A green economy is the means to salvation for the global economy after the coronavirus pandemic has affected 81 per cent of the world’s workforce. After millions of people had been infected and thousands had died due to the virus, the tourism and travel industries collapsed and the oil and gas sector plummeted owing to the preventive measures countries have adopted to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
However, a green economy would allow countries to achieve growth and generate jobs in the wake of the pandemic. The coronavirus has brought the green economy to the fore as the virus is expected to negatively impact the world’s economies for years to come.
Austria has announced that 13 European countries are joining hands to support economic activities that reduce toxic emissions, for example. The European states are also discussing emergency measures at the cost of more than half a trillion euros to stimulate their economies after controls on the spread of the coronavirus led to airline stoppages, factory closures, and restrictions on public life. The leaders of the European Union countries have vowed to focus on environmentally friendly policies to revive their economies.
The measures adopted to recover from the repercussions of the virus should encourage clean solutions instead of the current infrastructure that causes pollution. They should also encourage electric transportation technology and a reduction in the use of fossil fuels. Green projects, such as enhancing the use of renewable energy, can create more jobs, bring in more revenues, and be cost-effective in the long run. The world is standing at a crossroads at present: either to pursue zero-emissions goals or to fall under the mercy of fossil fuels once more.
The industrial countries should focus on supporting their material infrastructure, such as wind farms, solar plants, renewable electric and clean energy networks, and the use of hydrogen. They should carry out modifications to improve the quality of construction and invest in education, training, and clean-technology research.
The green economy is an opportunity to benefit from its advantages in terms of growth, food security, and the provision down to the village level of energy, clean water, housing, sewage networks, and public transport. These opportunities can create jobs, help to eliminate poverty, achieve sustainable development, preserve natural resources, and give access to green technology that reduces pollutants and increases production.
Egypt launched a work plan to promote the green economy in Africa in 2019, and Africa’s financial centres now have a golden opportunity to transform their sister countries into global green hubs.
According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the green economy can improve human well-being and reduce social inequalities in the long run. It can help to decrease the risk for future generations to be exposed to environmental degradation and ecological depletion. It is necessary to help to protect the environment and create an economic system that generates jobs and covers the whole social spectrum.
Global estimates now put the increase in greenhouse-gas emissions responsible for global warming across the world at around 70 per cent, giving rise to temperatures that could go up by four to six degrees Celsius by the end of this century. According to the UN, water scarcity will become a chronic phenomenon in many parts of the world by 2030, imposing vast challenges to policies and the costs of acquiring clean water.
The international community is therefore looking at the green economy as a means to economic recovery and sustainable development by encouraging investments in the environment to achieve sustainable economic growth, or “green growth”, and to reduce poverty. For the green economy to be successful, environmental elements should be incorporated into economic development models, policies, and projects at the earliest stages of their preparation.
In its simplest form, the green economy is one in which carbon emissions are reduced and the efficient use of resources is maximised. It covers all social groups whose incomes increase with their opportunities for work. This kind of economy is driven by public and private investments that help to prevent the loss of biodiversity and preserve a healthy environment.
These investments should be supported by amended policies and regulations as well as public spending. The development of a green economy should help to maintain, enhance, and rebuild natural capital, seeing this as a source of public benefit, particularly to the poor whose security and lifestyles depend on natural resources. Africa remains the wealthiest continent in the world in terms of mineral resources, including fossil fuels. However, many African countries have been attempting to adopt a green economy as a means for growth, including Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa.
Many countries have applied different economic policies to encourage the conversion to a green economy, whether by investing in green energy, providing financial facilities and loans at low interest rates, applying preferential tariffs and prices on products in which renewable energy is used, taxing products produced by non-renewable energy sources, or imposing taxes on waste and cash transfers.
The conditions necessary for the growth of a green economy include the application of policies and visions for sustainable development, coupled with legislative, institutional, and financial procedures, social awareness, and coordination between all the parties concerned.
Legislative measures include reformulating and amending laws, adapting them to the principles of the green economy, and clarifying implementation mechanisms.
Institutional procedures are concerned with adopting a national strategy for developing and identifying priority sectors that can easily go green. This is in addition to incorporating environmental considerations into five-year national plans and development strategies, while preparing government authorities, educational entities, non-governmental organisations, civil society, and the private sector for a green transformation.
It is the role of present economic policies to transform the economy in the long run into a green economy through, for example, licensing laws, incentives, and pricing policies, modifying import restrictions, financial aid, fines and taxes that give preference to the proper use of resources, and the integration of the cost of pollution and the use of natural resources within the total cost of goods and services.
Financial procedures include investing in green infrastructure and modern technologies and encouraging the private sector and civil society to be incorporated within a green system.
This batch of measures should be adopted in tandem with national studies to identify the opportunities for going green and the factors of success and challenges associated with this transformation, as well as developing research, monitoring, and environmental knowledge management.
*The writer is an associate professor of economics at Cairo University.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly