Climate Change The Way Forward


A Green Economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. – The United Nations Environment Programme Green Economy Initiative

The first global agreement to tackle climate change was defined at the Earth Summit at Rio de Janeiro in 1992, at a time when the impacts of climate change on communities and economies were just beginning to emerge. Two decades later, climate change looms as a global challenge with devastating environmental, social and economic impacts, disproportionately affecting the poorest nations and communities around the world.

Climate change threatens global economic stability and security endangering the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda, and the Millennium Development Goals. In an era of interconnected global markets with complex inflow and outflow of goods, services, capital, labour and technology, climate change perpetrates an increased vulnerability on all economies, irrespective of where an extreme climate event may occur. If unaddressed, climate change has the potential to disrupt global agriculture markets, destroy infrastructure and transportation, interrupt the flow of goods and services and cause energy markets to become more volatile and unpredictable.

Not Business As Usual

Climate change adaptation on a global scale requires a coordinated, multisectoral approach, necessitating a departure from 'business as usual' traditional practices. Till date, there has been major emphasis on mitigating climate change by reducing the emissions of harmful greenhouse gases. However, it is now imperative to develop comprehensive strategies, that have co-benefits for sustainable development, to enable communities to flourish and remain resilient under changing climatic patterns. This is particularly urgent for developing nations with limited resources that are increasingly experiencing extreme weather conditions, food and water insecurity, and negative health effects due to climate change. According to a World Bank report, between 2010 and 2050, developing countries will require $70 billion to $100 billion per year on average to meet their climate change adaptation needs.

Green Economy

Even though the scale, scope and urgency of climate change demonstrates tremendous complexity, climate change can serve as a powerful catalyst for economic transformation, poverty alleviation and sustainable development.

Resolving climate impacts with a more balanced approach related to resource use, growth and equity, now being termed as the 'Green Economy', forms the foundation for climate resilience and sustainable development.

The genesis of the term 'Green Economy' can be traced to the UN Council for Sustainable Development, which used it in 1989 to describe environmental economics, and to identify conditions of compatibility of economic growth and environmental sustainability. The notion of the Green Economy has also been endorsed by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP), which in 2005, adopted it as a paradigm for improving environmental sustainability and promoting the environment as a driver for economic growth and development.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has defined Green growth as 'fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which human well-being relies.' The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Green Economy Initiative describes a Green Economy as one that 'results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities'. In simple terms, a Green Economy can be construed as one which is 'low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive'. The United Nations also lists Green economy amongst 'several mutually complementary constructions that have emerged to enhance convergence between the different dimensions of sustainable development.'

A Green Economy seeks, in principle, to unite under a single banner the entire gamut of economic policies of relevance to sustainable development. In doing so, it relies extensively on accepted sustainable development practices and combines principles of social inclusiveness, resource and energy efficiency, while conserving biodiversity and assuring sustainable ecosystem services. Holistic sustainable development practices such as integrated water resources management and forest management are central aspects of a Green Economy. Regionally and locally adapted water management strategies, for instance, are essential to underpin the transition to a Green Economy. Similarly, forestry has immense potential to contribute to Green Economy objectives and targets, and forest management practices can be reoriented to support green growth and poverty reduction more effectively.

In a practical context, a Green Economy encourages economic growth and employment driven by public and private investments. It reduces carbon emissions and pollution and promotes a development path that enhances and rebuilds natural capital as a crucial economic asset, and the source of public benefits. Investments in green sectors and activities, such as energy efficient buildings, sustainable energy and transport, ecological infrastructure and sustainable agriculture, facilitate improved use of increasingly scarce natural resources to help vulnerable communities adapt to climate change. All these are integral to the Green Economy paradigm.

As more and more countries make the transition to a Green Economy as an alternative to the conventional 'brown', one that emits large amounts of greenhouse gases, they are faced with difficult choices and trade-offs that require interdisciplinary thinking and problem solving.

There is, however, a broad scientific consensus that the cost of taking positive climate action through adoption of green economic principles would likely be several orders of magnitude less than the cost of inaction. Reports by UNEP show that reallocating just two percent of global GDP from 'brown' to 'green' investment can enhance long-term economic performance and total global wealth.

Fundamental Differences

While different strategies, models and tools are available to each country for transition to a Green Economy, fundamental differences regarding this implementation have emerged between the developing and developed nations. Developing countries, guided by the G77/China, have expressed dissatisfaction over the perceived predominance of the Green Economy over sustainable development during various climate change negiotiations including the Rio+20 Earth Summit in 2012.

The G77 bloc of developing countries and China have stressed that Green Economy policies should be seen in the context of national development strategies to achieve sustainable development and poverty eradication. Further, the G77/China emphasise the importance of finance and intellectual property as crucial elements to implement the changes envisaged, such as phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, boosting 'green jobs' in domains of renewable energy, adopting more sustainable agriculture measures and incorporating social and economic indicators into GDP measurements.

The G77/China assert that a Green Economy should be entrenched in equity and should adhere to the principles of common but differentiated responsibilities, the right to development as well as the sovereign right of states to exploit their own resources. The G77/China insist that developed nations should take the lead on sustainable consumption and production, and facilitate technology transfer, and any transitions made by developing nations should not increase their financial burden or result in the imposition of trade barriers and conditionalities on finance.

The developed countries, on the other hand, emphasise the role of business and industry in the transition to a Green Economy and underscore the importance of the UN Global Compact principles on corporate social responsibility. Certain developed countries also staunchly support the adoption of roadmaps to promote and support the Green Economy at the national and international levels, and a commitment to develop national green economy action plans. However, these suggestions have been opposed by developing nations due to fears of imposition of an external timeline to determine the pace of countries' transition to a Green Economy, potentially limiting their economic growth.

Even with diverging views on implementation of green economic principles, the Green Economy has evolved rapidly from a development paradigm to a global strategy to overcome the multifarious challenges of climate change. It is now widely acknowledged that enduring economic prosperity requires major reforms in global economic governance along with a renewed commitment to protect natural resources and ecosystems. Effective climate change adaptation strategies can only be realised with strong action from all stakeholders to align economic incentives with the communities' adaptation needs for long-term climate resilience and equitable green growth.

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Dr Kavita Rattan

Dr Kavita Rattan has a Masters in Environmental Sciences from Institute of Science, Nagpur and a PhD in Biotechnology from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Roorkee. She is Founder and President of Green Vigil, a non-profit organisation of professionals and students working in the domain of Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development.

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