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Poor countries are going green too


The G-20 summit this weekend in Toronto offers an opportunity for a long, hard look at how green investments are assisting economic recovery and job growth in many countries while generating environmental gains as well.

Achim Steiner

Achim Steiner

China, which channeled around one-third of its stimulus package into environmental sectors, has seen its GDP rise sharply, and employment in renewable energies such as solar has climbed to more than 1.5 million, with 300,000 workers added in 2009 alone.

Spain’s unemployment rate is high, but it would undoubtedly be higher without its policy to foster wind power and other clean-tech sectors, in which a half-million jobs have been created.

South Korea has invested well over 80 percent of its stimulus in areas ranging from sustainable transport and low-emission vehicles to energy-efficient buildings. This has now been backed up with a five-year green-growth plan aimed at cutting carbon dependency while producing 1.8 million jobs.

The city of Sao Paulo, which represents around one-third of Brazil’s economy, is embarking on a green economy strategy that ranges from transport to greener buildings.

Some claim that while the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy is gaining traction globally, it is an agenda that poorer economies cannot afford. Nothing could be further from the truth. We have assembled some key case studies — part of a major green economy report to be published later in the year.

In Kenya, we found that a new green energy policy, including a feed-in tariff and 15-year power-purchase agreement, is catalyzing an initial target of 500 megawatts of geothermal, wind, and biofuel power, and a rise of more than 40 percent in the country’s installed capacity.

In Uganda, policies to promote organic agriculture have generated 200,000 certified farmers and strong export growth, from under $4 million in 2003 to nearly $23 million now.

In Thailand, market mechanisms, backed by ambitious targets, are helping the country produce businesses that are regional leaders in waste recycling, including operations now in Laos and Malaysia, while generating thousands of jobs.

Over the past two years, the green economy has gone from theory to practice. It is now one of the two major themes as governments prepare for the Rio+20 conference in Brazil in 2012. The inherent logic offers, perhaps for the first time, a sustainable growth paradigm that is suited to developing and developed countries alike.

New ideas and policies, especially when they challenge the status quo, will always have their critics. But, as multiple case studies demonstrate, many developing economies are making up their own minds.

The green economy is not a luxury, but a clear imperative on a planet of 6 billion people — 9 billion by 2050. The financial and economic crisis has given it wings. How far it will fly will depend on smart policies by national governments in developed and developing countries, and on forward-looking policies by regional development banks, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and others.

The G-20 summit in Toronto has the opportunity, if not the responsibility, to enable this transition by taking a leadership role in support of developing economies’ aspirations. Its leaders should reaffirm their commitment to embed sustainability in the global economic recovery, and their recognition of the green economy’s power to create a fundamentally different development path for all countries.

By Achim Steiner and Pavan Sukhdev


Achim Steiner is U.N. under-secretary general and U.N. Environment Program executive director. Pavan Sukhdev is special adviser to the U.N. Environment Program’s Green Economy Initiative. This column was provided by Project Syndicate, a Prague-based not-for-profit association of 390 newspapers in 145 countries.

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