Does green economy boost the Sustainable Development Goals?

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4 December 2017

Dr Ronal Gainza -Programme Officer at Economic and Fiscal Policy Unit, UN Environment, where he coordinates green economy/green growth projects in countries from Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean for the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE). Here Ronal discusses some highlights of his Working Paper “Investing in the green economy: is it a way to achieve Sustainable Development Goals? An analysis of the experience of the eight African countries”.


Tracing the foundations of green economy:  pre-2012

In 2011, UN Environment published a landmark report, entitled Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. Known as the Green Economy Report (GER), it 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 GER demonstrated through a quantitative analysis the positive economic, social and environmental impacts that could result from an investment equivalent to 2% of the global gross domestic product in the implementation of green policies in ten key economic sectors. The international endorsement and movement created around the GER contributed to one of the major outcomes of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20. In its final document, "The future we want", Member States recognised “ . . . green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication as one of the important tools available for achieving sustainable development”.

A green economy transition, 2012-2017: Moving from theory to practice

Following the success of the GER, UN Environment has supported green economy quantitative studies in 17 countries from Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Eastern Europe following the Methodology for Green Economy Policy Assessments. These quantitative country studies have looked at the potential of green investments in key economic sectors with a time horizon going frequently until 2030. Their main purpose has been to inform the formulation and adoption of policies related to the green economy aimed at achieving sustainable development and combating poverty. A typical Green Economy Policy Assessment includes five steps: (i) identification of national priority for sustainable development targets; (ii) estimation of the amount of investment required to achieve such targets; (iii) identification of the policies or policy reforms that are essential for enabling the required investments; (iv) assessment of the impacts of the required investments using a range of economic, social and environmental indicators and comparing the results with the business-as-usual scenario (BAU); and (v) presentation of the assessment results to inform decision making.

The advent of Sustainable Development Goals, 2015

In September 2015, at an historic UN Summit, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. A new question is now being asked: How is the work of UN Environment on green economy, and more precisely the policy recommendations and investments claimed by these country Green Economy Policy Assessments, still relevant for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development? The Working Paper “Investing in the green economy: Is it a way to achieve Sustainable Development Goals” is an attempt to answer this question through an in-depth analysis of Green Economy Policy Assessments developed for eight countries in Africa during the last five years, namely, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa.

Key results from the analysis

First, the five most selected priority sectors for greening the economies of the eight countries are energy, agriculture, forestry, water and transport. This suggests that energy and food security, better access and management of water and infrastructure development in the transport sector are at the heart of common priorities for the development agendas of the eight African countries (see figure below).

Figure: Priority sectors selected as key for a green economy transition by 2030 in the eight African countries green economy policy assessments, and the most recurrent direct links to targets of the Sustainable Development Goals, based on indicators used in the studies


Notes to the figure: Target 2.4: "resilient agricultural practices"; Target 6.3: "water quality"; Target 6.4: "the rational use of water"; Target 7.2: "renewable energy"; Target 7.3; "energy efficiency "; Target 15.2: "Sustainable forest management"; SDG 8: "Sustainable economic growth and decent work for all". 

Second, implementing the policies proposed to "green" these priority sectors would already be a national effort in itself to achieve several targets of the SDGs. Overall, the analysis shows direct links to at least eight SDGs, namely SDGs 2, 6, 7, 9, 12, 15, 14 and 17, which are supported by indicators. For example, investing in increased renewable energy production is one of the most recurrent green economy goals in all of the eight countries. This directly contributes to target 7.2 of the 2030 Agenda: "Significantly increase the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix". The same goes for green investments in agroforestry, and organic farming. The "greening" of agriculture in the countries under review addresses several targets of SDG 2 "Eliminate hunger, ensure food security, improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture". SDG 6 "Ensuring access to water and sanitation for all and sustainable management of water resources" is also at the heart of the green interventions prioritized in the eight studies.

Third, green investments deliver not only sectoral and environmental benefits but they also have positive impacts on the economy and society. The indicators employed illustrate that by 2030 there will be positive effects on economic growth (Target 8.1) and job creation (Target 8.3). Additionally, the studies provide quantitative evidence on decoupling economic growth and environmental degradation (Target 8.4) as well as "Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger" (SDG 1).

Some conclusions and way forward – 2017 and beyond

On the one hand, results from the analysis support the fact that investing in a green economy is an alternative to facing major development challenges in the eight African countries as they shift to more sustainable development pathways.    

On the other hand, the UN Environment methodology used to undertake the Green Economy Country Assessments, which consists of an ex-ante analysis of the economic, social and environmental impacts of green investments, is still relevant in the framework of the Agenda 2030 for sustainable development. Although an upgrade of the methodology carried out back in 2014 would be beneficial to better provide guidance to countries and substantiate the links and contributions of green investments to the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.


The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official views of the GGKP or its Partners.

Programme OfficerUnited Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment)