The World Environment Day, observed every year on June 5, was conceived in the wake of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in June 1972. Its purpose is to stimulate awareness of the environment and enhance political attention and public action.
Twenty years after the Stockholm Conference, the UN held its Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. At the time, this Conference was the single largest gathering of world leaders in history. The product of this Conference was the Rio Declaration and subsequently, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that has given the world the chance of acting on climate change through a global carbon market.
This year, 40 years after the Stockholm Conference and 20 years after Rio, the UN will hold a Conference on Sustainable Development. One of the themes of this Conference will be the Green Economy.
The relatively short span of time it has taken the global community to converge on the issue of the environment, climate change and sustainable development is remarkable. The global cooperation and concern on these issues reveals an example of international political will that one will be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in the annals of history.
The idea of a Green Economy is a progression from the initial concern about the environment — which met with criticism as it did not appear to cater to development needs — to sustainable development, which is the idea that development must take into account the needs and resources of not just the present generation, but also of generations to come. This concept, too, has faced some criticism. Environmentalists are continually reminded of the environment versus development debate and are often taunted that their ideas simply do not take into account the cut-throat real world of business and economics. So this year, to meet this criticism, world leaders will come to discuss the idea of a Green Economy.
The UN Environment Program defines a Green Economy as one that results in “improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”.
The ‘globalisation’ of the 1990s, which was based on new markets in the Far East and those that grew in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, saw an international economic boom in which much capital was poured into property, fossil fuels and structured financial assets with embedded derivatives. However, in comparison relatively little was invested in renewable energy, efficiency, public transportation, sustainable agriculture, ecosystem and biodiversity protection and land and water conservation. The result has been economic growth at the expense of the environment.
The concept of a Green Economy recognises that global growth and development in recent decades has left the world and its resources at risk. The UNEP goes as far as to say that the concurrent global crisis in climate, biodiversity, fuel, water and the financial system all stem from this “gross misallocation of resources”. However, the influential Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, the World Bank and the UNEP all agree that a low carbon, resource efficient global economy is possible. Figures differ, but anywhere between one to two per cent of global GDP or an investment of US$1.3 trillion a year, in as many as 10 sectors, coupled with proactive international and national policies, can not only check climate change, but provide a strong and plausible response to multiple global crises, as well as an alternative economic paradigm: the Green Economy.
Renewable energy, green buildings, clean transport, water management, waste management and land management, each provide immense economic potential for investment in sustainable development. For example, in the past two years, Germany has added 14,400MW of consumer solar electricity onto its grid. The demand from Germany has led to a global drop in solar electricity costs. It also provides great investment opportunity for anyone who wants to buys shares in the Chinese companies, which are leaders in solar cell production. Pakistan can, and must learn, how to gain from such innovations. There may be challenges like financing the structural transformation necessary for introducing such innovations into Pakistan or resisting the tendency to become import dependant on foreign technologies, but these challenges, if overcome, can provide solutions to many of Pakistan’s environment, energy, water and waste problems.
After the passing of the Eighteenth Amendment, the Punjab government has taken the initiative by notifying the new Punjab Environment Protection Act. On May 1, the secretary of the Environment Protection Department hosted a preparatory meeting of province-wide environmental officers and NGOs to discuss a common strategy for World Environment Day. One welcomes the initiative and hopes that the momentum will not be lost. This could well be a landmark year for the environment in Punjab.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2012.
More in OpinionWrong pitch, Mr Finance Minister!