By Mahazareen Dastur
Editor's note:In the Yahoo voices on the World Environment Day theme of 2012 - the Green Economy, first up, a conversation with eco-think tanks on what a green economy actually means. The UNEP suggests, it's an economy which is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive. Mahazareen Dastur, a Mumbai based environmental researcher-writer probes further on what this could mean for India. This series is in partnership with FEJI (Federation of Environmental Journalists of India)
Imagine a world where human well-being, social equity and protection of our natural environment are the primary considerations for making business decisions. Sounds too utopian? Not if you go by what some of today's foremost environmental think-tanks call the Green Economy. Environmental circles are buzzing with the term, much like the well-bandied sustainability. But what exactly does it mean? To understand it, we need to first look at India's track record in economic terms.
The GDP smokescreen
Between 1990 and 2008, India's wealth as measured by gross domestic product (GDP) per capita rose by a whopping 120%. But a myopic focus on economic capital is flawed, contends Professor Anantha Duraiappah, Executive Director of the International Human Dimensions Program on Global Environmental Change. When measures of natural, human and manufactured capital were considered together to obtain a more comprehensive value in a recently released report (see image),
What is needed is an indicator that estimates the true wealth of nations— natural resources, human and manufactured, coupled with the social and ecological constituents of human well-being. As Manish Bapna, Executive Vice President and Managing Director of the World Resources Institute, puts it, "The prevailing economic growth model is focused on increasing the GDP above all other goals. While this system has improved incomes and reduced poverty for hundreds of millions, it comes with significant and potentially irreversible social, environmental and economic costs. Poverty persists for as many as two and a half billion people, and the natural wealth of the planet is rapidly being drawn down.
In a recent global assessment, approximately 60 percent of the world's ecosystem services were found to be degraded or used unsustainably. The gap between the rich and poor is also increasing; between 1990 and 2005, income inequality rose in more than two-thirds of countries." This is exactly where the "Green Economy" can come in and promote the triple bottom line: sustaining and bettering not just economic, but also environmental and social well-being.
However, transitioning from a business-as-usual economy to a green economy is not easy. It requires a habit and thought process overhaul which reflects in decision making at all levels. It also requires a variety of institutional reforms and regulatory, tax, and expenditure-based economic policies and tools, customized to the country in question. For example, the Republic of Korea has adopted a national strategy and a five-year plan for green growth for the period 2009—2013, allocating as much as 2 percent of its GDP to investment in several green sectors such as renewable energy, energy efficiency, clean technology and water. Countries are also constantly exploring ways to tax pollution so that those that generate it can be made to take responsibility for the environmental and social costs associated with it. This would presumably drive businesses to seek more environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways of providing products and services, thus helping to green the economy. While many heartwarming possibilities for altering patterns of production, industry, agriculture, the organization of cities, construction systems, and transport has been highlighted as economy-greening initiatives, the truth is- easier said than done.
Will policies trump politics?
Not surprisingly then, the Green Economy has its detractors, who label the very idea as a "naïve expression of very good intentions, without any possibility of altering the current course of the planet". As Edgardo Lander, Professor of Social Sciences at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas, points out, "the capacity of existing political systems to establish regulations and restrictions to the free operation of the markets—even when a large majority of the population call for them—is seriously limited by the political and financial power of the corporations". He goes on to provide the example of the United States, where no environmental regulatory policy and no international commitment can be assumed by the government without the prior approval of major corporations potentially affected by such measures. It is a sad fact that these corporations have the capacity to veto policies they do not agree with.
The extraordinarily unequal power relations existing in today's world on the one hand and the needs of the poor on the other. What experiments will remove this binary and implement concrete plans to activate the beyond the GDP green economy model.
According to India's erstwhile Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh, by 2015, India will report a GDP that takes into account environmental degradation. How well India maneuvers its way towards this is fraught with politicking, ideological nitpicking and mounting realities.But as the stats show, is there another way out or in?
Mahazareen Dastur blogs at mahazareendastur.blogspot.in.