Investing in 'green economy' can boost growth, reduce poverty – UN report

21 February 2011
Green Economy

Investing around $1.3 trillion – or two per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP) – into ten key sectors can kick-start a transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient 'green economy' that can also help reduce poverty, says a new United Nations report launched today.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) presented the report, “Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication,” to environment ministers from over 100 countries at the opening of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi.

The report identifies the following sectors as key to greening the global economy: agriculture, buildings, energy supply, fisheries, forestry, industry including energy efficiency, tourism, transport, waste management and water.

It sees a green economy as not only relevant to more developed economies but as a key catalyst for growth and poverty eradication in developing ones too, where in some cases close to 90 per cent of the GDP of the poor is linked to nature or natural capital such as forests and freshwaters.

“With 2.5 billion people living on less than $2 a day and with more than two billion people being added to the global population by 2050, it is clear that we must continue to develop and grow our economies,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

“But this development cannot come at the expense of the very life support systems on land, in the oceans or in our atmosphere that sustain our economies, and thus, the lives of each and everyone of us,” he added.

“The green economy provides a vital part of the answer of how to keep humanity's ecological footprint within planetary boundaries. It aims to link the environmental imperatives for changing course to economic and social outcomes – in particular economic development, jobs and equity.”

According to UNEP, the world currently spends between one and two per cent of global GDP on a range of subsidies that often perpetuate unsustainable resources use in areas such as fossil fuels, agriculture, including pesticide subsidies, water and fisheries.

Many of these are contributing to environmental damage and inefficiencies in the global economy, and phasing them down or phasing them out would generate multiple benefits while freeing up resources to finance a green economy transition.

The report does acknowledge that in the short-term, job losses in some sectors, such as fisheries, are inevitable if they are to transition towards sustainability. Investment, in some cases funded from cuts in harmful subsidies, will be required to re-skill and re-train some sections of the global workforce to ensure a fair and socially acceptable transition.

The report makes the case that over time the number of “new and decent jobs created” in sectors – ranging from renewable energies to more sustainable agriculture – will however offset those lost from the former “brown economy.”

The green economy, in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication, and international environment governance are the two themes for UNEP's Governing Council session, which is also looking ahead to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development scheduled to be held in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012.

“We live in some of the most challenging times that perhaps any generation has faced, but also one of the most exciting moments where the possibilities of re-shaping and re-focusing towards a sustainable 21st century have never been more tangible,” Mr. Steiner noted in his opening address to the session.


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