Green Growth, and how we get there

Jointly sponsored with the Global Green Growth Institute (3GI – a newly-established inter-governmental body based in South Korea), the 100 or so delegates came from many parts of the world to share their experience, analysis and tactics for greening our economies.

One speaker quoted legendary investor Jeremy Grantham who, in his 4th quarterly letter to clients last year, said “you can have growth today, or sustainability forever”. And this clear statement of our choices became the leitmotif for much of the discussion: on time horizons, politics and interests, and what to do about ‘stranded assets’.

Business friendly

A hallmark of the green economy movement is its engagement with ministers of finance, business leaders and investors, rather than confining itself to ministries of the environment. Since the debacle at Copenhagen in December 2009, when it became clear that government leaders were unable to take collective action to cut greenhouse gases, many people have transferred their attention to the private sector. More pragmatic, interested in results, and less constrained by electoral cycles than our politicians, business leaders have been queuing up to show their sustainability credentials – Unilever always first amongst equals, but also NestlePumaIKEAPhilips, and Siemens.

It is encouraging and impressive. And for a moment, you might think the battle is won. But speakers at the meeting reminded us that while the investment in new capacity for renewable energy, for example, is now almost equal to that for fossil fuels, there is a huge legacy of high carbon energy, transport infrastructure, and building. So we’re on track to hit 3-4 degrees Celsius overall warming this century.

Discussion of green growth tends to paper over several cracks. First, much of the language is of “win-wins” and sometimes even “triple win”. But if there were really so many easy opportunities (the famous ‘low hanging fruit’), surely there would be little opposition in the push for sustainability?

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