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This blog was started in May 2012, one month before the United Nations Rio+20 ‘Earth Summit’ where the green economy was the main theme. The blog so far has had three specific objectives.

In the run-up to the Rio+20 Summit the initial objective was to raise awareness of Africa’s huge green growth potential and role in rebalancing the global economy. Eight posts were published before the Summit and were sent to as many African environment ministries as possible. One post was published in August 2012 appraising the summit and Africa’s position: Africa, Rio+20 and the Green Road Ahead.

The second objective was to examine the case of Ethiopia, following the death of prime minister Meles Zenawi on 21 August 2012. At the time of his death Mr Meles was recognised as 'the voice of Africa' at international summits and conferences and a leader in Africa's green thinking. Four posts on Ethiopia were published between late August and early November 2012 exploring the paradoxical nature of his leadership with a focus on raising awareness of his green legacy and 21st century vision for Ethiopia and Africa.

The third and current objective is to raise awareness of the importance of the green economy in Africa's growth story. 2013 started with unprecedented optimism for Africa’s growth prospects. Summits, conferences, articles, books, blogs, films and other media now proclaim that 'Africa’s Moment' has arrived. But very few even mention the green economy as an essential tool in the process to achieve sustainability and resilience. For this reason the current focus of this blog is a call to action to 'put the green economy into Africa’s growth story'.

Part of this call to action is writing letters to the Financial Times. Not only does the FT have excellent coverage of Africa but it is also seen by many as the 'world's most influential newspaper'.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

G20, Climate Change and the Green Economy

The timing of the G20 Leaders Summit in Ankalya, Turkey on 15-16 November offers a tremendous opportunity. It falls two weeks before the crucial COP21 climate talks in Paris when many of the leaders will meet again. In the past few years, despite geo-political tensions, the leaders, when they get together, do show signs they are moving forward.

Whatever the sceptics might say, as far as global summits go last year's G20 meeting in Brisbane on 15-16 November was a success. The positive tone was set a few days earlier by the historic US-China agreement on carbon emissions. The early departure from Brisbane of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who seems stuck in the 20th century, left the remaining G19 and their guests to get on with the task of dealing with 21st century challenges.

An 800-point action plan relating to climate change, banks, growth, Ebola, tax evasion, trade, job creation and much more shows that the leaders of the world’s most powerful nations are, if not ahead, at least in the curve. The level of cooperation at Brisbane has not been seen since the dark days of the financial crisis and is a reason for hope.

But when David Cameron, UK prime minister, fired the parting shot by warning that “the red lights are once again flashing on the dashboard of the global economy”, it was a grim reminder not to forget that on our precarious and interconnected planet anything could happen. Since then China has a slowed considerably causing ripple effects across the globe, particularly in Africa.

Persistent economic uncertainty coupled with what Christine Lagarde, IMF managing director, calls a “tipping point” in climate change, plus mounting social tensions, mass migration and extreme behavior around the world raises the question: are the 20 most powerful leaders doing enough to prevent global economic, environmental, social and climate catastrophes?

It might be fair to say that they are doing their best within the constraints of an economic system that is, as China’s former leaders often said about their own economy, “unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable.” As long as human development is based on a high carbon, resource intensive, ecologically degrading and socially divisive model, also known as the “brown” economy, any effort our leaders make to improve things is ultimately a Sisyphean task.

Without an urgent overhaul of the system that has dominated the planet (and served us well) for 200 years, it seems unlikely that any group of leaders, from this generation or the next, will be able to steer us through the formidable challenges ahead. For increasing numbers of people around the globe living without hope it is already too late.

The irony of the situation is that seven years ago, as the same system was crashing, the international community took the unprecedented step of agreeing on an initiative that would speed up the process of transitioning out of the old unsustainable economy, towards something radical and new.

Launched by the United Nations Environment Program in October 2008, just weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the groundbreaking Green Economy Initiative was the foundation for what became known as the Global Green New Deal. It was a deal made by the world’s wealthy nations to commit 15 per cent of their $3.3 trillion dollar global economic stimulus towards investments in the green economy that would simultaneously accelerate the recovery, tackle climate change and lead to a sustainable future.

Over the following months politicians, economists, business leaders, global institutions, activists, NGOs and international media endorsed the GGND. At the historic G20 London summit in April 2009 world leaders pledged to build an “inclusive, green and sustainable economy”. Never before at such a level had “green” been part of crisis resolution. For advocates of the green economy it seemed like a dream come true. For US president Barack Obama, who came to office promising to green the planet, the GGND was a gift.

Awareness of the need for a global green economy as a tool to achieve sustainability grew rapidly over the following three years reaching a peak at the UN’s Rio+20 “Earth Summit” in June 2012, where the Green Economy and Green GDP were the main themes. The Financial Times’ pioneering special report, Africa and the Green Economy, published to coincide with the summit, demonstrated how far the thinking had developed.

However, although a vast amount of work has been done over the past seven years, with a surge in green investments and green growth as a result of the GGND, the success stories are not reaching enough people to accelerate the process.

The $500 billion deal is now all but forgotten and the green economy has dropped off the international radar. Sentences in the G20’s Brisbane Communiqué are almost identical to sentences from London except that the word “green” has been omitted. Even Larry Elliot, economics editor of the Guardian and a founding member of the Green New Deal Group who first proposed the initiative, does not mention the GGND in a recent summing up of the crisis over the past six years.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals signed by world leaders in September 2015 do not recognise that developing a green economy is essential for achieving those goals. Fortunately the Sustainable Innovation Forum at the Paris talks is keeping the green flame alive by aspiring to "create an unparalleled opportunity  to bolster business innovation and bring to scale the emerging green economy".

Considering the urgent need for change, it seems that most people – political leaders as well as the public - either don’t believe the green economy will make any difference to global stability and climate change or don’t understand how it could. Unfortunately most people seem stuck with the idea that the green economy is confined to clean energy whereas it encompasses every aspect of our production, consumption and trade.
If Mr Cameron (who entered office promising to form the “greenest government ever”) is correct about the red lights flashing, this is a good time to start thinking about how a new green stimulus could soften the blow rather than wait until it happens and have little ammunition left to deal with the ensuing chaos.

Only the G20 has the potential to change things fast enough at the required scale. As the need to clarify and revive the green agenda as a path to sustainable growth becomes more pressing (and more obvious), world leaders have a unique opportunity to come together in 2015 on a Global Green New Deal phase II.

Nowhere is a Green New Deal needed more urgently than Africa where climate change, ecological degradation and a global downturn could cause a mass exodus that will make today's "migrant crisis" look like a trickle. And having the least developed brown economies nowhere has more potential for rapid green growth. New African Development president, Akinwumi Adesina, has called for a New Deal on energy for Africa ahead of the Paris talks. Making it a Green New Deal would solve all the other problems as well as climate change, a multi-win solution.  

At their September 2009 summit in Pittsburg the G20 said of their multi-trillion dollar stimulus “it worked” and it did, but only up to a point. Much, much more needs to be done. The 800-point Brisbane action plan was a good start but it needs a new ingredient to prevent business-as-usual, the brown economy, from hijacking the process.

The new ingredient lies in the GGND and now is the time for the G20 to study its outcome: how much did each country spend, where did it go and what was the result? One thing is certain. They will soon be able to say of their first green stimulus “It worked”. Then, hopefully, they will say “Now let’s make it work better.”

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