What is a Green Economy?

Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication can be found on the UNEP website: www.unep.org/greeneconomy

1. What is Ecosystem Management?

Ecosystem Management is “an integrated process to conserve and improve ecosystem health that sustains ecosystem services for human well-being”. It places particular emphasis on integrating human needs with conservation practices, and recognizes the inter-connectivity between ecological, socio-cultural, economic and institutional structures in developing solutions. It fosters community ownership of problem resolution efforts to maintain ecosystem services. It uses many different tools and media (such as governance structures and stakeholder engagement, policies and protocols, strategies and practices), guided by principles that help define the management framework that are targeted to achieve multiple benefits of ecosystem restoration, livelihood improvement and job creation. It is based on cross-cutting and apolitical principles that can be applied across a wide range of scales. The approach is increasingly being used by many developing countries and has been written into international agreements.


2. Success of Ecosystem Management in China

China has a long history ecosystem management which can be traced back to 2070-1600 B.C. during the Xia Dynasty. This spirit of nature conservation as such has been part of Chinese culture, however, in modern times there have been phases of unwise management of ecosystems, and restoration and advancement thought lessons are learnt over time. As the world’s second largest economy and the most populous country, there are great pressures on ecosystems in China and ecosystem management plays a crucial role in sustaining the well-being of the Chinese people.

China has excellent lessons in ecosystem management which maybe shared with other developing countries with twin issues of conservation and development. There is the case of Grain for Green Programme in the Loess Plateau of China which illustrates this. The Loess Plateau is located in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, encompassing 287 counties in seven provinces. It is the largest area of loess in the world, covering more than 600,000 km2, accounting for 6.6% of China’s land area, with 8.5% of the Chinese population. The fragility of the loess ecosystem is characterized by its arid climate, with only 64.1mm of average annual precipitation, which is compounded by high population density of 168 person/km2 and intensive cultivation on the slope land. This intensive cultivation has led to severe soil erosion, with an average erosion rate 5,000-10,000 t/km2/year. As a result, the Yellow River receives a high content of sand entrained in the water leading to siltation of the river channels and reservoirs, which, moreover, raises river beds and increases the risk of flooding. For this reason, controlling soil erosion of the Loess Plateau has been a national priority since the turn of last century.

Starting from 1999, the Chinese Government launched a national “Grain for Green Program” for restoring cropland to forest (or grassland). The Loess Plateau was a priority area for the programme, which includes transforming sloping farmlands into terraces, vegetation rehabilitation, enclosing hills and banning grazing, building dams to trap silt, enhancing basic and high quality farmlands, planting commercial forests and fruit trees, as well as growing fodder and fostering related industries. The programme has achieved remarkable ecological and economic benefits: regional evapo-transpiration has decreased by 6.2% and surface water runoff by 13.6% ; over 153 million tons per year of soil has been retained; and there has been a positive impact on carbon sequestration, with 69.21 TgC in soil, and 23.76 TgC in rehabilitated vegetation (Table 1). Food production rose 18% between 2000 and 2008, achieved through the increase of per-unit food production against a decline of total cropland area. Meanwhile, the Loess Plateau’s economic situation has greatly improved. Per capita income in rural areas increased from RMB1000/year in 1998 to more than RMB 3000/year in 2007. As the programme advances, the rural economy has improved with the growing secondary and tertiary industries, which has not only created new jobs for rural labour force, but also diversified sources of household income.

3. Green Economy

UNEP defines a Green Economy as one that results in ‘improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities’. It is a new development path that is based on sustainability and ecological economics. Compared with previous development paths, the uniqueness of a Green Economy is that it can directly turn the natural capital into economic value whilst preserving it, and conduct total cost accounting. This way, the natural capital can be included into the social system, requiring the users of ecosystem services to pay for the benefits gained and damage caused. Ecosystem Management, “an integrated process to conserve and improve ecosystem health that sustains ecosystem services for human well-being,” is recommended as the critical approach to restore the natural foundation to sustain a Green Economy.

4. The Pivotal Role of Ecosystem Management for a Green Economy:

Ecological networks, mechanisms, methods and tools are to be in place for the development of the Green Economy
Monitoring the state of the Earth’s ecosystems, understanding the ecological processes and predicting ecosystem functions are essential approaches for decisions and actions of ecosystem management. This requires integrated ecological networks such as the Chinese Ecosystem Research Network (CERN). Considering the global importance of ecosystem management, there is also the need for establishing an intergovernmental body to improve science-policy interface such as the Inter-Governmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Developing countries share common challenges of ecosystem management as a result of a shortage of capacity, knowledge and information. Therefore there is a need for them to learn from each other.
Valuation of Ecosystem Services improves decision-making
Once the underlying biophysical characteristics of an ecosystem are understood, translating this scientific understanding into values can improve the decision-making of governments, businesses and consumers. One of the failures of our prevailing political and economic systems is that the value of biodiversity and ecosystems is often either entirely ignored or poorly understood.

The TEEB studies recommend a pragmatic, tiered approach to valuation in analyzing problems and developing policy responses. In some cases, it may be sufficient to simply recognize the value of ecosystems and biodiversity to ensure their sustainability. In other cases, it may be necessary to demonstrate the value of ecosystems and biodiversity in economic terms to ensure balanced and informed decision-making. This is particularly true when policymakers and businesses make decisions impacting ecosystems based on a cost and benefit calculation.
Capturing the value through policy and markets
Traditional indicators such as GDP and the HDI have basic limitations as measures of social progress. Neither GDP/capita nor HDI reflect the state of the natural environment and both focus on the short term, with no indication of whether current well-being can be sustained. These are reflected in annual reports of UNDP, IMF and the World Bank. The green economy initiative provides a unique opportunity to guide a new development paradigm that addresses not only economic efficiency but also social equity.

In a Green Economy, the revised and adjusted net national product (NNP) will make economic decision-makers, particularly in developing countries aware of environmental costs. For example, the conventional measure provides the contribution of fisheries and forestry sectors for Brazil, Indonesia and India as 6.1, 14.1 and 16.5 percentage, respectively, but if the ecosystem services are accounted it becomes 17.4, 14.5 and 19.6, respectively.

There also exists market-based approaches to capture the values of ecosystem services into decision making, prominent among these are Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES) models, which uses compensatory means to resolve conflicts between natural resources and resource-users.

5. Rio+20 – an opportunity to promote ecosystem management in green economy development

The Earth Summit on sustainable development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 adopted the Climate Convention, the Convention on Biodiversity, and the Agenda 21. As 2012 nears, all eyes are set towards the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), popularly known as “Rio+20″ whose main objectives are to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development; assess the progress to date and the remaining gaps in the implementation of the outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development and address new and emerging challenges. UN General Assembly has selected the Green Economy as one of the two themes of Rio+20, which will provide an alternative development path towards global sustainability by addressing social, economic and environmental issues in a more integrated and pragmatic way.

Source: http://www.unep.org/NewsCentre/default.aspx?DocumentID=2659&ArticleID=8947

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