Environment / NRM / Policy

On the road back to Rio: Is the new mantra – ‘inclusive green growth’ – really possible?

Farmer collecting crop residues for livestock feed in Yunnan

‘The real question about green growth is whether it can fulfil its promise that poor countries can have both greenery and prosperity.’–Economist. An example of an ‘investment-hungry project’ that can bring high environmental as well as poverty-reduction returns is greater adoption of improved dual purpose ‘food-feed’ crops whose grain feeds people and whose residues after the grain is harvested feed farm animals. Here, a farmer collects crop residues to feed her livestock in Yunnan Province, China (photo credit: ILRI/Stevie Mann).

‘Rich countries prospered without worrying much about the environment’, says a recent article in the Economist. ‘Poor and middle-income countries do not have that luxury.

‘. . . “[G]reen growth” [is] an attempt to improve the often destructive relationship between economic development and the environment. In the run-up to the “Rio+20” conference on sustainable development in Brazil on June 20th-22nd, it has become the new mantra for business people and policymakers. But does it work? . . .

‘Most of the world’s population increase in the next 40 years will be in developing countries. Two or three billion people will move into the middle class. This is two or three times as many as have achieved that status in the past 150 years. Many will want big cars, large air-conditioned houses and to eat meat, which uses up more water and land than grain does. This will put more stress on the environment in ways that will curtail growth. That would leave a lot of people poor and polluted—the worst of all possible worlds. Avoiding such an outcome is a problem for today, not tomorrow. . . .

‘So though the advice to “grow first, then go green” may have made sense in an era when the industrialising population was 500m and growth relatively slow, it will not work when billions of people are following suit and economies are growing by up to 8% a year. Development has to be green from the start. In recognition of that, “green growth” plans are proliferating in poor and middle-income countries. . . .

In practice, this means looking for investment-hungry projects that bring high returns in broad environmental and narrow commercial terms. These are more numerous than the trade-off view of growth would suggest. . . .

‘[G]reen growth remains an improvement both on what exists now (which in many poor countries is practically nothing) and what environmentalists have often demanded in the past. Poor and middle-income countries know full well that their environment is degraded, their cities sprawling and their water supplies running out. They also know that to try to solve such problems by cutting growth would be to commit political suicide and condemn today’s poor to a hopeless future. Green growth offers the best hope that the countries facing the sharpest conflicts between prosperity and preserving the environment can square the circle.’

Read the whole article in the EconomistShoots, greens and leaves, 16 Jun 2012.

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