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How far are we along the path to a green economy?

How far are we along the path to a green economy?

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Published by ABC News Online
From the ANU's HB Coombs policy institute: How far are we along the path to a green economy?
From the ANU's HB Coombs policy institute: How far are we along the path to a green economy?

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Published by: ABC News Online on Nov 18, 2011
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11/27/2012

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How far are we along the path to a green economy?
Guy Emerson
Guy Emerson
is a doctoral candidate in the Research School of Social Sciences,Australian National University
IntroductionThe United Nations has declared 2012 the International Year of SustainableEnergy for All. In the lead up to this designation, the UN called upongovernments, international and regional organisations to meet alreadyestablished commitments in achieving sustainable development anderadicating poverty (UN 2010). Central to these sustainable developmentguidelines is the need re-assess the development path globally so as not to jeopardise the well being of future generations. While over the last quarter of a century the world economy has quadrupled, benefiting hundreds of millions of people, 60% of the world’s major ecosystems have been degradedor used unsustainably (IMF 2006; Millennium Ecosystem Assessment 2005;UNEP 2011: 20). According to the World Wildlife Fund’s 2010 World Report,humanity’s ecological footprint has doubled since 1966. Based on modestUN projections for population growth, consumption and climate change, by2030 humanity will need the capacity of two Earths to absorb CO
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waste andkeep up with natural resource consumption. Harvesting more fish than canbe replenished and cutting more wood than can be regrown, there is anurgent need to close the gap between the ecological footprint and bio-capacity (WWF 2010: 8, 9, 35). Unsurprisingly, however, not every region hasan equal footprint, with enormous di
erences between countries, particularlythose at di
erent levels of development. While the following sections willbreak the analysis up into developing, developed and BRIC categories, it is toglobal trends towards combating environmental disaster and steps towards aglobal green economy that attention now turns.Global movement?Based on existing studies, the costs associated with steps towards a globalgreen economy are estimated to be in the range US$ 1.05 to US$ 2.59trillion. While such figures may appear daunting, to place this demand inperspective, it is about one-tenth of total global investment per year (UNEP2011: 23). Viewed optimistically, the agreements reached on 11 December2010, in Cancun, Mexico, at the United Nations Climate Change Conference
HC COOMBSPOLICY FORUM
 
represented key steps forward. Outlining plans to reduce greenhouse gasemissions and assist developing nations to protect themselves from climateimpacts, the Cancun Agreements saw the international community addressthe long-term challenge of climate change collectively. Encompassingfinance, technology and capacity-building
 
support, at Cancun developednations agreed to a new $US100 billion Green Climate Fund that will assistdeveloping nations in adapting to climate change, as well as promotingsustainable paths to low emission economies. While the subsequent sectionsof this report will examine particular region’s capacity to abide by theirclimate targets stated at Cancun, in terms of a global agreement, consensuswas reached at Cancun on the need to keep the average global
 
temperaturerise below two degrees Celsius. A less optimistic reading, however, woulddescribe Cancun’s success as modest. Although some initial steps have beentaken towards implementing elements of theCopenhagen Accord, it remainsunclear whether binding emissions commitments will be made.Towards a green economySteps to overcome an array of market, policy, and institutional failures are atthe heart of meeting the environmental challenge and moving towards agreen economy. The UN argues that at the international level there are anumber of opportunities to add to market infrastructure – includingimproved trade and aid flows – so as to foster greater internationalcooperation in addressing the ecological challenge (United Nations GeneralAssembly 2010 in UNEP 2011: 21). In this light, the World Bank along withUNCTAD (United Nations Conference on Trade and Development) and IFAD(International Fund for Agricultural Development) have jointly proposed the‘Principals for Responsible Agricultural Investment’ and announced a globalproject on ‘Ecosystem Valuation and Wealth Accounting’. Both initiatives willenable a group of developing and developed nations to test this greenframework and evolve a set of pilot national accounts that are better able toreflect and measure sustainability concerns.
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A central pillar of the sustainability measures is building upon natural capitalthrough renewables. Acknowledging global market failures, much of therenewable energy technology would become highly competitive, it is argued,if externalities associated with environmental degradation were factored intothe production costs of fossil fuels. Moreover, in relation to policy failures,the competitiveness of renewables would again only improve if subsidies forthe production and consumption of fossil fuels were removed (such supportglobally totals between US$500-700 billion per year) (UNEP 2011: 204). In aUN report released in May 2011, it was determined that global energygenerated by renewables could increase up to 10 times on current levels by
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These Principles are available at http://siteresources.worldbank.org/INTARD/214574-1111138388661/22453321/Principles_Extended.pdf)
 
mid-century. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggestedthat renewables will most likely contribute more than 17% of the planet’sprimary energy supply by 2030, and more than 27% by 2050.By means of assisting the transition, the UN Industrial DevelopmentOrganisation has developed a regional programme with special focus onSouth-South in Africa, and is looking to replicate this in Latin America andAsia. Moreover, the World Bank Group’s Chief Technical Specialist forRenewable Energy and Energy E
ciency noted that it is possible to rapidly,a
ordably and sustainably provide energy services to the poor throughe
cient technology and renewable fuels (Global). In fiscal year 2010, theBank invested more than US$13 billion in the energy sector, the highest-everannual amount. Moreover, since 2003, the Bank has invested about US$17billion in low carbon investments, of which $14.2 billion were in renewableenergy and energy e
ciency. In Turkey, for example, a US$600 million
 
loanis helping to develop renewable energy through hydro, geothermal, wind andlandfill gas, while in Bangladesh the Rural Electrification and RenewableEnergy Development Project has helped connect more than 900,000households through grid extensions and solar home systems.Looking forwardThe two upcoming global conferences of note are the United Nations ClimateChange Conference to take place in Durban, South Africa, later this year andthe United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in Riode Janeiro in 2012. In Durban the future of the Kyoto Protocol andperspectives for a new legally binding agreement will be an important talkingpoint, as the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period runs out by the endof 2012. Similarly, in Rio de Janeiro the central topics of discussion are‘Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and PovertyEradication’, and ‘International Environmental Governance’.
Developing nations
As noted above, while the globe faces ecological and economic challenges inmoving towards a green economy, not all regions are impacted upon equally.Indeed, particularly a
ected by environmental changes are the developingnations. Acknowledging this disparity, the UN Development Program (UNDP)argues that poverty, energy, and environment are inextricably linked; aposition outlined in its Strategic Plan 2008-2013 (UNDP 2010: 7).Mainstreaming issues concerning the environment and energy into nationaldevelopment planning, the other three pillars of the Plan include: supportingenvironmental finance, addressing climate change and promoting local

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