“Green Growth, Resources and Resilience: Environmental Sustainability in Asia and the Pacific” Reply

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) have produced a joint report on resource use trends and green growth strategies in the Asia-Pacific Region. The report, titled “Green Growth, Resources and Resilience: Environmental Sustainability in Asia and the Pacific” and released in February 2012, highlights the changes that have occurred in the policy landscape in the Asia-Pacific Region since 2005.

The authors of the report note that leaders in this region increasingly recognize that “to reduce poverty and increase resilience, a greater focus is needed on achieving a better quality of growth.” They propose that in order to achieve this aim, an “expanded range of economic, social and environmental considerations, must become as important as, or even more important than, expanding gross domestic product.” The report also acknowledges that “green growth strategies, on their own, cannot address the root causes of poverty” and suggests further policy research and analysis of the links between persistent poverty, inequality and resource use. The report concludes with a recommendation that the major green growth opportunity in the Asia-Pacific Region lies in the “ability of economies to reduce the quantity of resources used by the built environment.”

Link: http://www.unescap.org/esd/environment/flagpubs/GGRAP/

Global Transition 2012: International initiative on ‘New Economy’ Reply

The Global Transition 2012 is an international network of organisations and leading thinkers striving for “an alternative global green economy that maximises well-being, operates within environmental limits  and is capable of coping and adapting to global environmental change.” The initiative has been introduced and supported by the Stakeholder Forum for a Sustainable Future, the new economics foundation (nef) and the New Economics Institute, with partnership with other organisations such as the Green Economy Coalition and BioRegional. The current focus of the initiative is to “grow the network of organisations from now, in the lead up to Rio+20 [United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, 2012] and beyond.”

On their website, The Global Transition 2012 initiative publishes short blog articles from leading thinkers, information on events related to the Rio+20 conference, as well as series of ‘Challenge Papers’ on key topic areas covering: The Green Economy, Beyond GDP, Global Inequality, One Planet Living, The Blue Economy, Energy Resources and Services, Food Security, Managing Natural Capital, Global Finance and Banking, Green Jobs and Skills, and Trade.

‘The Gren Economy’ paper by nef urges that “we must devise and manage a rapid economic transition.” The authors propose that new economic models maximising human well-being, but at the same time working within the Earth’s environmental boundaries, need to be implemented. The paper “puts forward 6 challenges to lay the foundations for [the needed] systemic change: 1. Develop a national transition plan that puts countries on paths to operate within planetary boundaries, and on timescales sufficiently quick to preserve key, ecological life support functions; 2. Don’t start from a growth perspective; 3. Agree to develop and implement new measures of economic success; 4. Commit to reduce income and wealth inequalities between and within nations; 5. Put fiscal policy and public expenditure centre stage in managing economic transition; and 6. Recapture the financial sector for the public good.”

‘The Beyond GDP: Measuring Our Progress’ paper co-authored by nef, Global Footprint Network and National Secretary for Planning and Development, Ecuador, then focusses on ways of measuring environmental sustainability and well-being. The authors “call for governments around the world to: 1. Amend their national accounting systems to align what they measure with what really matters; and 2. Use those measures as a guide for policy and political action.”

In connection with the Global Transition 2012, the initiative has also developed ‘The Global Transition to a New Economy’ project. The key of this project is an interactive map of already existing projects and initiatives that can be put under the umbrella of ‘New Economy’.

Links: http://globaltransition2012.org/, http://www.gtne.org/

“The Regeneration Project”: defining the role of the private sector in a sustainable society Reply

The Regeneration Project is a collaborative initiative by SustainAbility and GlobeScan that focuses on “the role that the private sector can take to fundamentally reshape – and make more sustainable – our society and economy.” The project’s vision is to “provide a roadmap for achieving sustainable development (SD) within the next generation, focusing in particular on ways the private sector can improve sustainable development strategy, increase credibility and deliver results at greater speed and scale.” The initiative reflects on the progress that has been made on the sustainable development agenda since the release of the Our Common Future report by the Brundtland Commission in 1985 and the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.

