We sat down with Ivan Turok, Professor, Deputy Executive Director, EPD, Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa, to discuss the Green Economy, which is central to Rio+20, but often poorly-understood and loosely defined.
What is Green Economy?
It combines the benefits of environmental improvement with economic development; it is not an either or situation. A green economy involves higher incomes, more employment, and better living standards, while simultaneously focusing on improving the quality of the environment and limiting the use of natural resources.
Why does it mean different things to different people?
The concept is very widely used. It can mean everything to anyone, and suits different arguments. At one extreme it is presented as a panacea to all the ills of the world. Clearly, this is not reasonable.
A key point of disagreement is whether the green economy is an end-state, something we’re aiming for, or a process… a way of thinking about things, adapting.
Many people have the view that it’s an end-state, a sustainable economy, but actually nobody knows what this is. In fact, it should be both these things. It is both an end-state and a process. In reality, we have to have an idea of how to get there. We don’t know what the end is.
How are we going to get to the green economy?
The traditional view is that the market can achieve it through the price mechanism. The argument is that we have to use the price mechanism to change business practices. Carbon credits are consistent with this view.
My view is that the price mechanisms should be part of it, but they are not sufficient and it would probably be too slow. Governments have other tools at their disposal, taxes and incentives. Governments can regulate, for example, to achieve a reduction in emissions by saying that we’re not going to allow emissions beyond a certain point. During the Green Economy session on Day 5, Tim Jackson, Professor of Sustainable Development at the University of Surrey, UK, and Director of the ESRC Research Group on Lifestyles, Values and Environment, said:
Our current system has already changed the way people behave. It hasn’t changed the fundamental values underneath. It’s the responsibility of the rich nations to change the rules of the game to make our lives fuller, richer and more human so that we are not just kids in a candy shop with a fervent desire to consume and consume.”
Referring to rich countries, he said: “It’s about opening ourselves up to be fully human for the first time for a quite a while.”