What is green economy?
Green economy is an economy that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. The United Nations system views greening the economy as a tool to help achieve sustainable development and eradicate poverty. In this context, green economy is seen to be at the heart of renewed efforts to integrate environmental and social considerations within the mainstream of economic decision-making in the run-up to the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (4 - 6 June 2012), also known as Rio+20, and beyond.
Green economy and the recent crises
Renewed interest in driving the green economy agenda forward arose at the time of the 2008 financial and ensuing economic and social crisis. A number of initiatives proposed a package of green public investment and complementary policy and regulatory reform within the context of national fiscal stimulus packages aimed at boosting the economic recovery and job creation. The crisis has opened a window of opportunity: weak private demand will not suffice to return economies to their full employment levels, and hence needs to be underpinned by public support, while concurrently low interest rates make the costs of investment attractive.
Green economy aims to boost green investment and policy reform
The green economy aims, inter alia, to boost economy-wide policy reform that enables green investment. This can have positive horizontal impacts on the whole economy, bringing large pay-offs that have the potential to reduce poverty and help achieve progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Safeguarding or upgrading a country’s natural capital stock typically has large benefits for vulnerable groups, which are more dependent on natural capital for their livelihoods. Massively scaled-up investment in green infrastructure — especially in the energy, transport, agriculture and waste sectors — typically commands a high social rate of return.
Green economy in the pan-European region
Despite significant achievements in greening the economies across the pan-European region, the ambitious green economy targets being pursued by many countries in the region show that the scale of the green economy challenge for the region is still large.
The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) has an important role to play in the region’s transition towards a green economy. Through its sectoral work in the areas of energy, transport, water, sustainable land management, its five multilateral environment agreements, its International Centre on Public-Private Partnerships, its flagship Environmental Performance Reviews, its work on innovation policy and on statistics, UNECE helps to shape and inform on international good practice, policies, norms, standards and indicators for a green economy.
Green economy and UNECE five multilateral environmental agreements
A pre-requisite to paving the way toward a green economy is that economic growth be decoupled from environmental degradation and exposure to health hazards, while also improving social equity. To achieve these aims, Governments, civil society and the private sector need to join forces to draw up regional roadmaps for a green economy. The ECE multilateral environmental agreements provide cornerstones for such a roadmap in the ECE region and even beyond. They offer legal frameworks and policy solutions to safeguard human health and the environment, to encourage international cooperation, strengthen governance, democracy, transparency and accountability, reduce emissions, promote resource efficiency and sustainable production.
Specifically, the ECE MEAs support the transition to green economy in the following ways:
- Emission targets set by the Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution and its protocols promote the adoption of low-emission technologies, help drive technological innovation, protect human health by reducing exposure to harmful pollutants and seek to maximize benefits for improving air quality by exploiting the synergies with climate change mitigation.
- The Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention) increases the transparency of decision-making and promotes resource efficiency in a transboundary context. Its Protocol on Strategic Environmental Assessment provides a unique and important instrument for planning and policymaking related to greening the economy: it integrates environmental, including health, considerations into economic development while also strengthening public participation in the governmental decision-making process.
- The Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes promotes the equitable and reasonable use of water resources through the integration of water in development and sectoral policies, in particular food and energy-related policies, thereby fostering resource efficiency in the transboundary context. Its Protocol on Water and Health is a powerful tool to ensure universal access to safe water supply and adequate sanitation, with a special focus on equity aspects.
- The Convention on the Transboundary Effects of Industrial Accidents promotes policy and governance solutions to protect human life and the environment from the effects of industrial accidents. Together with industry, it fosters the development and implementation of safe production technologies, safety techniques or services to continuously improve prevention, preparedness and response to industrial accidents.
- The Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention) and its Protocol on Pollutant Release and Transfer Registers, which are open for global accession, offer powerful twin protections for the environment and human rights. They provide effective models for ensuring public input in defining and implementing green economy programmes and in choosing the most appropriate roadmaps to sustainability and for increasing transparency and government accountability, thereby putting Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration into practice and paving the way for its universal application.