Green economy, the way to go

Prakash Nelliyat | Updated on June 04, 2012



A delay in adopting low carbon strategies could cost us dearly.

Today (June 5) is World Environment Day (WED), one of the most widely celebrated global days for positive environmental action. The WED celebration began in 1972 and has become one of the main vehicles through which the UN stimulates worldwide awareness on the environment and encourages political attention/actions. This year (2012), the WED theme is ‘Green Economy: Does It Include You?'

Water, water nowhere

The world population has experienced continuous growth over the years, and the total annual births were the highest in the late 1980s (138 million), and are expected to remain almost constant at their 2012 level of 134 million/year. At present the world's population stands at 7 billion and may rise to more than 9 billion by 2050.

This implies greater pressure on natural resources, to achieve development that satisfies human needs. Even as the demand for natural resources outstrips their supply, world resources continue to be exploited unsustainably, leading to crises.

The demand for water could soon exceed supply. The FAO estimates that by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries/regions with acute water scarcity. Around 13 million hectares of the world's forests are lost each year. Deforestation accounts for 20 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

Perils in the air

Use of land on account of urbanisation has led to our losing/degrading ecologically sensitive areas. To feed a growing population, intensive agriculture has been practised with the application of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which degrade the fertility of the soil and water quality.

Overfishing in many parts of the world threatens fish stocks: 13 per cent of the global fisheries have collapsed, and experts claim that if overfishing continues it will result in the disappearance of the fish species in 50 years.

Rapid industrialisation increases the volume of pollutants discharged into the environment. The tremendous increase in transport aggravates the intensity of air pollution. The current mainstream energy sources — oil, coal, gas, etc, — are harmful to human health and environment. The growth of tourism has also harmed the environment.

In brief, our current approach to economic development is environmentally unsustainable. However, our natural resources are assets, having a great income/livelihood generation capacity, and ought to be preserved for future generations.

Hence immediate interventions are needed to curb the exploitation and it is here that the concept of “Green Economy” (GE) is significant. According to UNEP, GE is the new pathway to a low-carbon, resource-efficient, and sustainable twenty-first century.

Defining green economy

One of the key lessons we can draw from the experiences of a global financial crisis is that running economies the way we have done and doing business as usual, is not an option for stable development.

Hence, GE is a proposal for an alternative and far more sustainable way of doing business. GE is not just a passing environmental fad, but is one of the best solutions available for sustainable economic growth that recognises the social component.

In other words, GE emphasises social equity and inclusiveness.

The UNEP defines “GE as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”.

Practically speaking, a green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments, that reduces carbon emissions and pollution, enhances energy and resource efficiency, and prevents the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

A green economy touches almost every aspect of our lives and concerns our development. For example, it is about sustainable energy, green jobs, low carbon economies, green policies, green buildings, agriculture, fisheries, forestry, industry, energy efficiency, sustainable tourism, and transport, waste management, water efficiency and all other resource efficiency.

Therefore, GE — a means of improving human livelihood while taking into consideration environmental impact — is the most viable way of tackling the problem on hand, not only for the present but also the future generations.

Dos and don'ts

A shift towards a GE begins at an individual level, scaling up to macroeconomic and global levels. The following steps are proposed:

Construct your buildings in a more eco-friendly and energy efficient manner, with less environmentally harmful materials.

Promote sustainable fishing practices by buying seafood products that have been harvested sustainably.

Minimise the use of paper and wood to the extent possible, for reducing deforestation. Buy certified sustainable forest products.

Walking or riding a cycle for short trips, and dependence on fuel-efficient and emission-free vehicles will reduce pollution.

Water should be conserved through its economical use and rainwater harvesting.

Eco-friendly cultivation must be encouraged through the demand for organic food products.

Support the development of clean, renewable energy by choosing businesses and products that invest in them.

Eco-tourism should be encouraged.

Utilise recycling opportunities.

We should be wise consumers; support businesses that have sustainability plans, use eco-labels, and invest in renewable energy.

EKC hypothesis

Developing countries such as India need to achieve a high rate of economic growth to solve the problems of poverty and unemployment. How to achieve this through GE is a challenge. The Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC) hypothesis suggests that as the per capita income grows, the environmental impact rise hits the maximum, and thereafter declines.

According to the EKC hypothesis, in the initial stages of economic growth, environmental pollution increases due to: (a) increasing use of resources and more waste generation, and (b) the transformation of agriculture to industry, leading to an increase in emissions.

But when a country has achieved a certain level of development, the environmental pollution falls because of: (a) more government protection of the environment and increasing green consumption, (b) technological (cleaner production) improvement, (c) diversification of economy from manufacturing to service sectors or high-industries, and (d) increasing scarcity and prices of environmental resources leading to less consumption and more preservation.

The EKC assumes that Green Economy is in its second stage. In the case of India, we are in the first stage of the EKC, and it takes time to reach the second stage.

However, we cannot wait for choosing the GE, as we will lose our natural assets considerably, and perhaps may be irreversibly!

(The author is an environmental economist, (UNEP-GEF Programme) National Biodiversity Authority, Chennai)

Published on June 04, 2012

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