GGGI’s Rasmussen: New approach to climate change and development

With the Arctic sea ice melting to an all-time low, record high temperatures in East Asia, and debilitating droughts in the United States, we are now living with predicted effects of climate change.

In a recent study, James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, and his co-authors found that the European heat wave in 2003, the Russian heat wave in 2010 and droughts in Texas and Oklahoma in 2011 can each be attributed to climate change. Climate change is real and it is happening now with profound ― and in some cases devastating ― impacts on natural ecosystems, food and energy prices, and economic performance.

Efforts to address climate change on a global scale have been tasked to negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This process continues to play an important role in providing for global consensus and building toward a binding legal agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and in my own experience engagement at the highest political level continues to be essential to tackle the climate change challenges ahead. But a process that tries to reach consensus among over 190 countries in a rapidly changing world faces inherent challenges.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development this past June is a case in point. “Rio+20” was an unprecedented event in terms of scope and scale and brought together U.N. member country representatives who reaffirmed their commitment to sustainable development. But because of the obstacles to building consensus and reaching compromise among such a large and diverse body, some of the most important developments occurred at the margins, including innovative new approaches to achieving sustainability goals. Political leaders around the world now seem to recognize that, along with high-level U.N. negotiations, partnerships with the private sector and civil society can and must play a critical role in driving changes that support sustainability. In addition, major events are becoming opportunities for both governments and non-state actors to convene and construct innovative agreements and initiatives that address climate change and embrace sustainable development.

One such development in Rio was the agreement reached to establish the Global Green Growth Institute as an international organization. Sixteen countries ― including Denmark ― signed on to support this new multi-stakeholder organization that focuses on promoting and implementing green growth strategies in emerging economies and developing countries. The treaty signed at Rio+20 was just this week turned into reality as the establishment of the GGGI as an international organization was formally approved by the convening of its Assembly and Council in Seoul on Oct. 22.

As a signal of the future, the GGGI has its headquarters in Korea, a country that successfully transformed its economy from developing country status in the 1960s to become a member of the OECD and thus well placed to serve the necessary intermediary link and engagement of developed and developing countries. This has in return most recently been acknowledged via the decision to have Korea host the Green Climate Fund ― a decision that may well provide for synergies for the benefit of both the GGGI and the GCF.

Green growth is a new approach to development that views the concepts of economic growth and environmental sustainability as complementary rather than separate and distinct, let alone contradictory. The GGGI aims to assist developing countries in leaping over the resource-intensive and environmentally unsustainable stages of development pursued by developed countries in the 20th century. With good policy and available technologies and finance, emerging countries can grow their economies, lift people out of poverty, and provide employment in an environmentally sound manner. Importantly, in developing countries where poverty remains a major problem, many policymakers see green growth as an attractive way forward, as it places as much emphasis on economic growth as it does on environmental stewardship.

Ethiopia serves as a real-world example. Last year, Ethiopia launched the Climate Resilient Green Economy initiative, building on the country’s ambitious goal to reach middle-income status by 2025. The CRGE strengthens the national government’s ability to implement green growth policies and transfers knowledge from domestic and international experts to local officials as well as the next generation of the country’s leaders.

If Ethiopia succeeds in promoting economic growth through green development strategies, the country can serve as an example to developing and emerging economies worldwide. It can stand as proof that growth and development do not have to come at the cost of depleting natural resources, degrading the natural environment, and the growing threat of climate change.

The GGGI has been assisting Ethiopia with the design and implementation of the CRGE and has also been involved in green growth planning in more than a dozen other developing countries. One advantage of being based in Korea is that the organization is well positioned to cultivate a South-South dynamic of sharing and spreading green growth methodologies among developing countries while at the same time retaining the character and expertise of an international organization with a broad coalition of partner countries.

The GGGI can share Korea’s own economic development experience and marshal world-class expertise from countries that span the global economic spectrum. As chairman of the institute, my mission is to expand the number of partner countries committed to pursuing green growth.

We look forward to expanding the number of developing, emerging and advanced country governments that engage in our work and become members. Green growth is not a panacea, but it is a promising and necessary new approach to address climate change and promote development that can help ensure that succeeding generations live on a prosperous, clean, and stable planet.

By Lars Rasmussen

The writer is the chair of the board of directors at Global Green Growth Institute, former Danish prime minister, and chairman of the Liberal Party of the Danish Parliament. ― Ed.