As Achim Steiner points out, the term “green economy” has become contentious during the run-up to the 2012 Rio meeting. It has been met with suspicion by many emerging economies and developing countries, particularly in Latin America. In our view, green economies are likely to be economies which value natural resources properly and ensure their effective governance, and that also promote growth that favours the poorest elements of society. They must tackle the basic issues of distribution and access to natural resources while leaving development options open for future generations.
Access to information, transparency in natural resource governance and the active promotion of public participation in decision-making are critical elements of any green economic model, emphasising again the important principles established in Rio by the international community 20 years ago. The European Parliament’s Resolution last September also calls for recognition of these ideas in developing a common EU position ahead of the UN Conference.
But the EU’s Communication on Rio+20, the subsequent EU Council Conclusions and the EU submission to the UN last November all oversimplify the matter, assuming that “greening” the economy will automatically result in long-term sustainable economic development, create jobs and growth and hence eradicate poverty. Steiner pulls out some attractive figures from the UNEP report but we should not be fooled into thinking that transformation to a green economy is a magic bullet. The path to a green economy will not necessarily lead to sustainable development and poverty eradication; nor will it automatically bring prosperity for the poor and deliver human development goals without specific measures for social development and equity. There can be no one-size-fits-all approach.
The EU’s submission to the UN expands member states’ own notion of a green economy to encompass some of the equity, social and rights-based issues but plans for operational outcomes are still a mixed bag of old and new ideas. The EU is also proposing to give a key role to the private sector to deliver on green growth, but private businesses can only go so far in terms of voluntary initiatives. It is up to governments to set an ambitious policy and regulatory framework, something of which Steiner is starkly aware.
The EU is strongly promoting one potential outcome of Rio+20; that is a green economy roadmap with deadlines for specific goals, objectives and actions at the international level. The UNEP report is a step in the right direction, but it is important for the EU to offer its own substantial contribution. The period leading up to Rio+20 provides the EU with the ideal opportunity to demonstrate what such a roadmap might look like in an EU context because it is also the time when the elements of the next EU Budget to 2020 are being put in place. Ambitious reforms in such major areas of EU spending as cohesion policy, the Common Agricultural Policy and the R&D framework could demonstrate Europe’s true commitment to a green economy and its long-term benefits for people, health and nature, and that also leads the way in low carbon investment. We’ve come a long way since Rio back in 1992, but we still have a long way to go.
Sally Nicholson is Manager of Development Policy & Financing Unit at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) European Policy Office. email@example.com.