Green Economy: Last Straw for Salvation?

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NewsChina, Rio de Janeiro

Twenty years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, the United Nations is again bringing together governments, international institutions and major groups to discuss a range of measures to reduce poverty, promote decent jobs, clean energy and a more sustainable and fairer use of resources.

Around 2PM on June 19, after days and nights’ fervent negotiations among nations, one day prior to the arrival of heads of nations in Rio de Janeiro to take part in the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), or the Rio+20 summit meeting, the outcome text entitled “The Future We Want” was finally pinned down to be submitted for formal adoption by world leaders during the summit from June 20 to 22.

One of the two focusing themes of the conference is “a green economy in the context of sustainable development poverty eradication.” Addressing on the outcome text, China’s assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu told the media that “generally, it is a comprehensive, positive and balanced document by taking major concerns of all sides into account.”

According to Ma, apart from reaffirming “the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities”, a foundation for international development that developing nations have consistently emphasized, the outcome document highlights in also making “very clear expression on green economy.” It includes content such as prioritizing poverty eradication before the development of green economy, and takes into account the needs of developing countries and strengthening international cooperation, including the provision of financial resources, capacity building and technology transfer to developing countries.

However, as Jochen Flasbarth, President of German Federal Environment Agency perceived, despite green economy being the focus of Rio+20, the document was not as interesting as he hoped, because “it has not the spirits that green economy is the ‘only way’ we can organize our economic activities in the world of tomorrow.”

Political Disputes

The term of “Green Economy” was originally proposed by economist Paul Pierce in 1989 in the book Blueprint for a Green Economy. Different from prior economic regimes, it is considered to be component of the ecosystem in which it resides.

The idea was later adopted by United Nation’s Environment Program (UNEP) in late 2008 and UNEP since launched the “Green Economy Initiative” against the backdrop of the global financial crisis and economic recession. Its objectives are through green investment, to promote the world’s industrial revolution and promote the national economy, and create new green jobs, and thus the recovery and upgrading of the world economy.

A brief working definition of green economy developed by UNEP states that a green economy can be thought of as “one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.”

From the beginning of the negotiation among nations on the concept and implementation of green economy during the past few years, it has generated intensive debate, and remains ambiguous in policy making initiative.

During an interview with NewsChina, Zhou Dadi, researcher with the Energy Research Institute (ERI) of the National Development and Reform Committee said that although all sides support sustainable development and green economy, difficulties in the negotiation process lie in how to apply the principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” and whether developed countries could assume due responsibilities rather than transfer the burden of green economy to developing countries.

According to Zhou, developing countries despite accept the idea of green economy, are concerned if the developed nations would set up trade or technology barriers before giving either financial or technological support to the developing world.

“Green economy cannot become trade and technical barriers, which will cause even greater disadvantage to developing countries," Zhou said, citing the European Union's aviation carbon tax as an example.

He further illustrates that the world manufacturing is the backbone developing force for many low-cost developing countries. If the "green barrier” of raising the production cost under the guise of great economy is set up by developed countries, the price of those products that failed to meet the “green criteria” will be lowered, which will further increase the gap between the two worlds.

Therefore, every country should be allowed to choose the most suitable development path of green economy according to different development stages and national conditions, he said: “Green economy is the tool for sustainable development instead of replacing the latter as the final goal.”

As a representative from French Guiana states on a side event in Rio Centro, the summit venue of Rio+20 conference, “the Challenge before us is how can we reconcile the world forces that have been traditionally seen as incompatible”

Jonathan Pershing, Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change for the U.S. State Department said to the reporter: “the concept of green economy is still not clear, which is one difficulty in these negotiations … I think now we’ve done compromise here, at the end we heard less and less much disagreement or misunderstanding we had at the beginning. Yet we still have the debate on needs, or concerns about the condition.”

Engagement

Despite the political deadlock in pushing forward green economy at world negotiation arena in Rio+20, the green economy initiatives have started almost in every country globally.

