Why we should care about developing a Green Economy in the global South

By Emmanuel Sulle, Researcher, Institute of Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS) / Future Agricultures Consortium

Algeria-solar

The importance of developing a green economy – mostly referred to as “an economy where economic prosperity can go hand-in-hand with the ecological sustainability” (PDF) – in the global South cannot be overstated. Studies indicate that with the basic economic system in place, using less carbon intensive technologies, less developed countries (LDCs) are better placed to go green than developed countries, which have to retire the old fossil fuels dependent facilities/technologies.

The transition to a green economy is, however, not an easy task. The constraints include lack of capital, technologies, policies, and legal and institutional frameworks that would enable and regulate private sector investments in the green economy. Yet the wealthiest Northerners, sometimes in collusion with local elites, are seizing opportunities associated with green economies – in many cases with negative impacts for surrounding communities and vulnerable groups in the global South.

Early studies into biofuels developments, for example, indicate that rural communities especially find limits placed on their access to, ownership and control over resources.

Understanding how these initiatives work, and their consequences, has motivated scholars from all over the world to attend the Green Economy in the South conference next week. With a wide range of questions and cases covered, the conference will steer a lively debate in search for answers, recommendations and cruxes on how these issues can be dealt with.

The conference themes, including eco-tourism, biofuels, ecosystem payments, large-scale farming and the spread of GMOs in Africa, are topical and controversial both among academics and practitioners. One of the aims of the event is to bring together field-based research with theoretical ideas about framing and context.

As the organizers of this conference, my colleagues and I are hopeful that the course taken in the past, such as structural adjustment programmes – mostly implemented without critical academic debates – will not be repeated in the establishment and advocacy of the green economy in the South.

Why the green economy now?

The notable drivers of the green economy are the impacts of climate change and the limit of growth with the current economic system. Indeed, this has been a major force behind the large-scale land acquisitions in Africa – labelled land grabs in mid 2000s and energized by the food and financial crisis of 2007/2008.

Other drivers include pressure by environmentalists and general public on politicians to address climate change and the readiness of the business community to embrace emerging opportunities. Worldwide, politicians are including environmental issues in their agendas/priorities, though how far they are implemented remains debatable. Business communities are also becoming aware that climate change poses risks to their business, and that engaging in the green economy is itself an opportunity worth pursuing.

Available information supports the fact that developing the green economy has positive impacts to local economies, compared to the status quo. UNEP estimates that the green economy could create between 15m and 60m new jobs.

Combined with all these insights we hope that next week’s conference will provide new statistics, status updates, challenges and visions of these new green economy initiatives/projects.

Challenges ahead

While actions for green economy initiatives are crucial, politics ultimately determines what policies are adopted. It would be interesting, therefore, to see how leaders in the global South react to the academic debate in Dodoma. Could this conference shift the policy paradigm, and shape political, social and economic debates in the global South? All these would be interesting to watch during the conference and in the few couple of years afterwards.

Ways forward

If well implemented, transition to green economy to green economy provide several pathways to the reduction of green house gas emission, creates more jobs while reducing poverty in the global south.

To achieve this, academic debates like the forthcoming Dodoma Conference and awareness-raising campaign strategies are essential to the development of the green economy in any country. Such a campaign needs to be grounded on available information and success stories, such as experience with energy efficient buildings and renewable energy sources like solar and wind power, among others.

Image: 101214 Algeria unveils renewable energy strategy by Magharebia on Flickr (cc-by-2.0)

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