The Transition to Green Growth

The awareness of growing environmental problems related to our consumer based society where natural resources, mainly energy, were used without taking into consideration the impact of our daily usage...

The awareness of growing environmental problems related to our consumer based society where natural resources, mainly energy, were used without taking into consideration the impact of our daily usage of products on the planet, has come to an end. Unfortunately, the environment has changed with an unprecedented speed in the last two centuries because of our behavior. Therefore, new concepts have emerged seeking a balance between ensuring the continuous economic growth of society and the protection of the environment. The most prominent theory concerns the notion of green growth.

In order to find practical ways for reconciling economic growth and environmental sustainability, policymakers have put forward the concept of green growth which originated from the Asian and Pacific region. According to the World Bank green growth: “can be thought of as economic growth that is environmentally sustainable, … [and] that is efficient in its use of natural resources, clean in that it minimizes pollution and environmental impacts, and resilient in that it accounts for natural hazards and the role of environmental management and natural capital in preventing physical disasters”.

Green growth carries the promise of a new economic growth paradigm that is friendly to the earth’s ecosystems while turning the current economy into a durable one. The concept does not replace sustainable development, but is a mean to achieve it. It provides a strong focus on fostering the necessary conditions for innovation, competition and investment allowing the appearance of new sources of economic growth – consistent with resilient ecosystems. It also refers to a wise management of physical, natural, social and human capital which is essential for any long-term development strategy.

The concept constitutes a solution for many serious problems facing the world today such as water and food supply crises, rising greenhouse emissions, extreme volatility in energy and food prices, severe income disparity, chronic fiscal imbalances and terrorism which are the direct consequences of environmental mismanagement or inequality. In fact, environmental goals can be achieved in developing countries through the reconciliation of growth and poverty reduction, especially since these countries are the most vulnerable to all of these risks.

Green growth holds out the hope that the investment and innovation required for a low-carbon energy system transformation can become the foundation of a new wave of economic growth. Thus, it would create a world where a growing green economy rewards the winners of the green energy revolution and compensates to its losers. Yet, green growth wholly dependent on export of green energy products threatens a new green mercantilism where countries view green growth as a zero-sum game.  Issues related to how much must be paid and by whom, and solutions mired in what appears to be diffuse, hard-to-identify, benefits in the face of acute and easily observed costs are limiting support for the transformation.

However, the traditional economic system, heavily dependent on energy and resource consumption, is not sustainable and constitutes the main cause of climate change. That is why the paradigm for green growth has recently become popular. This global shift of paradigm focuses on the importance of environmental concerns as the core of economic activities, especially since green strategies can help economies and societies become more resilient as they work to meet demands for transport, food production, housing, energy and water. Moreover, these strategies can help mitigate the impacts of adverse shocks by reducing the intensity of resource consumption while alleviating pressure on commodity prices.

In the light of the increasing global demand for energy due to the growing population and economic growth, especially in emerging market economies which is accompanied by greater prosperity, energy security concerns can emerge as more consumers require ever more energy resources.  Additional higher consumption of fossil fuels leads to further greenhouse gas emissions which contribute to the global warming. Yet, these challenges create opportunities for the establishment of a sustainable energy future which requires new thinking and new systems – essentially a transformation in the way we produce, deliver and consume energy.

For this purpose, green investing must become a priority. Investment in green energy includes investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency technology while excluding nuclear power.  Despite the fact that a substantial proportion of our energy will undoubtedly still be supplied by fossil fuels by 2050, investments in eight Emerging Large-Scale Clean Energy Industries will guarantee a future low-carbon energy system. These industries are:  Onshore Wind; Offshore Wind; Solar Photovoltaic (PV); Solar Thermal Electricity Generation (STEG); Municipal Solid Waste-to-Energy (MSW);  Sugar-Based Ethanol; Cellulosic and Next Generation Biofuels and finally Geothermal Power.

