Poverty and Green Economy

By Nidhi Singh nee Batra, PRIA

Under the theme “Green Economy in the context of Poverty Eradication and Sustainable Development and the Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development,” the Thirty – Ninth Special Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) which focuses on the Environment and Sustainable Development will convene in Brazil in June. There will also be a focus on preparation of the region for participation in the United Nations 2012 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio+20).

UNEP has developed a working definition of a green economy as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest expression, a green economy can be thought of as one which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.

Practically speaking, a green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These investments need to be catalyzed and supported by targeted public expenditure, policy reforms and regulation changes. This development path should maintain, enhance and, where necessary, rebuild natural capital as a critical economic asset and source of public benefits, especially for poor people whose livelihoods and security depend strongly on nature.

Pavan Sukhdev was a special adviser and Head of UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative and lead author of ‘The Green Economy Report’, a project that seeks to demonstrate that the green economy, far from inhibiting growth, invigorates it, reducing unemployment and poverty and seeking sustainable development through the correct use of natural resources.

Dr Sukhdev believes that green economy is the only kind of economy that can deliver sustainable development and solve the problem of persistent poverty. It is also the only form of economy that in doing so, also reduces ecological scarcity and environmental risks. Whilst this model should be our choice for the future, there remains the long term challenge of large investment in “Brown Economy”. The opposite of green, the brown economy does not provide equal social benefits, generates poverty, and by promoting the use of fossil fuels, contributes to climate change.
Currently, most of the countries implementing this type of economy are developing countries. He offers a compelling example from Bangladesh, where women are being financed by the Grameen Bank (a microcredit bank) to purchase solar panels with which they can supply electricity to neighbours to pay back their loans. The scheme has the triple win of reducing poverty, generating green energy and reducing harmful health effects from the use of kerosene as fuel.

Brazil’s Agenda for Rio +20 is as follows: “Each country will create its own green economy design, based on its national realities, the resources available, and the development challenges it faces. In Brazil, for example, the green economy will be based on the widespread use of renewable energy, as well as on effectively combating deforestation and raising income levels for millions of Brazilians…”

Antonio Patriota, the foreign minister of Brazil, the host country, praises these ideas loudly. He says, “Brazil has demonstrated that it is possible to grow and to include, while protecting and preserving.”

However, Brazil’s cities are doing just the opposite. In Sao Paolo, street vendors are being removed, their stalls smashed. This means about 100,000 persons are in fear of displacement. It is in contravention of the ideals of the green economy, because street vendors enable access to goods locally, saving clients from travelling in motorised transportation to shop. Rio’s story is unfortunate too. The landfill of Gramacho will be closed as the Rio+20 conference begins, displacing hundreds of waste pickers, who otherwise pick up trash and recycle it.

And the question is what are we doing in India – are we thinking on the lines of urban agriculture/ alternative energy sources/ sustainable and creative leaving?! What are the ways forward for an inclusive green urban living for our cities?

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