Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development (SWEDESD)
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: Major Group
  • Name: Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development (SWEDESD)
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: United Nations Environment Programme (0 hits), UNEP (2 hits),

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Contribution to UNCSD2012 Compilation Document from the Swedish International Centre of Education for Sustainable Development (SWEDESD)

This contribution relates in particular to ?specific element B? in the Co-Chairs´ Guidance Note, i e to green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

On the importance of education for sustainable development (ESD) in the quest for a green economy

What is a green economy?

And what is the link between a green economy and ESD?

The first question partly answers the second one. Being a new concept without an established definition, there is some confusion on what green economy entails and implies. As the UN general secretary puts it (UN 2010):

?greater conceptual clarity is needed with regard to the links between a green economy and sustainable development. In particular, there is a need to be explicit on the practical implications of the approach, namely the menu of policies and actions proposed under the banner of the green economy?

Interpretations of the green economy cover disparate and sometimes contradictory ideas, and naturally different stakeholders bring different views to the discussion ? spanning from promotion of innovation, green jobs and technology transfer to reformation of the way we think about progress and wellbeing; from changing incentive structures in global financial markets to advocating community-based small-scale banking; from the importance of food security to the importance to stop subsidizing the use of fossil fuels; and so on.

In this sense, the green economy concept is susceptible to the same critique that is raised against the sustainable development concept ? that it is so inclusive that it runs the risk of becoming watered down and weak as a guide to policymaking. The topics mentioned above are certainly not new on the development agenda. So, is green economy old wine in new bottles?

The SWEDESD stand is that the green economy concept is a welcome addition to the box of tools available for ESD. It provides a useful lens through which the sustainable development agenda can be looked upon, better understood and advanced. Although discussions on green economy cover disparate ideas, they have in common a basic notion that the current economic system is generally not providing the most desirable social outcomes ? be it in terms of margins to the physical boundaries of the planet (e g Rockström et al 2009), poverty (e g UNDP 2010) or inequality across and within nations (e g Wilkinson and Picket 2009). In other words, the green economy concept implies that a fundamental part in finding paths towards sustainable development is analyzing how markets in a broad sense allocate limited resources. The importance of correcting market failures is indeed a key message in the most prominent policy documents on green economy (e g UNEP 2011; UN-DESA 2009; OECD 2009; European Commission 2011; UNEP, ILO, IOE & ITUC 2008 and Jackson 2009).

Focusing on market failures can help acknowledging social and environmental values that are currently not accounted for in conventional markets and policies. It can also reveal potential for unacknowledged synergies between different policy objectives. Ecosystem services for poverty alleviation (ESPA) approaches is one example (Millenium Ecosystem Assessment 2005). In ESPA, ecosystems services contributing to the livelihood, subsistence and/or resilience of people living in poverty as well as benefits for other parts of society are secured by investments that conventional markets fail to do.

By focusing on how markets tie together human activities and allocate resources that are limited, the green economy concept also has the potential of making short-term tradeoffs between different policy objectives explicit ? perhaps more so than in previous development approaches where the characteristics of markets is not a focus area. Short-term tradeoffs between policy objectives are frequently evident when the three dimensions of sustainable development (social, ecological, economic) are considered together ? e g when poverty because of unemployment increases when a business that harms ecosystems is shut down, or when there are conflicting interests in services from a particular ecosystem ? e g recreation values in a forest versus commercial values such as timber.

So what role can ESD play in green economy?

