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The 'Green Economy' and Earth Summit 2012: Why fast-growing mega-cities with challenges of poverty and hunger may hold the key to a sustainable future

Heather Allen

Posted January 12, 2011 in Curbing Pollution, Environmental Justice, Green Enterprise, Health and the Environment, Living Sustainably, Solving Global Warming

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Preparations for Earth Summit 2012 are heating up.   The international Summit to be held in May of 2012 in Rio de Janeiro is anticipated to draw leaders from around the world for a meeting on the future of sustainable development, and the emerging concept of the ‘Green Economy’.  The Summit builds on a rich history of global gatherings in 1992 and 2002 of Presidents and Prime Ministers which shaped the way the world has sought to address the world’s most challenging environmental and social issues.

Today, at the United Nations in New York in a meeting to prepare for the Summit, countries are eagerly debating the ‘Green Economy’.  They want to know how countries can use the concept to generate action to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, protect plants, animals and natural systems while elevating people from abject poverty and improving lives. 

Its all encompassing really, which leads to the seemingly limitless debate on what the ‘Green Economy’ means.  Nevertheless it has tremendous support:

The goal of a green economy has powerful backing, witness the declarations of the most powerful policymakers in the world.  …  the leaders of the G20 – the world’s twenty largest developed and emerging economies, accounting for almost 80% of the world’s population and 90% of its GDP – restated their commitment to a “green recovery and to sustainable global growth,” following up on their statement in 2009: “We will make the transition towards clean, innovative, resource efficient, low carbon technologies and infrastructure.”

Excerpt from UNEP’s Green Economy Brief for Policy Makers

In a presentation yesterday Jeffrey McNeely Chief Scientist at IUCN explained that the green economy means separating growth, job creation, and economic activity from resource use and pollution. 

So what would that look like? 

For an under-employed or unemployed former manufacturing plant worker in the United States it might mean training to retrofit buildings to be more energy efficient.  Retrofitting buildings is perfect example of creating jobs, raising the standard of living and improving lives through employment and opportunities (while reducing pollution, energy costs and waste).  Job creation, growth, and pollution reduction at the same time – green is sexy.

But what does it mean for the billions of people in the developing world who live on less than two dollars a day, in cities with major problems delivering clean water, adequate food and basic electricity and transportation services?

50% of the world lives in cities and 80% of all global carbon dioxide emissions a year come from cities.  Billions of the world’s poor live in slums in these metropolises ‘by some estimates 27 of the 33 mega-cities expected to exist by 2015 will be in developing countries’.  And while much of Europe and North America have existing concrete infrastructure which needs to be retrofitted to become more efficient, the buildings going up in the developing world have tremendous potential to be built to be the most efficient, the healthiest and the most advanced technologically.

During this period of rapid growth in the developing world we have the opportunity to avoid lock-in of outdated technologies.  Recently– the U.S. Green Building Council with NRDC and over 40 partners from 18 countries partners launched GLOBE ALLIANCE to

bring to scale the low cost, often profitable, benefits of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through sustainable design, construction and operation of our built environment.

The GLOBE Alliance calls on the international community to:

  • Invest in the built environment as a leading strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Increase capacity, knowledge sharing and technology cooperation between developed and developing nations
  • Commit to equitable, inclusive approaches to resilient, low-carbon infrastructure and development
  • Develop and adopt consistent metrics that facilitate monitoring verifying and reporting emissions reductions

The GLOBE Alliance and similar efforts to advance green buildings and sound energy policy demonstrate that the green economy is real, its critical and its more important than ever to save lives, protect livelihoods and improve the standard of living.  

Despite the many definitions of the green economy – the principle of decoupling growth from pollution and resource use holds promise for fast growing cities and the most disadvantaged people. 

Learn more about GLOBE Alliance here.

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