I just returned from China, where I met with representatives of the national government, research institutes and civil society. While I was there, China’s first National Low-Carbon Day celebration took place, a move by this eastern Giant with an ever-growing industrial sector to find efficient and cost-effective ways to tackle alarming air pollution and reduce its negative impact on people, the economy, and the country’s development.
Natural capital represents 25% of per capita wealth in many developing countries, compared to only 2% in OECD countries. This makes the cost of environmental degradation – and the links between environmental performance, equity and poverty – much more direct and significant. In recognition, China and many other emerging and developing economies around the world are fast adapting their growth patterns to ensure that the value of natural capital is taken into account by everyone – from top-level policy makers to building contractors. “Green growth” development pathways and policies are being adopted by more and more countries every day.
Of course, many people question the real feasibility of “going green”. In countries like China, where financial capital is relatively abundant and where social capital is in some places in shorter supply, green growth offers many visible benefits from improved environmental management, including cleaner air and water, and direct health benefits. In this context, green growth may seem an easy and natural move. But I have also seen convincing evidence of why “green growth” is the way forward in many parts of the poorer global South. In Ethiopia, for example, forest regeneration has boosted livestock productivity and increased the incomes of herders. The country has also launched an extremely ambitious low-carbon strategy, which it expects will help it become a middle income country by 2025 without increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Bangladesh is meeting the challenge of energy access while creating thousands of jobs for rural women by using solar heating. The country has also boosted its preparedness to save lives and property in light of the increased cyclone-risk from climate change. Ministers from countries like Cambodia, Ethiopia and Rwanda – some of the least developed nations today – have told me of their first-hand experience in designing natural-resource-management policies to promote growth while reducing poverty.
At this year’s World Environment Day, as global environmental leaders gathered in Mongolia to pledge their political commitment to “think, eat, save – slashing food waste”, I joined my colleagues at the OECD in celebrating our own “green growth” festival – the launch of Putting Green Growth at the Heart of Development. This publication brings together nearly 80 examples of green strategies from about 40 developing countries and regions. It highlights key actions to successfully promote green growth at the national level. Primordial among them is to secure backing at the highest political level – an essential factor for establishing long-term vision and guiding policy and investment. With such leadership, Brazil has reduced deforestation in the Amazon by 80%, probably the greatest service done to the environment by one nation at any time. We are seeing other examples of strong leadership behind green growth in countries ranging from Ghana and Mozambique in Africa to Vietnam and India in Asia.
But our book does not only look at successes – it also addresses numerous concerns expressed by developing countries about the shift to green growth. For instance, how can countries manage the costs of this transition? International co-operation can certainly be a catalyst in the immediate future. Climate change finance is set to increase substantially over the next decade as developed countries scale up resources to meet the target of USD 100 billion annually by 2020; these funds will come from both public and private sources. The book details numerous other schemes that will contribute to this funding and incentives, notably at domestic level, with one well-known option being payment for ecosystem services. In Costa Rica, for example, financial incentives have prompted indigenous farmers and forest dwellers to conserve forests and watersheds that provide clean water upstream. Other opportunities include selling carbon credits to developed countries through Clean Development Mechanisms. Globally we spend more than USD 523 billion a year – more than four times today’s foreign aid – on harmful energy subsidies; reforming these subsidies can free up domestic resources for national priorities such as education and health, which can in turn have a profound impact on development while also “levelling the playing field” for clean energy to take hold.
A year ago, world leaders at the Rio+20 Conference committed themselves to reforming their policies to provide citizens “The Future We Want”. One year later Putting Green Growth at the Heart of Development reminds us that green growth is not a luxury but vital to the future of developing countries. By sharing concrete examples, it provides hope that through green growth we can deliver sustainable development and global security for all.Guest blog by Erik Solheim, Chair of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD: Green growth is not a luxury – it is the future we want ,