How can green growth accelerate economic and social development?

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Director of Multilateral ProgramsNational Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
25 July 2014

A great deal of attention has been given recently to green growth as a pathway for countries and sub-national regions to accelerate progress to development goals. But until recently there has been little practical evidence on what approaches to green growth are working and what lessons can be drawn to inform ongoing green growth programs.  The recently released Green Growth in Practice: Lessons from Country Experiences report offers a rich analysis of experiences with green growth programs from around the world and provides insights on effective planning, analysis, implementation, and monitoring approaches.  I have summarized several of these key insights here, which are also available as case studies on the newly launched Green Growth Best Practice Living Handbook.

First, more than 60 examples from around the world demonstrate that all levels of government are capturing concrete economic, social, and environmental benefits from green growth programs. They are achieving these benefits by investing in:

  • Efficient use of materials, energy, water, and other resources yielding immediate cost savings and health and environmental improvement plus longer-term benefits. For example Ethiopia has developed and is implementing strategies for integrated agricultural, water, and energy resource management that are projected to increase their economic output, create jobs, improve food production, and improve climate resilience.

  • Full valuation and optimal use of ecosystem services and goods and other forms of natural capital, such as Costa Rica’s Payment for Ecosystem Services system.

  • Technology, business, and social innovation to develop new green industries, jobs, and development opportunities based on the unique human, technical, and resource assets of the region. For example Korea is investing 2% of its GDP per year on development of a creative green economy through technology and business innovation, workforce development, and related actions.

Second, these green growth programs are achieving greatest traction where they recognize and address trade-offs across achieving different objectives and smooth the transition.  For example, through South Africa’s Green Economy Accord the government is investing in training for young workers on emerging green industries. 

Third, governments have adopted integrated and robust approaches that link analysis, planning, implementation, and monitoring to achieve success with green development programs.  For examples, Vietnam, Chile, Rwanda, the state of California and many others have invested in analysis, iterative planning, phase implementation, and monitoring and evaluation with their green growth programs.

Fourth, national, state, and local governments have an array of effective tools that they can use to enable both incremental change and the larger economic and social transformations required to fully achieve green growth. These tools include:

  • Policies applied economy-wide and for key sectors that support green infrastructure development, innovation, worker training and public education, and create mandates and incentives to promote use of resource efficient technologies and practices. Singapore has applied a broad mix of regulations, pricing systems, demonstration programs, educational campaigns and other measures to support their green economic transformation.
  • Use of public budgets together with financial instruments to mobilize private investment, such as the approach ofMoroccan Solar Energy Agency in leverage public and private funds to invest in emerging solar businesses and projects.
  • Public-private cooperation to facilitate private sector leadership and mutual action, such as the Kenya Climate Innovation Center which is incubating and supporting green entrepreneurs.
  • Integrated and reinforcing national and sub-national action, such as the Jawaharal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission in India where state and local governments join with the national government on policy reforms and the national governments offers financing and capacity building for green infrastructure, energy efficiency, and related programs.

These and many other examples, demonstrate that green growth programs can be powerful and effective tools for achieving economic growth, social inclusion and poverty reduction, and environmental protection. However, the scale and speed of these efforts must be ramped up if we are to addressing pressing global challenges such as climate change and water scarcity. 

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