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Can Economic Growth Be Really Green?

The main impediments to a 100% clean energy infrastructure are are fossil fuel subsidies and current government legislation

Credit: GGGI

ROME/SEOUL, Jul 27 2017 (IPS) - The answer to this big question is apparently “yes” – Economic growth can be really green. How?

The facts are there. For instance, in 2016, solar power became the cheapest form of energy in 58 lower income countries, including China India and Brazil. In Europe, in 2016, 86 per cent of the newly installed energy capacity was from renewable sources. And solar power will likely be the lowest-cost energy option in almost all parts of the world in less than 10 years.

This bold, fact-based information has been provided by Frank Rijsberman, the Director General of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), a well-known expert in the field of sustainable development and former CEO of the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Consortium.

The G20 countries pledged in 2009 to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies, yet they continue to this day

Frank Rijsberman. Credit: GGGI

Building on this documented information, Rijsberman, in an article Will fossil fuels and conventional cars be obsolete by 2030?, which was published on 23 February in The Huffington Post, asks “Is it all over for fossil fuels?”

The GGGI chief then answers: “Tony Seba, Author of “Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation,” predicts that the industrial era of centralized fossil-fuel based energy production and transportation will be all over by 2030.”

Solar Energy, Self-Driving Electric Vehicles

Solar energy and self-driving electric vehicles will take over, explains Rijsberman. “New business models will allow people to call a self-driving car on their phone for a ride, ending the need for private car ownership.”

This change will occur as quickly as the transition from horse-drawn carriages to cars a century ago.

“The Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment at Imperial College London, and independent think-tank the Carbon Tracker Initiative echoed Seba’s prediction in their recent report, stating that electric vehicles and solar panels could dominate by 2020, sparking revolution in the energy sector and putting an end to demand growth for oil and coal.”

The Global Green Growth Institute invited experts to debate Seba’s “clean disruption” last month [January 2017] at the World Economic Forum in Davos (see short summary of our conclusions here).

“We discussed what are the main impediments to a 100% clean energy infrastructure. The most immediate barriers are fossil fuel subsidies and current government legislation. The G20 countries pledged in 2009 to eliminate these subsidies, yet they continue to this day, Rijsberman informed.

“Significant volumes of investment are shifting away from fossil fuels and towards alternative energy services, particularly in countries with binding renewable energy targets such as in Europe.”

The Energy Transition

According to the head of GGGI — a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organisation dedicated to supporting and promoting strong, inclusive and sustainable economic growth in developing countries and emerging economies–the energy transition can accelerate through the removal of fossil fuel subsidies.

Globally fossil fuel subsidies still amount to some 450 billion dollars per year, warned Rijsberman.

Even African governments, with limited budgets and many competing priorities still subsidise fossil fuels to the tune of 20-25 billion dollars per year according to Dr. Frannie Laeutier of the African Development Bank, speaking in Davos, he added.

Rijsberman then underlined that the best way for governments to attract the private sector is to stand aside (i.e., remove impeding policies such as fossil fuel subsidies and enable market access) and let the market develop by itself.

“Easier said than done, of course, for countries with monopolistic power utilities, with large political influence; or for countries with heavy subsidies on electricity prices.”

Unsustainable Depletion of Natural Resources

The Seoul-based Global Green Growth Institute, which was established in 2012, at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, has been accelerating the transition toward a new model of economic growth –green growth– founded on principles of social inclusivity and environmental sustainability.

In contrast to conventional development models that rely on the “unsustainable depletion and destruction of natural resources,” green growth is a coordinated advancement of economic growth, environmental sustainability, poverty reduction and social inclusion driven by the sustainable development and use of global resources, according to GGGI.

Sirpa Jarvenpaa. Credit: GGGI

On this, GGGI incoming Director of Strategy, Partnerships and Communications, Sirpa Jarvenpaa, in an interview to IPS, emphasised the importance of the Institute in “supporting developing and emerging country governments in their transition to an inclusive green growth development.”

“We do it through mainstreaming green growth in development and sector plans, mobilising finance to green growth investments, and improving multi-directional knowledge sharing and learning for achieving green outcomes on the ground.”

Green Jobs, Clean Energy

Sirpa Jarvenpaa explains that, globally, GGGI’s strategy contributes to “reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, green job creation, access to sustainable services (clean energy, sustainable waste management improved sanitation, and sustainable transport), improved air quality, access to enhanced ecosystem services, and climate change adaptation.”

In Jordan, for example, GGGI is helping the government prepare a national green growth plan –an overarching and influential policy instrument enabling incorporation of green growth objectives across the national investment planning, Jarvenpaa told IPS.

There, the Institute works in partnership with the Ministry of Environment as well as the German Ministry for the Environment

This interdisciplinary, multi-stakeholder organisation believes “economic growth and environmental sustainability are not merely compatible objectives; their integration is essential for the future of humankind.”

For that, it works with developing and emerging countries to design and deliver programs and services that demonstrate new pathways to pro-poor economic growth. And it provides member countries with the tools to help build institutional capacity and develop green growth policy, strengthen peer learning and knowledge sharing, and engage private investors and public donors.

The Global Green Growth Institute supports stakeholders two complementary and integrated work-streams –Green Growth Planning & Implementation and Knowledge Solutions– that deliver comprehensive products and services designed to assist in developing, financing and mainstreaming green growth in national economic development plans.

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  • Will Anderson

    The gaining momentum of reduced cost solarization and driver-less cars is great news for greening social justice initiatives. Yet, let’s not externalize these promising pathways as they move us towards the ideal of sustainability. We still have our personal, internal responsibilities that need their own momentum and goal-setting. If, for instance, we do not make personal commitments to end our role in human overpopulation (one child or none) and end our participation in animal agriculture (vegan human ecology), we can have all the green driver-less cars and solar power panels we want and still fail to save ecosystems and the sacredness of abundant, geographically diverse species—and individuals from other species, where suffering and injustice are on full display. Elephants, bees and frogs are being marginalized and erased from Earth. Anticipating that solarization and driver-less cars by 2030 will prevent that ecocide without changing our human behaviors, our human ecology, is a literal dead end. I suggest we can celebrate the solar good news and respond to the bad news equally, but it’s not a choice. We must do what Earth requires and humanity needs.

  • ProsperityForRI

    I have no doubts that the transition away from fossil fuels is going to happen. But I do not see economic growth happening in any meaningful way. Rather I think the global economy will continue to slow, and the old industrial countties will see shrinking economies. What will shrink is the size of militaries, deforestation, extinctions, and the fortunes of the rich. We shall use less and share more knowing that only by simultaneously healing ecosystems and ending poverty will we survive on planet Earth. The growth machine is broken and is never going to be fixed. And if it fixed, is kiss Earth good bye.