Just as often stressed regarding sustainable development in general, a key for advancing the understanding of what a green economy is and how it should be implemented is creating platforms where different stakeholders can meet and learn in collaboration. Such platforms are needed both inside and outside the formal educational system, in accordance with ESD theory (UNESCO 2005). As mentioned above, a focus on resource allocation can help economists identify market failures, synergies and tradeoffs. However, arriving at an overall understanding of how relevant aspects fit together can be thought of as assembling a jigsaw puzzle where a multitude of disciplines within both natural and social science contribute with pieces of information. Natural scientists are trying to pin down the pressure from economic activity that ecosystems on which we depend can stand given the size of the population, demographers are trying to predict the population growth over the coming decades given expected GDP growth, engineers work on new technology that can increase human wellbeing and decrease environmental impact, behavioral economists, sociologists and psychologists try to complement the ?rational agent? theory in order to better predict behavior in markets, and so on. Although the understanding of complex social-ecological relationships is continuously improved, the pieces are still too scattered for a coherent picture to emerge. The cross-sectoral approach inherent in the ESD concept can help in assembling the puzzle so that a this picture is discerned, although it will perhaps never be completed. Further, innovative ESD pedagogy and methodology can facilitate interaction and collaborative learning across scientific disciplines and scholarly traditions. In short: ESD can help in creating better-informed policy making, and in disseminating new understanding broadly in society ? i e give input to the complex processes that shape social preferences upon which decisions in democracies are based.

As an illustration of this, one can think of environmental valuation. This a method for revealing true preferences related to the environment that are not accurately expressed in markets because of imperfect information, ill-defined or lacking property rights, bounded rationality, moral hazard and/or free riding (e g TEEB 2010). The results from environmental valuation can guide policies aimed at correcting markets failures through taxation, subsidies or command and control measures. While environmental valuation can capture certain values ignored in markets (in particular non-use values), techniques targeted at eliciting individual preferences are partly subject to the same phenomena that make markets fail ? in particular imperfect information. We can never know the preferences of future generations, or the exact shape of ecosystem services supply curves including thresholds that can cause sudden collapses. There are further problems involved in aggregating expressions of individual ordinal utility (e g Arrow 1951). To tackle these issues, ESD institutions could play an important role by bringing together stakeholders with different expertise and diverging preferences and facilitate deliberation in accordance with group valuation techniques, thereby shaping and formulating social preferences (e g Jacobs 1997). This methodology is slowly emerging in academic settings, but it deserves more attention as a key tool for implementing the green economy concept.

In view of the above, SWEDESD calls for the explicit acknowledgment of the importance of ESD in pursuing the green economy agenda in the UNCSD2012 Compilation Document ? certainly also beyond the end of the UN decade of ESD 2005-2014.

So what are the critical issues in the discussion on green economy?

To conclude this contribution and adhere to the UN general secretary?s call for items on the menu of green economy policies, we list below a few issues that we think deserve particular attention in the continued discussions on green economy. To be solved they all require collaborative learning among different stakeholders and input from various scientific disciplines, which again highlights the importance of ESD.

? There is a need for large scale support to initiatives such as the Green Accounting for Indian States & Union Territories Project (GAISP) aimed at mapping environmental values currently not acknowledged by markets.

? There is a need for multilateral discussions on green economy to focus explicitly on the problem of leakage, i e that regional environmental regulations may have little effect as activities causing environmental costs move to regions where regulation is lacking.

? There is a need for a deeper understanding of how rebound effects hamper decoupling, i e how gains from greater efficiency in production are used to increase economic activity leaving overall environmental impact unaffected or even worsened. The discussion on shorter work hours should be considered in this regard (e g Rosnick & Weisbrot 2006).

? The risk of increasing poverty and inequality when economic activities causing environmental cost shut down following strengthened regulation needs to be thoroughly addressed. The ?green jobs? discourse and role of public investments in ?green? infrastructure and training should be considered (e g UNEP, ILO, IOE & ITUC 2009).

? The relationship between wellbeing and conventional economic growth needs to be understood better in order to see what role the GDP measurement or proposed alternatives should play in guiding policy.

? The role of the financial sector in creating credit that enhances conventional growth needs to be examined further in the light of market failures, along with the effect that moral hazard, bounded rationality and ?animal spirits? (Akerlof & Shiller 2009) have on the function of capital and derivatives markets.

? The trade-off between securing intellectual property rights in order to spur innovation and quickly disseminate new ?green? technologies needs to be better understood, in particular in view of government R & D funding.
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