Green economy: Does it include you?

Friday, June 01, 2012

By A. N. Khan*

This year the World Environment Day theme is "Green Economy". The Green Economy is defined as one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities (UNEP). A green economy is one whose growth in income and employment is driven by public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions and pollution, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

If the Green Economy is about social equity and inclusiveness then technically it is all about you! So, we must create an economic system that ensures all people have access to a decent standard of living and full opportunities for personal and social development.

The World has already lost much of its biodiversity. The pressure on commodity and food prices shows the consequences of this loss to society. Urgent remedial action is essential because species loss and ecosystem degradation are inextricably linked to human well-being. Economic growth and the conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural production are forecasted to continue, but it is essential to ensure that such developments takes proper account of the real value of natural ecosystems.

The main findings of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEED) report were that 11% of the natural areas remaining in 2000 could be lost as  a result of conversion for agriculture, the expansion of infrastructure and climate change. Almost 40% of the land currently under low impact forms of agriculture could be converted to intensive agriculture use, with further biodiversity losses. It is estimated that for an annual investment of US$45 billion into protected areas alone, the delivery of ecosystem services worth some US$ 5 trillion a year could be secured.

In some regions, cities are expanding rapidly, while in others, rural areas are becoming more urban. A significant part of this urbanization is taking place in developing countries as a result of natural growth within cities and large numbers of rural-urban migrants in search of jobs and opportunities.

Urban areas in prosperous economies concentrate wealth creation as well as resource consumption and CO2 emissions. Globally with a population share of just 50% but occupying less than 2% of the earth's surface, urban areas concentrate 80% of economic output, between 60 and 80% of energy consumption, and approximately 75% of CO2 emissions (UN Population Dn.). Buildings, transport and industry - which are constituent of cities and urban areas – contribute 25, 22 and 22 percent respectively of Global energy - related GHG emissions.

Larger, denser cities – which help lower per capita emissions – are good for economic growth. 150 of the world's most significant metropolitan economies produce 45% of the global GDP with only 12% of the global population. Densification reduce the capital and operating costs of infrastructure including streets, railways, water and sewage systems as well as other utilities come at considerably lower cost per unit, the higher the urban density. Green urban agriculture can reuse municipal wastewater and solid waste, reduce transportation costs, preserve biodiversity and wetlands, and make productive use of green belts.

But urban growth puts pressure on the quality of the local environment, which affect poor people such as the lack of adequate access to clean water and sanitation. This results in huge disease burden that further affects their livelihood options.

Ecosystem services play a critical role in risk reduction measures. The 2005 floods in Mumbai which killed more than 1000 people and paralysed the city for five days were linked to a lack of environmental protection of the city's Mithi River.

Cities require significant transfer of water from rural to urban areas with water leakage being a major concern. Upgrading and replacement of pipes  has contributed to net savings of 20% of potable water in many industrialized cities. To counter severe water shortages in Delhi, the Municipal Corporation made rainwater harvesting, a requirement of all buildings with a roof area above 100 sq. metres. It is estimated that 76,500 million litres of water per year will be available for groundwater recharge. In Chennai, urban groundwater recharge raised the city's groundwater levels by four metres between 1988 and 2002.

The green economy embraces such diverse industries as renewable energy production and electric energy distribution, energy efficient and storage, organic agriculture, green transportation and green building – everything from energy efficient lighting to electric passenger trains, biofuels, carbon capture and home insulation. It is a diverse cluster of very different industries that are working to lower raw material and energy consumption and to produce goods and services in a manner that is less damaging and more sustainable. (PIB Features)

(*The author is Senior Scientist, Former Assistant Director, NEERI, Nagpur, India. The views expressed by him in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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