous”, Mr. Sukhdev concluded.

Responding to the keynote presentation, environment and foreign affairs ministers from Bangladesh, Germany, Netherlands, the Republic of Korea, and the Russian Federation, highlighted the economic and political aspects of moving towards a green economy.

Using the recent market crash as an example of what can happen in the absence of clear rules, Germany’s Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Energy, Mr Sigmar Gabriel, advocated for stable political and regulatory frameworks to avoid risk-taking that could put the planet’s natural capital into jeopardy.

Netherlands Minister for Environment and Space, Ms Jacqueline Cramer, drew parallels between the financial and the environmental crisis, arguing that “They are similar – we’ve lived on credit without proper security”. However, she noted, the international response to the environmental and food crises lacks the determination and speed with which the global financial crisis is being addressed and urged bringing the green economy initiative to the attention of the upcoming G20 summit.

Vice-Minister for Environment, Republic of Korea, Mr Byung-Wook Lee, outlined the national “low-carbon, green growth” strategy, which includes investments in promoting energy efficiency and green research & development. He stressed that as a global initiative, Green Economy cannot be successfully achieved by one country but needs a common approach and cooperation.

Underscoring the threat that climate change poses for his country, Mr. Hasan Mahmoud, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh, stressed that “a shift to the Green Economy is essential for survival of all people on the planet”. He also called on developed countries to support developing ones to make the transition towards a low-carbon, green economy through technology transfer and public awareness.

Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and the Environment, Russian Federation, Mr Stanislav Ananiev, raised the question of motivation by various actors involved in moving towards a green economy. Using the example of energy efficiency, he stated the Russian Government’s goal to achieve 40% energy savings by 2020. He also stressed that new ‘green’ jobs and products will need to be paid for by consumers and it is therefore essential to raise their incomes and standard of living.

Arguing that “squandering resources is state-subsidized,” the Co-Chair of the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, noted with concern that since 2000 decoupling between GDP growth and carbon dioxide emissions has ended, and the trend is becoming worse.

The Executive Director of the Blue-Green Alliance, USA, David Foster, said there was “no point in playing around the edges” and called on the economic architects to use this opportunity for a genuine overhaul the global economy to make it cleaner, fairer and better equipped to deal with market imperfections.

Quoting the example of Henry Ford who raised his workers wages so that they could afford the cars they produced, he stressed that today’s global green new deal is the vehicle for raising the standards of living around the world and putting it on the path where sustainability is “not an abstract concept”.

In his closing remarks, Moderator Nik Gowing highlighted the opportunity for environment ministers to become “ministers of sustainable economic success”.

Ministerial Consultations: Roundtable on the green economy

Mr. Sukdev summarized the mood and outcome of the morning’s debate on the green economy and ran through some of his observations on the lessons learnt and the possible policy options on the table. He began by looking at an ‘action list’ of what needs to be done and mentioned that the US and the Republic of Korea had already undertaken economic stimulus packages to inject money into helping with greening their economies, although with different focuses, – in the US, $100 billion of the 780 was set aside for renewables, the electricity grid and transportation sectors, while in Korea, US$ 36 billlion had been set aside largely for ecological infrastructure (rivers, reforestation, etc.)

The areas that he thought needed most action for a world green economy were: Transportation; Energy; Building retrofits; and Freshwater (including agriculture and forests).

In policy terms, he asked what was possible in terms of policy change in the ministers’ respective countries. He suggested several ideas at the national and international level and began by saying that reverse subsidies were not a helpful way to go.
Ideas at the national level:
  1. Positive incentives – taxes on fuels, road fees, green vehicles, …
  2. Land use policies – land rights and better management of the land use changes
  3. Integration of freshwater systems

Incentives can stimulate the green economy. Sustainable building and transport can create jobs, renewable energy likewise. The connection between agriculture and freshwater is critical. Removal of subsidies and more investment required. At the international level, the world needs to look at: Trade (Doha talks); the global commons; fisheries; climate change; pollutants (especially of the seas); environmental governance; carbon market; and lastly, human wellbeing. We need to rethink the concept of how we measure GDP so that it takes account of human wellbeing – a ‘green GDP’.

Minister Ramani summed up the discussions by saying we were in an unprecedented time and that five crises were occurring at once – food, water, energy security, financial and climate change. However, this meant that opportunities must be seized; no solution could be found in isolation; and at the national level countries needed to internalize policies that embraced climate change and the green economy. There were limitations such as: old economic models and a lack of capacity. The themes or issues that were raised in the discussion:

  1. Land use – demographic pressure, the pressure of large cities.
  2. Who will pay for a greener economy – national budgets, international aid and taxes – such as the polluter pays
  3. What are the priority sectors – renewables, environment friendly farming, waste recycling, construction and transport.
  4. At the international level, poverty is a big issue. You cannot have a “two-speed” world.
  5. Ongoing environmental problems such as pollution of the seas.
  6. Emerging problems – climate change, disappearing poles and forests, valuing indigenous populations and their knowledge.
  7. How does the world share the costs – need an Adaptation Fund.
  8. In terms of evaluation – one size does not fit all.
  9. We have to listen to the planet, we have to put ‘sense’ back into the sustainable development debate.
© UNEP 2008