The project has been inspired by interviews with sustainable development “Pioneers” – a series entitled the “Ray Anderson Memorial Interviews” – and in 2012, it plans to produce a series of white papers on SD in relation to the Rio+20 conference, as well as to perform s0-called international influencer surveys, public opinion surveys and various related events.

The first white paper, titled “Unfinished Business: Perspectives from the Sustainable Development Frontier,” has been released in January 2012 and provides a summary of interviews (undertaken over 2011) with 20 sustainable development Pioneers from business, government and civil society with the focus on what has happened in the field of SD since the Rio 1992 conference. The paper documents the shift of businesses and NGOs towards working together (as opposed to against each other) on SD and notes that “many Pioneers call for a rethink of the economic system.”  The key message of the interviews points to the potential for business leaders to play an important role in sustainable development.

The Regeneration Project has also partnered up with the Guardian Sustainable Business and brings series of short articles and videos on topics relating to the Rio+20 conference.

Links: http://theregenerationproject.com/, http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainable-business/series/regeneration-project

Income and happiness – new Ipsos study shows that the link might not be as strong as we thought Reply

The weekly news magazine The Economist recently (Feb 2012) reported on the results of a new study on the relationship of income and perceived happiness. Undertaken by Ipsos, a private research think-tank, the study involved 19,000 respondents from 24 countries and showed that “the highest levels of self-reported happiness were not in rich countries, as one would expect, but in poor and middle-income ones, notably Indonesia, India and Mexico.” Interestingly, the study also found that “despite global economic gloom, the world [based on the results from 24 countries] is a happier place than it was before the financial crisis began.” Such findings indicate that levels of income do not exclusively determine people’s percieved happiness.

Link: http://www.economist.com/node/21548213

Harvard Business Review Jan 2012 issue on “The Happiness Factor” Reply

Harvard Business Review featured a series of articles on happiness, wellbeing and economics in its January 2012 issue, under the overall title “The Happiness Factor.” The articles within touched on the following topics: ‘The Economics of Well-Being’, ‘The Science Behind the Smile’, ‘Creating Sustainable Performance’, ‘Positive Intelligence’, and ‘The History of Happiness’. While the overall focus of the issue, based on the cover, appeared to be on improved company performance (thanks to happy employees), the articles inside gave a rather good and balanced overview of the bigger picture of New Economic thinking. (Requires purchase to view the whole issue, or consult your nearest library)

Link: http://hbr.org/archive-toc/BR1201

UNEP’s Green Economy Unit provides feedback on Life Beyond Growth 2012 Reply

We have kindly asked those organisations and institutions whose work has been featured in Life Beyond Growth 2012 for their feedback on the report. We especially  appreciated the response from Joy Kim, Programme Officer at  UNEP’s Green Economy Unit, who gave us a permission to publish her view on the report.

Joy wrote to us:

“Thank you for your invitation to provide feedback on your new publication ‘Life Beyond Growth’.

It is an impressive compilation of new economics and I found it quite interesting to read about the evolution of the growth paradigm. Let me provide a few comments particularly on indicators — the relationship between green economy and sustainable development and the notion of de-growth.

First, it seems that the spectrum of indicators seems to be narrowly defined (basically three clusters: GDP, green GDP and GNH). Yet, such a clustering of indicators does not do justice in my view as the picture of indicators across the spectrum of new economics is very complex and some further work is required in order to identify such gaps in this area.

As you mentioned in chapter 5, there has been vast amount of work done in the filed of sustainable development indicators including ‘Genuine Savings’ etc. The problem is that they appear to play a secondary, or back seat role in policy-making relative to key economic indicators such as GDP (by the way, these indicators are not to replace GDP. GDP is one economic indicator, yet it has been a predominant one so far to measure our economic progress. A key challenge is to understand better the constraints to taking a more integrated approach).

At the same time, there is a paucity of data and indicators that capture the economic transformation in terms of investment, outputs and jobs in environmental sectors (renewable energy technologies, public transport, waste management etc.). The same can be said for similar data from social sectors (by levels of education, occupational training, by social groups such as women and youth, public health care etc.).

In this regard, UNEP has been largely striving to assisting countries to implement a key set of indicators by identifying knowledge gaps and providing guidelines for the implementation of such indicators. The system for environmental and economic accounting (SEEA) is a case in point.

