GAT-March-April 2012- ASHRAF AMIN

Twenty years after the last earth summit in Rio, the nations will again be on the road to the same city by next June, trying to solve the same environmental problems in a more complex context.

Among the topics on the agenda, the nations will discuss the “Green Economy” initiative, an economic approach boosted by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) for the last few years.

According to the UNEP documents, Green Economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It is also seen as an economic develop­ment model that is based on sustainable development and the knowledge of ecological economics.

In a short interview, UNEP Chief of Economics and Trade Branch Dr. Steve Stones said Green Economy put different sets of approaches by adopting investments in renewable energy resources versus fossil fuel and promot­ing initiatives like green buildings, clean transportations, and more efficient and sustainable techniques for water, waste and land management.

“We need to replace the GDP with a more efficient indicator that takes into account other values that are not measured like the human and natural capitals of the countries,” he explained. So far, entities like the World Bank have suggested ways to measure and value nature. However, none of them has been approved globally as sci­entists and economists are still debating on valuing natural resources like air quality or forests.

Nevertheless, Dr. Stones believes that before reaching a consensus among countries on applying green economy measures, local communities and pressure groups should play a crucial role in educating people and explaining the benefits of implementing them in urban areas and vil­lages and small businesses like farming and fisheries. “If people understand the importance of sustainability, they would adopt the green economy measures and even ask policy makers to take further actions in support of Green Economy,” he added.

Switching Over Fears

Though the green economy was implemented in small scale projects in several developed and developing coun­tries, many developing states fear switching over to such an economy or proceeding with a binding international agreement in this field. This fear was clearly expressed by the G77 sessions during the 12th special session of the Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi last February. While some countries were on the defensive, saying that there was no clear common definition on Green Economy and the monetary value of natural capital, other states were worried that it might be used to impose trade barriers or on how the states should deal with their local natural resources.

According to Najib Saab, secretary general of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), the aim of Green Economy is not at resorting to isolationism, but in establishing a strong green growth knowledge platform and the true transfer of technology.

On the regional level, the AFED launched a detailed study, Green Economy in a Changing Arab World. The report recently produced focuses on how green economy can help navigate a sustainable transition in the Arab countries.

“One major demand which drove people to the streets was the plight for decent jobs,” Saab explained. On this topic, a main finding of the AFED report is that transition­ing to a green economy helps generate decent and last­ing job opportunities. When people whose lives are most impacted have a greater say in shaping policy decisions, this will result in better management of natural resources.

Arab development strategies continue to be dominated by investments in extractive commodity products ear­marked for export markets. These industries require high initial investments but generate low levels of employment. Despite generating high GDP growth, this model leaves Arab economies more vulnerable to global market vola­tilities, while failing to significantly create jobs. One of the main findings of the study is that the lack of income diver­sification is a primary cause of the structural weakness of Arab economies.

Over the last 50 years, population of the Arab countries increased from 100 million to about 400 million in 2012. Among them, 65 million are poor and 45 million lack access to clean water and sanitation services. Youth unem­ployment rate averages at over 25 percent. Unemployed youth accounted for more than 70 percent of the total unemployment in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. These consti­tute the bulk of demonstrators on Arab streets.

More jobs

Through the AFED report, researchers found that by implementing Green Economy measures there would be more job opportunities and better allocation to the national budget. Estimates are that Arab countries will need to allo­cate at least 1.5 percent of their GDP annually to invest­ments in clean sanitation, water infrastructure, innovative water efficiency, and recycling technologies to meet the expected rise in water demand. Such green investments will create jobs in both rural and urban regions.

Over the last 50 years, population of the Arab countries increased from 100 million to about 400 million in 2012. Among them, 65 million are poor and 45 million lack access to clean water and sanitation services. Unemployed youth accounted for more than 70 percent of the total unemployment in Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. These con­stitute the bulk of demonstrators on Arab streets.

In the agriculture field, there is also a need to shift to sustainable agricultural practices to save six percent of the GDP to Arab countries as a result of increased water pro­ductivity and protected environmental resources. An invest­ment of USD 100 billion annually in renewable energy is expected to create about 565,000 new jobs. A reduction in average per capita consumption of electricity in Arab coun­tries to the world average, through energy efficiency meas­ures, would generate savings of USD 73 billion annually.

In the transportation sector, public transit systems and vehicle fuel efficiency standards have to be established. Fifty percent greening of the Arab transport sector gener­ates savings of USD 23 billion annually.

In the buildings sector, the AFED report estimates that spending USD 100 billion in greening only 20 percent of the existing building stock in the Arab countries over the next 10 years, mainly for retrofitting, is expected to create four million jobs.

If Arab governments commit to greening the construc­tion sector, spending will have to increase by about 20 per­cent, resulting in additional investments of about USD 30 billion and the creation of 10 percent more jobs.

In conclusion, Saab stated that the willingness to pursue a green economy agenda provided a window of opportuni­ty to initiate fundamental re-examination of current public policies in Arab countries.