In China, enterprises in various fields are piloting a great many measures to transform their business into the green sphere. During the conference in Rio, a series high-profile event on “China Going Green” is held both in the main conference venue and its neighboring country pavilion region. Along with a total of fourteen Chinese entrepreneurs pioneering in green economy development, domestic companies from the construction sector such as Vanke, and solar energy industry Himin presented their idea of low carbon community to the audiences.

Similar to the frustrating Climate Change Talks versus the domestic renewable energy boom, the domestic green economy boom shows no impediment by the modest small steps of the international negotiation process.

Smart business people have sensed few years ago the new business opportunities and large potential profit in green economic endeavor, thus they started technology renovation, production upgrading. “Green economy is self-motivated to a certain degree,” said Zheng Yisheng, deputy director of the Centre for Environmental and Development Research at the Chinese Academy of Social Science, “no matter the result of the international negotiations, whether there is government specific stimulation plan, the private sector is active to take part in the upcoming competition and win the better position through adopting green products.”

Situations are similar in other countries as well. Jonathan Pershing told the reporter: “With respect to green economy, US is someway less engaged in the language of international discussion, but deeply, deeply engaged in actions of green economy. I think that’s so much the same for most countries. It means how you continue to grow, to develop, that means better jobs, it means health education, and welfare.”

Even leaders of a country like Bhutan in the remote Himalaya mountain regions, which is famous for creating Gross Domestic Happiness Index to replace the GDP common goal, admit they are absolutely for green economy and so far the country with a total population of 700,000, has set up hydro power projects of 1700 MW in total. By 2030, the whole country of Bhutan will be supplied by hydro power, and it also has started to export the generated electricity to neighboring India and will increase the amount in the future.

Mr. Ugyen Tshewang, Secretary of National Environment Commission of Royal Government of Bhutan told NewsChina that “green economy looks for sustainable solutions, thus natural resources are optimally used for the sake of future generation. So green economy should be encouraged and should be a goal.”

Last Straw

Historically, there are critiques for Green Economy worldwide. Environment activists term it as a new way for natural exploration. A research organization Etcgroup even argues that the cooperate emphasis on it “will spur even greater convergence of corporate power and unleash the most massive resource grab in more than 500 years.”

Liao Xiaoyi, a Chinese environmentalist and President of Global Village of Beijing exclaimed before the start of a side event held by Chinese green economy entrepreneurs in Rio Centro on June 17: “Now finally everything is classified into economy, and even environment protection is tied up with economic development. This is a blind alley!”

Yet most Chinese domestic environment NGOs perceives the issue from a much positive perspective, since there is no other alternative as far as people cannot reduce energy and resource consumption. “Green economy is, at least, for the moment a good impetus for sustainable development,” said Zhao Ang from Friend of Nature to the reporter.

According to Zheng Yisheng, the most crucial issue for China is whether its business sector can win the competition in green economy development through real qualified and advanced technology. “Some of our products, I have to say, lack technology innovation and are substandard, which might be obstacle for long-term development.”

On June 17, on a side event in China Pavilion, as Huang Ming, CEO of Himin Solar Co. Ltd introduced its solar-thermo products to the audience, two local Brazilian journalists curiously asked Mr. Huang, when will these beautifully demonstrated projects in the slideshow will come true? Huang proudly told them they are real products already. Later on, a Chinese journalist asked Huang the question if these newly renovated solar products can prove to be energy-saving with reliable quality and long lifespan in practical daily use, Huang was apparently unprepared towards the provocative question. This anecdote, though accidental, might be a very demonstration of what the situation really is in China and the world towards green economy. Despite the curiosity and interests from most developing countries towards renewable energy and green economy, the reliable pattern of developing them in real green way remains veiled.

For example, the big boom of renewable energy including solar and wind has swept all over China, but for its quality and efficiency, it’s hard to get the assurance yet. Before everything about green economy is clarified and proved to be absolutely right, business sectors have rushed with full momentum in the exploration efforts.

As Brazil climate change Ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo clarified to NewsChina on the negotiation process of green economy, “in the text, this [green economy] is one path that may be followed, and there are different ways to reach green economy, of course it is not the only way. There is room for different contributing methods, formats, policies that could be called green economy. But we should be very careful to indicate this is not a perfectly defined formulation and should not be adopted as an objective so far.”