Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dark side of the green economy

By Rina Saeed Khan 

The Heinrich Boll Stiftung (HBS) Foundation, a German green political foundation, on Friday hosted an expert talk by its President, Barbara Unmuessig, on the “Green Economy.”

Barbara is based at the headquarters of the HBS in Germany and has written many papers and articles critiquing the green economy.

A small audience of journalists, academics, NGO representatives and government officials attended the joint talk.

The event was supported by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) with Shafqat Kakakhel, who is on their Board of Governors, asking the questions at the end.

Since the current global economic recession began, presidents and prime ministers of different countries have been talking about the “green economy”, a term that was first coined by the United Nations Environment Programme in 2008. Scientists are now calling for a major shift to clean energy technologies and energy efficiency in order to curb carbon emissions that are causing disastrous climate change.

In the run up to last year’s Rio conference on Sustainable Development, the green economy was used to attract different actors.

According to Barbara the term was used for “business to buy into the conference… It was felt that ‘sustainable development’ was becoming meaningless, 20 years after Rio (the Earth Summit held in 1992).”
Clearly our resources are finite and we are now living in a rapidly changing climate constrained world with an increasing loss of biodiversity, she said.

Barbara had pointed out earlier that she was not opposed to the idea of the green economy for one cannot continue with “business as usual” but what is important is “what kind of green economy are we asking for?”
Although there are different perspectives of the green economy, depending on whether one comes from the north or south. The south is where the impacts of climate change are being felt the most.

Interestingly, Barbara comes from the north and she calls for “the north to reduce resource consumption” which is rare.

“All the reports are saying that we cannot continue with business as usual, we have to de-carbonise our economies, so the message is good”, explained Barbara.

“But when you look into the details, what do they mean…You see the dark side of the green economy… an arena for political battles,” she said.

The green economy is already being contested in several countries for lacking social safeguards and rights based policies.

Through clean large scale investments can arise conflicts of interest, said Barbara.

Barbara gave the example of Southern Mexico, where renewable policy had led to massive wind investment. “Large wind farms were set up, but on land belonging to the indigenous people. The wind parks were not benefiting the local people and they suffered,” she emphasised.

The local people did not receive any profits, not even electricity from the wind farms. “The green economy has to benefit the people, not big business,” explained Barbara.

The questions to ask are who owns it and who benefits from it? Similarly, in India, a recent study by the Centre of Science and Environment on renewable energy described who was getting the share of the investments, and it was certainly not the poor who have been left out.

In the North, Barbara explained that there was a strong axis of technology innovation and efficiency and the tendency was to “go big”. Under the green economy, they are looking at ideas like mirrors in space, ocean fertilisation, big dams and even nuclear power, she said.

“The context is to have a technological fix for big things… But we have to consider the social and environmental impacts,” she added.

Then there is the new idea of placing an economic value on nature by putting “a price on trees you won’t cut”.
But this “new economy for nature” is triggering a debate and countries in Latin America are rejecting the idea of a market based trade of trees and soil.

“The global concept of the green economy has to be better”, pointed out Barbara.

“Also, the North has to change its lifestyle and consumption patterns. Efficiency is not enough,” she said. Barbara concluded her talk with the advice that “the green economy offers a chance if we are able to hold decision makers accountable” and that “if we want to live in a better future then human rights and the participatory process must be respected”.

It was hoped that at the Rio Summit held last year, the world would come together to formulate an urgent action plan for a global green economy.

However, that did not happen and really if one look’s back at the first Rio conference held in 1992 and what happened subsequently in terms of massive carbon emissions and the staggering loss in biodiversity, the green economy is indeed beginning to look like the “new magic bullet” as Barbara described it.

According to Shafqat Kakakhel “the outcome of Rio (1992) was not positive”. He pointed out that Barbara, who had been involved with environmental issues for more than two decades, was one of the few environmentalists to have questioned “the mythological way in which Rio had been praised”.

He described that the green economy had its “advocates in the north and its skeptics in the south.”
He added that currently there was “no political will to do away with business as usual and there were no major initiatives that came out of the Rio+20 summit.”

In Mr Kakakhel’s view, “profligate and wasteful lifestyles must be abandoned” if the world is to have a chance. Unfortunately, rapidly developing India and China are currently aping western lifestyles, he said.
Also, the multi-lateral process of international negotiations is also going nowhere.

According to Barbara, “we need to reconsider the strategy, go back and think how to mobilise people at home. People at home need to put pressure on politicians to go in the right direction”. Ultimately, perhaps what is needed is to question the entire capitalistic growth model.

“We don’t have to follow business as usual,” said Barbara, adding, “we have to try our best by implementing good solutions along with less consumption of resources”.

What we need is a “de-growth movement” in which people look for local, and national solutions, she said.
Is the world ready to re-think development? Barbara thinks we have no choice unless we want to live in a significantly warmer world, where we can no longer take our survival for granted.

Dark side of the green economy