By Max Clarke
Pointing to the “inherently unsustainable development path we are on,” World Bank Vice President Inger Andersen today called on governments, international aid agencies, and other development partners to join a new global knowledge platform aimed at fostering green growth. The platform, being developed jointly by the World Bank, the United Nations Environment Programme, and the OECD, aims to bring together proponents of sustainable development to promote and implement green growth policies by exchanging knowledge, information, and experience.
“As residents of developed countries,” said Andersen, the World Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development, “our pathway to prosperity has come through technological innovation and industrial production. This has brought many benefits but they have come at a significant price as we have seen depletion of our natural resources and harm to our environment. Increasingly today, we understand the true cost to the planet of this model of economic growth. Developing countries are looking for another, better way to pursue their own growth and reduce poverty, leapfrogging the polluting age of development. The world needs to have answers, not just for them but for all nations.”
Andersen was speaking in Copenhagen where she delivered a lecture at the University of Copenhagen on the theme of green growth. Carrying out a broad survey of economic progress over almost two decades, since the first Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, Andersen said the world today is unquestionably richer, and more people have escaped poverty in a shorter period, than at any other time in human history.
This growth though, said Andersen, has come at a cost to the environment. At the same time, the possibilities of using the environment to stimulate growth and drive innovation have been undervalued.
"In many of the world’s poorest nations, we can see vast tracts of land that have been harmed over decades due to poor land use, over-exploitation of soils, and unsustainable and degrading farming practices,” said Andersen. “This land, about one quarter of all agricultural land in the world, can be rehabilitated and put into productive use.”
“As well, many poor countries possess other natural capital in their farms, forests, and ecosystems that can be a primary source of their prosperity,” she added. “Capitalizing on those riches while, at the same time protecting or enhancing the environment is not mutually exclusive. In fact, just the opposite: the environment needs to be at the heart of economic decision-making, alongside concerns for economic and social sustainability.”
Andersen noted several of the contradictions apparent in economic growth today compared to 1992. Globally, more crops and more calories are produced than ever before yet one billion people in developing countries go to bed hungry and undernourished each night. Energy efficiency in cars, buildings, and factories has increased exponentially in 20 years yet the growth in greenhouse gas emissions has risen steadily. There is increased access to safe drinking water worldwide yet 850 million people still lack it while more countries find themselves at risk of water scarcity. More areas of the world are designated as environmentally protected yet species loss and biodiversity destruction has reached unparalleled heights.
Andersen noted that the World Bank Group has significantly ramped up its sustainable development operations in client countries through a wide variety of programs that support and promote environmental protection, natural resources management, clean energy, efficient transport, safe water, more productive agriculture, and modern urban planning.
She added that getting the right mix of green growth policies can also be a stimulant to the labor market, helping to create jobs in economies where unemployment remains a major economic and social concern.
“This is an issue not just for the developing countries we work with that are seeking growth to reduce poverty,” said Andersen. “This is also an issue for the more developed economies, such as here in Denmark, where we have seen clean energy technologies stimulate job creation in research and manufacturing.”
Andersen pointed to the 2012 UN summit on sustainable development to be held in Rio de Janeiro as an occasion where the world can take stock of what has been achieved since the first UN summit in that city 20 years ago. She said that it will also be a time for new commitments backed by specific policy implementation that will demonstrate how world leaders have learned lessons of past development errors and chosen alternatives for the future.
“Embracing green growth,” she said, “is an opportunity for all of us in the international community to demonstrate and share what we know and how we are using that knowledge so that future growth will enhance the triple bottom line of economic, environmental, and social sustainability. We owe it to ourselves but, more important, we owe it to our children to do so.”