Fri, Oct 24, 2008 - Page 9 News List

Sustainable development is the only way out of the world’s crisis

By Ban Ki-moon

Amid the pressures of the global financial crisis, some ask how we can afford to tackle climate change. The better question is: How can we afford not to?

Put aside the familiar arguments — that the science is clear, that climate change represents an indisputable existential threat to the planet and that every day we do not act, the problem grows worse. Instead, let us make the case purely on bread-and-butter economics.

At a time when the global economy is sputtering, we need growth. At a time when unemployment in many nations is rising, we need new jobs. At a time when poverty threatens to overtake hundreds of millions of people, especially in the least developed parts of the world, we need the promise of prosperity. This possibility is at our fingertips.

Economists at the UN call for a Green New Deal — a deliberate echo of the energizing vision of then-US president Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression of the 1930s. Thus, this week the UN Environment Program will launch a plan for reviving the global economy while dealing simultaneously with the defining challenge of our era — climate change.

The plan urges world business and political leaders, including a new US president, to help redirect resources away from the speculative financial engineering at the root of today’s market crisis and into more productive, growth-generating, and investments for the future.

This new “Green Economy Initiative,” backed by Germany, Norway and the European Commission, arises from the insight that the most pressing problems we face are interrelated. Rising energy and commodity prices helped create the global food crisis, which fed the financial crisis. This, in turn, reflects global economic and population growth, with resulting shortages of critical resources — fuel, food and clean air and water.

The commingled problems of climate change, economic growth and the environment suggest their own solution. Only sustainable development — a global embrace of green growth — offers the world, rich countries as well as poor, an enduring prospect of long-term social well-being and prosperity.

The good news is that we are awakening to this reality.

We have experienced great economic transformations throughout history: the industrial revolution, the technology revolution and the era of globalization. We are now on the threshold of another — the age of green economics.

Visiting “Silicon Valley” in California last year, I saw how investment has been pouring into new renewable-energy and fuel-efficiency technologies. The venture capital firm that underwrote Google and Amazon, among other archetypal entrepreneurial successes, directed more than US$100 million into new alternative energy companies in 2006 alone.

In China, green capital investment is expected to grow from US$170 million in 2005 to more than US$720 million this year. In just a few short years, China has become a world leader in wind and solar power, employing more than a million people. Globally, the UN Environment Program estimates that investment in green energy will reach US$1.9 trillion by 2020.

The financial crisis may slow this trend. But capital will continue to flow into green ventures. I think of it as seed money for a wholesale reconfiguration of global industry.

We can already see its practical expression. More than 2 million people in the advanced industrial nations today find work in renewable energy. Brazil’s biofuels sector has been creating nearly 1 million jobs a year. Economists say that India, Nigeria and Venezuela, among many others, could do the same.

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