News & Media Opinion Pieces A green economy for a cleaner, fairer world by Tim Jackson

A green economy for a cleaner, fairer world by Tim Jackson

A green economy for a cleaner, fairer world  – by Tim Jackson

Tim Jackson’s book “Prosperity without growth, Economics for a Finite Planet” is the way forward for humanity when one recognises that the only slight decrease in global green house emissions in the past few decades was caused by the global financial crisis. How to bring about a green economy is another matter.

The purpose to this article is twofold, firstly to publish Tim Jackson’s Editorial A green economy for a cleaner, fairer world (below) and secondly to introduce you to the excellent periodical from the EC entitled “Science for Environment Policy”. We acknowledge the Source: ‘Science for Environment Policy‘, 4 May 2011, A green economy for a fairer world, European Commission DG Environment News Alert Service. To access articles and to subscribe, please follow the link above.  This May issue has several supporting articles listed below. One can download the full article by going to the Science for Environment Policy.

A green economy for a cleaner, fairer world by Tim Jackson

The global economy is almost five times the size it was half a century ago. This rapid economic growth has delivered financial benefits, but it has not delivered them equally: a fifth of the world’s population earns just 2 per cent of global income and inequality is higher in the OECD nations than it was 20 years ago. Economic activity has also delivered unprecedented environmental damage: an estimated 60 per cent of the world’s ecosystems have been degraded and significant scarcity in key resources – such as oil – could be less than a decade away.

The current economic and environmental crisis tells us that the time is ripe for governments around the world to implement a new kind of economy, which is resilient, sustainable, operates within the limits of our planet’s resources and creates a fairer society. This thematic issue covers research which can help policy makers develop this Global Green Economy.

Developing such an economy is a major challenge with many dimensions, but research can provide policy makers with valuable information to assist the process. Two of the most important steps in the transition to a green economy are to establish our resource and environmental limits and to fix the wider economic model, to one that does not stimulate unsustainable consumption. To achieve this we need to be able to measure resources, economic activity and progress, accurately and appropriately.

Traditionally gross domestic product (GDP) has been used to measure economic success, but this does not take any account of environmental status, health, education or other forms of well-being. Researchers around the world are working on new ways to measure well-being, which will take us beyond the damaging constraints of GDP as a sole indicator. Some of these are explored in the articles ‘New measures of sustainable progress needed to improve well-being’ and ‘Beyond GDP: new measures of progress for a green economy’. Both the studies outlined in the articles recommend using a range of indicators to measure different types of progress.

Setting limits entails restricting the damaging levels of growth that our society has undergone over the past 200 years, but how can policy achieve this, and how can it achieve this fairly? ‘Zero growth’ and ‘degrowth’ are important concepts in the transition to a sustainable economy that have been proposed by economists, but are not necessarily well understood by the policy community. The article ‘What are the impacts of zero growth?’ describes research which explores what is meant by ‘zero growth’, and how it could be achieved. The study recommends that capping growth in resource consumption is preferable to capping financial growth, as the latter could lead to unintended social hardships, such as unemployment and further public spending cuts.

Fixing the economic model also means that we must maintain full employment and a leading UNEP report, outlined in ‘Policy support for green transition could create millions of jobs’, suggests sectors, such as renewable energy and sustainable buildings, could create new jobs for millions of people around the world. This could achieve several key goals, including developing industries which reduce our reliance on natural resources, and alleviating poverty. However, simply because a job is in a supposedly ‘green’ sector does not make it appropriate for a ‘green economy’ – take the exploitative, low-paid work in the electronics recycling sector in Asia, for example. The Global Green Economy must contribute to a just and fair society, and a separate UN report, highlighted in ‘A global green economy can help meet Millennium Development Goals’ suggests that it could reduce inequality and help halve the number of those living in poverty around the world. It is essential that we address financial, social and ecological challenges together, as they are closely linked.

Green stimulus packages, or ‘green new deals’, are being discussed by governments around the world to kick-start a green economy. A recent study by the World Bank has assessed the impacts of different packages, such as investments in pollution control or renewable energy. Its findings highlight the need to weigh up the trade-offs between short-term impacts and long-term impacts very carefully, for example, programmes which promote short-term improvements to the environment and employment, do not have such positive impacts in the long-term. For more details on this study, see the article ‘Green stimulus packages: a difficult balancing act’. Achieving a green economy raises the question of governance. How can prosperity be shared throughout society? How can the interests of the individual to be balanced against the common good? What are the mechanisms for achieving this balance? Successful governance of a global green economy will need institutional change. Since the 18th century and the Industrial Revolution, our institutions and laws have supported unsustainable, unequal economic growth, and a recent study reports that this is why environmental damage continues, despite increased efforts to curb these negative impacts (see: ‘Strong global government could help develop the green economy’). Among its recommendations, the study argues for a ‘World Environment Organisation’ with legal powers to override the narrow interests of dissenting, individual countries to the benefit of greater, global concerns.

These articles showcase just a tiny handful of the studies in this extremely significant field of research. However, they do illustrate a number of essential roles that research can play in developing a green economy that policy makers should be aware of. Research can help us establish clear environmental and resource limits. It can build an economics fit for purpose, in which stability does not depend on increased material throughput. It can help us design the institutions for a green economy, and to understand the social dimensions of economic transformation. Understanding and addressing these many interrelated dimensions will allow us to develop an economy of sustainability, which produces a cleaner, fairer future for all, the world over.
Prof Tim Jackson, University of Surrey, UK

The following articles in the same issue can be downloaded from the EC site
New measures of sustainable progress needed to improve well-being
New, broader indicators of social progress are needed for a greener economy and more equal society, according to a leading report, which highlights the inability of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure sustained well-being. Among the report’s recommendations, indicators should be implemented which measure ‘stocks’ of natural resources, to help ensure well-being for future generations.:


Beyond GDP: new measures of progress for a green economy
Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was designed to measure economic activity, yet it is increasingly used as a measure of national well-being. A new report highlights the growing need for alternative measures of progress, appropriate for a greener economy, and outlines current options that better reflect national well-being.


What are the impacts of zero growth?
A new study has considered the impacts of two zero growth scenarios: capping resource consumption and capping wealth creation. It indicates that preventing growth in the sense of capping the consumption of resources could be achieved without causing major economic problems, whereas capping the creation of wealth may create significant social tensions and hardships.


Policy support for green transition could create millions of jobs
A report commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) provides recommendations for policymakers designed to smooth the transition to a greener economy and create green employment. The report suggests sectors, such as renewable energy and sustainable buildings, could create new jobs for millions of people.


A global green economy can help meet Millennium Development Goals
A new UN report highlights the integral role of a green economy in attaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), especially the goal of halving the number in extreme poverty. A greener economy can provide opportunities for employment and growth, and address the link between environmental degradation and poverty.


Green stimulus packages: a difficult balancing act
The effects of ‘green stimulus’ measures can vary considerably, according to a World Bank study. Overall, the analysis indicated a trade-off between short- and long-term effects, where programmes with large positive impacts on short-term employment and the environment tend to have less positive effects on long-term growth.


Strong global governance is essential to developing the green economy
Despite the multitude of global environmental agencies and programmes, the environmental commons continue to deteriorate. A recent review suggests the reason for this lies in our historical reluctance to limit growth. For a successful global green economy to develop, a programme overseen by a world environment organisation may be necessary to limit material and energy use and waste streams.

David Shearman