‘Green Economy’ is not the pathway | Rania ElMasri

20 May 2012

‘Green Economy’ is not the pathway | Rania ElMasri

Soon, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development will convene – with the goal of defining “a sustainable development pathway that leads to a future in which the whole global population can enjoy a decent standard of living whilst preserving our ecosystems and natural resources.”

In the 20 years since the first Rio conference, environmental institutions and environmental ministries have increased in number – while the environmental crisis has deepened and widened.  Alongside the global environmental crisis is the economic crisis – seen in the growing national, regional, and global inequalities.[1] Of course, the environmental crisis worsens the economic crisis, since a healthy economy cannot be built upon an unhealthy environment.

Now, green economy is presented as a solution, built on what is economically permissible rather than on an environmental target based on the earth’s carrying capacity. According to the promoters of this concept, the green economy would maintain the market economy, designed on the basis of a conventional growth imperative.  The logic of the green economy is that the market is the place to manage ecology, and that only that which is owned and has a price can be protected, and thus the solution is to call for “better” economic accounting, to increase support for market-based instruments, and to further integrate natural resources (otherwise known as “ecosystem capital and services”) into the international financing system.

But wait.

How can the market, whose logic is that of profit by design, ensure the equitable sharing of resources and ensure the preservation of nature?  And how can “pricing” – and thus commodifying – our earth’s waters, soils, air, forests, fisheries and gene pool not grant greater access and control to those with more money, when such is the market design itself? [2]  How can market-based instruments serve to protect the environment, when they – most prominently

[1]A 2006 study by the World Institute for Development Economics Research at United Nations University reports that the richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. The bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.  James Davies, Professor of Economics at the University of Western Ontario, and one of the authors of the report, said: "Income inequality has been rising for the past 20 to 25 years and we think that is true for inequality in the distribution of wealth."  Furthermore, although, as confirmed in this 2006 report, wealth is heavily concentrated in North America, Europe, and high income Asia-Pacific countries and people in these countries collectively hold almost 90% of total world wealth, and while wealth continues to be concentrated in developed nations, as confirmed by a 2012 WTO report, income inequality exists and has increased in developed countries.  According to a 2011 report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, income inequality increased in most of the OECD countries. 

[2] A higher price does not provide an incentive for better policies; nor are the ones harmed by the policies – from vulnerable human communities to more vulnerable ecosystems – fairly compensated.  (How can an ecosystem be “compensated”?)