Second, in page 27, you have listed sustainable development in the spectrum of alternative economic frameworks together with green economy and green growth. Yet, sustainable development is a widely accepted overarching concept across the spectrum of general growth paradigm. Hence it is misleading to list it as an alternative economic framework next to green economy, as green economy is a means to achieve sustainable development.

Finally, in the conclusion, it is stated that ‘green economy’ allows selective de-growth. In my view, it would be more accurate to say that green economy is grounded on the notion of decoupling (both relative and absolute although the grounding on the latter is weaker than the former). Green economy attempts to redress the existing growth model by providing an alternative one, but it should be born in mind that economic growth is an important part of green economy.

I hope these are useful and thank you again for this opportunity to provide our views on this publication.”

The quality of GDP in Chinese provinces does not correlate with GDP ‘quantity’ Reply

The Beijing-based China Economy Research Institute, a think-tank of China Economic Weekly under People’s Daily News Group, recently published the “2011 Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Quality Rankings.” The rankings have been published annually since 2009, so the current 2011 report is the third of its kind. The 2011 rankings lists the Chinese mainland’s 31 provincial-level regions based on their per capita GDP quality, or residents’ income happiness index (the ratio between per capita disposable income and per capita GDP, calculated as of Feb 22, 2012).

The website China.org.cn, an authorized news portal site established by the Chinese government, reports on the fact that “statistics show that regions with a greater GDP aggregate were not necessarily ranked high in GDP quality. Instead, some of them even came in near the bottom. In 2011, the top five regions with the highest GDP were Guangdong at 5.3 trillion yuan (US$820.59 billion), Jiangsu at 4.86 trillion yuan (US$752.46 billion), Shandong at 4.54 trillion yuan (US$702.92 billion), Zhejiang at 3.2 trillion yuan (US$495.45 billion) and Henan at 2.7 trillion yuan (US$418.03 billion). However, in terms of GDP quality, Guangdong came in third, Jiangsu 21st, Shandong 25th, Zhejiang fourth, and Henan 24th. Most notably, Guizhou Province, a mountainous region in southwestern China, took the fifth spot in 2011 though its GDP of 0.56 trillion yuan (US$86.7 billion) was ranked only 26th near the bottom.”

These findings show that, in Chinese provinces, the quality of GDP does not correlate with GDP ‘quantity‘. This is an issue that China’s economic experts have started to highlight in recent years. As China.org.cn puts it: “In recent years, China’s economic experts have pointed out that GDP should not be worshipped blindly. It’s more vital to consider its contributions to the improvement to people’s income, livelihood and sense of happiness.”

UNCTAD Discussion Paper on Green Growth and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reply

A recently published discussion paper authored by Ulrich Hoffmann, the Head of the Trade and Sustainable Development Section at the secretariat of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) questions the potential of Green Growth to sufficiently reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The paper, titled “Some reflections on climate change, green growth illusions and development space”, argues that even though Green Growth (based on decoupling of economic growth from material throughput and conventional energy use) might be a good way of “creating new growth impulses with reduced environmental load and facilitating related technological and structural change”, its potential to sufficiently reduce GHG emissions is greatly limited by constraints in growth, technological, population-expansion and governance as well as some key systemic issues. The author suggests that “one should not deceive oneself into believing that such evolutionary (and often reductionist) approach will be sufficient to cope with the complexities of climate change.”

Beyond GDP (EU 2007 conference website) Reply

This is the principal website of the European Union’s project/conference on developing indicators that are “as clear and appealing as GDP, but more inclusive of environmental and social aspects of progress.” The initial conference — held in 2007 and co-sponsored by the European Commission, European Parliament, Club of Rome, OECD and WWF — was a landmark that helped pave the way for much that came later. However, the website seems to have been stopped being updated in Oct 2011. This legacy site contains info on indicators (GDP, Enlarged GDP, Social indicators, Environmental indicators, Wellbeing), relevant news [until Oct 2011], resource documents, the documentation of the conference, and many good links to other initiatives/organisations etc.

Link: http://www.beyond-gdp.eu/index.html