A Vision for a Global Green Economy

We are living in a time of multiple environmental issues. 2011 saw news headlines of nuclear contamination, oil spills, and natural disasters, to name a few. Policy makers are facing serious – and at times, overwhelming – questions: How do we provide clean water, adequate sanitation, and proper nutrition to the world’s surmounting population? How do we manage the seemingly endless amount of waste humans create? And perhaps most importantly, how do we face these challenges amidst a global financial crisis?

While undoubtedly overwhelming, these challenges offer us an opportunity to rethink how these dimensions – economic, social, and environmental – can actually go hand in hand. I’m referring to a “green economy,” which the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) describes as one that results in “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” (UNEP, 2010). Put simply, it’s an economy which generates growth while simultaneously improving lives and staying consistent with sustainability goals.

Some might think that a ‘green economy’ is simply idealistic academic discourse, and not relevant to our day-to-day lives. In fact, there are countless examples of successful green economy initiatives in practice, one in Canada’s own backyard. Ontario’s Green Energy Act and it’s Feed-in Tariff program has driven local development amongst Ontario renewable energy companies, brought in billions of dollars in investment, and will create an estimated 50,000 jobs by the end of 2012 (David Suzuki Foundation, 2011).

In Germany, investment in renewable energy has risen 20%, employing over 300,000 people (World Resources Institute, 2010). They have an unprecedented, ambitious – but achievable – goal of relying on 100% renewable energy by 2050. And despite a prevalent myth that a green economy is a luxury for “rich” countries, many developing countries have tremendous success stories too. Check out UNEP’s report “Green Economy: Developing Country Success Stories.”

Moving towards a Green Economy is a hot topic – in fact, it is the theme for the 2012 World Environment Day, held on June 5th, and the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held from June 20th-22nd. Yet the topic is not only relevant to governments and policymakers, it’s relevant to individuals too. So you might ask – what can you do? Perhaps most important is to become educated. While the topic can seem complex, it’s necessary to investigate – clearly, doing business as usual is no longer an option. Get involved – support companies, governments, and initiatives which help the green economy vision, and look for alternatives when they don’t. Finally, let your voice be heard! Tell your government what kind of economic, social, and environmental system you want. Together we can make sure the ‘green economy’ discourse is not just a passing fad, but in fact a solution to the complex problems our planet faces.