Green Economy

The concept of a Green Economy has become increasingly prominent in environmental policy discussions. The ongoing financial crisis has supported the emergence of this topic, as uncertainty on the sustainability of the current global economic system grows. The Green Economy will be at the heart of the forthcoming Rio+20 Conference next year, where it will be discussed in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

As a member of the Green Economy Coalition, IUCN shares the Coalition’s vision of striving towards a “resilient economy that provides a better quality of life for all within the ecological limits of one planet”. IUCN sees a Green Economy as an economy which is motivated by social welfare and securely anchored on sustainable patterns of natural resource use and stewardship. Ultimately, the goal is to align the economy with the principles of sustainable development.

IUCN firmly believes that a Green Economy should be based on a clear recognition of the fundamental dependence of human wellbeing on nature. As such, biodiversity and ecosystems need to be kept at the centre of a Green Economy transition.

More specifically, IUCN suggests that a nature-based Green Economy transition should build on the following three fundamental pillars: 

  • Managing ecosystems and biodiversity to build resilience- IUCN believes that healthy ecosystems represent the foundation of a resilient and truly sustainable economy. Consequently, there needs to be a stronger appreciation of the role of biodiversity and green infrastructure as means of mitigating and managing economic risks. In this regard, greater investment in ecosystem management, stewardship and restoration is essential in the transition towards a Green Economy.
  • Mainstreaming ecosystem values in the economy- IUCN emphasizes the need to change current accounting and planning frameworks to ensure that ecosystem values are reflected in economic decisions and policies. Moreover, greater investment in natural capital can play a key role in supporting a Green Economy transition by generating income and creating jobs in ‘green’ markets and enterprises such as sustainable tourism, organic agriculture, and the management of ecosystem services (e.g. regulating water, nutrient, and water cycles).
  • Developing an appropriate governance model for a Green Economy- IUCN believes it is imperative that the green economy transition be based on strong governance principles, namely access to information, public participation and horizontal decision making – all of which are essential for a Green Economy to be equitable and effective.

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Questions & Answers

 • What is the difference between the concept of a Green Economy and Sustainable Development?

Sustainable development emphasises the need of supporting development with the three indispensible pillars of economic, social and environmental sustainability. The Green Economy is conceptually different in that it focuses specifically on the sustainability of the economic pillar. It does not aim to replace the sustainable development concept but rather complement it by emphasizing the importance of improving the sustainability of the global economy.

What are the implications of a Green Economy for poverty reduction?

A Green Economy is central to reducing poverty. Improving the quality of the environment of which people’s livelihood depend on, especially rural communities in developing countries, will inevitably contribute to poverty reduction. Moreover, a Green Economy has the potential to create jobs in certain sectors, such as in waste management and ecological restoration. It also hoped that a stronger recognition of the economic significance of nature will promote new business opportunities. Developing markets for ecosystem goods (e.g. sustainable agriculture, timber, etc.) and services (e.g. carbon sequestration, tourism, water regulation) can be used to better support local livelihoods while improving environmental sustainability.

What does the Green Economy imply for biodiversity conservation?

Obviously, it is hoped that a Green Economy will be based on a stronger integration of the economic value of biodiversity and natural capital in economic decisions. Because of its central role in providing the ecosystem services upon which economic activity depends, biodiversity should be considered as the underpinning foundation of a Green Economy. Therefore, conservation should be viewed as an area of economic opportunity, and not as a constraint. As previously stated, biodiversity can generate economic benefits, for instance the development of markets for ecosystem services and goods. Ecosystems also play a critical role in mitigating risk, for example when mangroves act as natural forms of protection against storm damage. Biodiversity is therefore not only central to income generation; it can also be an important means of saving money.

What implication does a Green Economy have on the notion of economic growth?

The ongoing debate on the Green Economy has generated serious discussions on the notion of economic growth. Can an economy prosper without growing in size? Is economic growth by definition unsustainable? Some economists argue that economic growth can be gradually decoupled from increasing resource use and pollution, and can therefore be pursued indefinitely in a ‘green’ manner. Others would argue that continued economic growth in the long-run is not sustainable, due to the limits in resource efficiency improvements and in the availability of ecological resources in a finite planet. These proponents advocate for new means of generating wealth without pursuing economic growth. Nevertheless, the idea that a Green Economy should go beyond a growth-based vision solely centred on increasing GDP is gaining traction. Overall, the general view on the Green Economy is that it should focus on achieving poverty reduction and sustainable development, while acknowledging that, in certain instances, economic growth is a necessary means of achieving those objectives.

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