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More Than Just 'Green Economy' Needed

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Credit: Economy Futures By Rina Kuusipalo*
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RIO DE JANEIRO (IDN) - We used to think that we had reached the end of history, as Fukuyama put it, whereby the reigning institutional-economic arrangement was seen as the best of all possibilities, while seeing the physical planet as infinitely re-imaginable by technology.

Now – not least due to climate change and the global financial crisis – we have hit the wall and reached the planet's limits. We are at the threshold of engaging with the idea that the old paradigm is a false necessity, the social world is ripe with alternatives, and it is the institutional-economic creation that must alter.

From June 8 to10 the New Economics Institute organised the 'Strategies for a New Economy Conference' in New York State, to discuss what a new economy built on fairness and sustainability would look like. Bill McKibben, Gar Alperovitz, and other speakers stressed the importance of the paradigm shift needed to transition to another kind of economy; one that achieves long-term prosperity and tackles the interconnected crises of inequity, unsustainability, and macroeconomic instability.

Jumping from the new economy discussions to the green economy negotiations at Rio+20, the contingencies are seemingly apparent. The 'green economy', as defined by UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), would result in 'improved human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities'. But what will the green economy deliver: the same old in green washed clothes, or, the global vision and grammar for a paradigmatically and practically new economy?

Unless developed countries agree to 'new and additional' funding for sustainable infrastructure in developing countries that are still building fast with little money and resources, such visions will remain words on a paper in the offices of the global North.

The question of funding is not simply one of crisis times, either: not endorsing this crucial enabling mechanism would be a political choice of neglect, as possible funding sources range from eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, to taxes on aviation, shipping, and financial transactions.

The idea of a social protection floor as a new development strategy to hospice the transition would be useful. This would guarantee a safety net to enable wellbeing and freedoms to flourish, under the government’s proper function to protect people, for instance, by providing re-skilling the population in a just transition.

Beyond Gross Domestic Product

When the U.S. states that it does not know what a "non-market based approach" is, we should be careful not to use alternative valuing systems to commodify nature, which as the G77 (Group of 77 and China) says, could "result in the excessive concentration of financial resources in developed countries".

Equitable ownership of resources and modes of production would be crucial: allowing space for diverse ownership models and guaranteeing local stakeholder control of resources. Indeed, addressing the underlying context of structural inequity more widely – with 1% of the world’s population controlling 50% of the planet’s wealth – is a prerequisite for any just and meaningful transition.

The 'Beyond GDP' concept could also further the idea that the solution to poverty and inequality will not be the, and ultimately unfulfilling, Western middle-class ideal of wealth, but sufficiency, wellbeing, and sustainability. Under the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, already articulated in the 1992 Rio Declaration, developing countries should be given the actualised 'right to development' – developed countries should make space for the development of the global South and better distribute national wealth, instead of clinging on to unsustainable debt-fuelled consumerism. The G77 has been pushing in the negotiations for text on such significant lifestyle changes in developed countries.

This would not be a new, green economic paradigm of mere necessity, however, but one of desirability too. As Tim Jackson, author of 'Prosperity Without Growth', soberly puts it, we are indeed persuaded 'to spend money we don't have, on things we don't need, to create impressions that won't last, on people we don't care about'. The UN remains the primary forum to re-define the paradigm of progress, to steer it toward those things we fundamentally care about.

As a concept, the green economy can serve to crucially open the global dialogue on new economic alternatives, extending beyond the Rio outcome. The talks already assert that economic stability, social protection, and green transition do not oppose each other but instead need to be addressed holistically – if this essential idea roots itself, this green economy talk could serve as a crucial tipping point for a pluralist array of new economies.

* This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is associated with the Stakeholder Forum at Rio+20, and is the founder of Economy Futures. This article first appeared in the multi-stakeholder magazine Outreach. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 15, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Rina Kuusipalo | Credit: Economy Futures

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