Moreover, UNEP identifies 11 sectors considered to have potential for the transition to a green economy: the so called natural capitals, namely agriculture, forests, water and fisheries, and the sectors of renewable energies, manufacturing, waste, construction, transport, tourism and cities. According to UNEP, the ‘ecologisation’ of the economy does not need to hinder growth. On the contrary, it has potential to become a new engine of growth, a net generator of decent and green jobs and a vital strategy to eliminate persistent poverty.

There is a growing need of ensuring a shift to a low-carbon economy without hindering economic growth of the population, thus balancing environmental and economic concerns. The latter objective was difficult to achieve in the past due to the conflict of interest that existed while governments prioritized economic growth over environmental concerns. The concept of green growth offers an alternative that enables countries to continue the development of their economy while simultaneously protecting the environment.

Imad Ibrahim

Imad Ibrahim is a PhD Candidate at Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies, Pisa, Italy. In his Phd thesis, he examines the issue of transboundary groundwater governance from a legal perspective. He is specialized in energy, water, environmental and climate change law and also deals with matters related to international trade and intellectual property rights. He has been working for the last 3 years as a Research Associate at the think tank Global Law Initiative for Sustainable Development (gLAWcal). He is also an EU commission Marie Curie Fellow at Tsinghua University and at Beijing Normal University (Beijing, China) and Energy policy expert at the Lebanese Oil & Gas Initiative – LOGI, Beirut Lebanon. Imad holds a Master in European Interdisciplinary Studies from the College of Europe and an LLB with a specialization in European, French and Lebanese Law from the Lebanese University, Beirut.
2 Comments on this post.
  • Roger Hawcroft
    Roger Hawcroft
    10 June 2015 at 6:40 pm
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    This is an interesting article and I certainly agree that the World needs alternatives sources of energy and that sustainable sources such as wind, wave & solar power are valuable. In the main, I agree with the thrust of the article and its argument.

    Having said that, I do wonder about the coining of “green growth” as a label for this approach and the apparent conradiction between “The latter objective (balancing environment and economic concerns…) with “… enables countries to continue the development of the economy while simultaneously protecting the environment.”

    I imply no disrespect to Imad, who most certainly has more knowledge of these areas than do I, but I do question the focus on “growth” and also the notion of increased energy requirements. The former, I suggest, is a conceptual flaw in the thinking of governments and others that promotes the notion that *economic* growth is of primary importance and the second, I feel, fails to take into account the already substantially reduced requirements of energy generation that have resulted from new technologies and older technologies that have been freed from suppression, eg. led globes, tesla batteries, electric cars.

    My view is that we need to be careful of playing the game of those forces in society who are intent on personal & corporate gain regardless of either its immediate or, particularly, its long term implications. It seems to me that we have become a society, perhaps even a world that puts profit (growth) before people and that, as a result, we tend to consider newer, more environmentally friendly technologies within that context. Perhaps we should be questioning the very assumptions that exist and the reasons for our gross misuse and overuse of energy and recognising that these are symptoms of sickness in global society rather than benefits, symptoms rather than causes.

  • Imad Ibrahim
    14 June 2015 at 8:01 am
    Leave a Reply

    Thank you Roger for your comments and I apology for providing a late response.And I could not agree more specially with this idea, “we have become a society, perhaps even a world that puts profit (growth) before people”. Yet, there is a catch here. The main reason why we were able to have the electric car or the other alternatives is that we had the industrial revolution in the first place. So, when it comes to developed countries, they should by now posses the potential of shifting toward green energy while the developing countries cannot do that as they need first to ensure a decent life for their citizens. That said, if you a developed country where citizens needs are met, the citizen there will be able to focus issues such as the environment but when you are fighting to eat and sleep every day in different places, no one will even question the climate or the environment if the government could guarantee a normal life on the expense of the environment. This is the big dilemma specially since developed countries are unwilling to transfer the necessary technology to these countries to avoid further climate change deterioration.

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