The richest 1 per cent of the world’s population now controls 50 per cent of global assets, while the poorest half owns just 1 per cent – and that gap is set to widen. At the same time, 60 per cent of the world’s ecosystems are degraded. If ever there was a need to rewrite the economic rulebook, it’s now.
The shoots of green growth have matured quickly in the last five years. Technological advances have made real what once seemed implausible; the price of renewables has dropped drastically and financial flows are gathering pace. Low-carbon green economy plans are emerging in more than 40 countries and the outcome of the Paris climate conference will accelerate that trend.
The opportunity of greener growth has also prompted a bigger, more important conversation about the future of economies. Through the many Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) dialogues – in countries rich and poor, at local, national and global levels – two messages have been consistent. Communities have felt excluded and marginalized from the “brown” economy. And experience proves that “green” policies will struggle to make a long-term impact unless they deliver what communities need. The success of a transition will hinge on its inclusivity.
In 2000 Germany embarked on a seemingly impossible mission, moving Europe’s premier industrial economy over to low-emission and renewable energy sources. Sixteen years later the “Energy Transition”, Energiewende, has worked. Technological advances, a growing concern about climate change and a strong evidence-based discourse were all important in driving the change. But, above all, the policy drive has succeeded because it evolved from long-term grassroots action: the transition has been owned not by governments or companies, but by people. Today, over 900 cooperatives across the country enable citizens to run their own wind turbines and solar parks; 46 per cent of installed renewable capacity in Germany is citizen-owned.
There are many other glimpses of an inclusive green transition. The Durban Climate Change Strategy evolved through extensive community consultation and put poorer people at the heart of its response. The National Greening Programme in the Philippines has set aside $650 million to plant 1.5 billion trees, aiming to create livelihoods for poor and marginalized communities.
Since its inception, the Green Economy Coalition (GEC) has insisted on a green economy that generates a better quality of life for all within the planet’s limits. Inclusive really means fairer – more equal opportunities and outcomes. An inclusive transition empowers people marginalized by gender, age, disability, ethnicity, caste and livelihood type; it also shares global assets fairly. In a world of finite resources, “prosperity for all” means that developed countries are expected to take the lead, consume less resources and help lift people out of poverty.
Above all else, our remit is focused on the mechanics of inclusion, starting with dialogue. In the next three years we will be working with partners to convene dialogues in Peru, Mongolia, Senegal and Uganda and supporting our existing civil society hubs in South Africa, India and the Caribbean. Green growth planning processes are underway in all these countries and regions. Our task is to support our partners in bringing diverse voices – trade unions, civil society, small businesses – to shape and own the agenda.
The GEC is supporting communities who have struggled to gain a foothold in the “brown” economy. International green growth initiatives have so far been silent about informal markets. With up to 80 per cent of the workforce in many poor countries, informal markets are not a minor subset of our global economic activity – but where the poorest trade, live and make their livelihoods. We want a new policy agenda, one that focuses on the role of informality in the transition to greener economies.
Entrepreneurs and small and micro businesses will drive the transition on the ground. We have helped develop the first online platform, GreenEcoNet (www.greeneconet.eu), to connect small, medium and micro businesses (SMMEs) and help them promote their green solutions to wider markets. This network demonstrates the momentum for a small, green and inclusive transition. Its members include an Estonian business that partnered with a Bangladesh textile factory to produce garments using leftover fabric, and an Indian SME that has developed bio-digester toilets for rural communities. Sustainable consumption for the many will only succeed when the smallest businesses or communities are included, and have access to green solutions pioneered elsewhere.
Globally we have been working with the international institutions that are leading the green growth agenda, championing “inclusivity” in the context of green growth planning. Now that the issues of inclusion and fairness are firmly at the top of the agenda, we want to ensure that the voices of under-represented constituencies – the small, informal, and forgotten – can shape and own green international policy interventions to meet their needs.
There are no simple policy prescriptions for ensuring that green growth is owned by and benefits the majority. We are all learning as we go.
However, the experience of our partners and members highlights four key ways forward:
The opportunities of green growth have catalyzed a deeper debate about the purpose and aims of our economic system. This momentum will drive a transformation. It is a chance for communities to rewrite the rules that govern our economy, this time for the majority.