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Can the green economy save us?

Published Feb 19, 2013 08:16am


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The world is not in a good shape at the moment – food prices are rising, fresh water is depleting, energy prices are soaring, biodiversity is dying out, intense storms are damaging towns and cities, while floods and droughts are threatening the livelihoods of millions. Clearly, climate change is playing a major role in taking its toll on human populations, just as the scientists had predicted it would. And the rate of change is accelerating. That means the chance of keeping global temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century is getting slimmer. Scientists say that if the earth warms more than 2 degrees then we will not be able to avoid runaway climate change that will be catastrophic. In Pakistan, climate change is not a future prediction but a present reality with devastating consequences given the extensive flooding that is beginning to occur annually during the monsoon season. For the past two years, Pakistan has topped the list of the Global Climate Risk Index produced by Germanwatch, a non-governmental organisation that works on global equity issues.

In 2010, Pakistan was listed as the number one country in the world affected by climate related disasters; in 2011 it was ranked as number three.

The United Nations-led negotiations on a new global agreement to curb climate change have stalled after the massive momentum that was built up just before the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit held in 2009. The summit proved to be a major disappointment and soon after the week the Copenhagen Accord was signed, the urgency was gone from the talks. There is a worldwide recession at the moment and affluent countries, especially the US, don’t want to take any actions that they think will slow down their economies further. “I see multilateralism going nowhere,” remarked Barbara Unmuessig, the President of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung (HBS), a German green political foundation. Barbara, who has been involved with environmental issues for more than 20 years, was visiting Pakistan recently. “We need to rethink our strategy at the local and national level, and put pressure on our politicians to go in the right direction”. She gave the example of how German citizens put pressure on their political leadership to get rid of nuclear power and substitute it with renewable energy. Today Germany, which is a highly industrialised country, has an extensive renewable energy system. Her advice to Pakistan, especially given its current energy crisis: “What are the solutions? Try to build your own green economy. In such a large country you can build your own renewable energy industry”.


Green economy is the new buzzword that is replacing “sustainable development” in the global arena. The concept of the green economy was first created in 2008 to get governments to spend money on the environment and in 2009 it was presented by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), as a way forward in response to the global financial crisis. The idea behind it was to shift investments away from business as usual to green activities making economic sense. Scientists have been calling for a major shift to clean energy technologies and energy efficiency in order to curb carbon emissions causing climate change. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in their special report on renewable energy sources and climate change mitigation called for nations around the globe to invest heavily in renewable energy to bring down prices and make it more affordable to everyone.

Many experts had pinned high hopes on last year’s UN Conference on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro, which had a theme of “green economy”. The Rio+20 conference (it had been 20 years since the last Earth Summit was held in Rio) failed to deliver anything substantive, however. Barbara had warned in a paper published just before the Rio conference, “Rio+20 must be more than just a repetition of previous international conferences – it must offer a true breakthrough to a social, just, low-carbon and resource efficient world”. Unfortunately, there was no sincere political will, either in the North or the South to do this and today the “business as usual, the ‘brown’ resource intensive development path, prevails”. Hence, Barbara questions whether the green economy is “the new magic bullet”? In her view, “UNEP’s green economy concept contains nothing that could revolutionise the (global) economy”.

Perhaps the solution is that: “We don’t have to follow big business, we can implement good solutions along with less consumption of resources”. She is clear that the green economy must benefit people and not big businesses and that wasteful consumption patterns and lifestyles (especially in the North) must change. “We need to rethink development to preserve nature, feed people and make lives better”. She is clear, however, that it is politics that has to set the standards, limits and goals. We urgently need institutions and decision makers who can make planet Earth deliver for the future.


The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues. She can be reached at


The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


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The writer is an award-winning environmental journalist based in Islamabad, who also covers climate change and health issues.

She can be reached at

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (10) Closed

ali wadood Feb 19, 2013 06:43pm
YOU may need a political approval for this suggestion, if dams were good enough there would have been no flood, check the flood history and you will see it was due to dams.
Tahir Feb 19, 2013 05:29pm
Don't worry too much. The planet has a habit of correcting itself, either by devastation of mankind and / or its own mechanism of climatic and relief changes over millions of years. In Kenya, droughts and floods of catastrophic magnitudes have been on records since the 1920's. Surely at that time there were no issues at all about pollution and green house phenomenons causing such climatic concerns. Whatever a human being does as precautions, it simply cannot compete to combat with what nature has in store. A simple example: you cannot build 100% damage proof buildings against earthquakes no matter how brilliant your structural engineers might be.
hello Feb 19, 2013 09:27am
nobody can save us . we are going to doom.
Rai M Azlan Feb 19, 2013 09:42am
the writer has hit an important point but sadly such articles/blogs just like TV shows do not get much attention as they are not covering "bestselling" political spices. the green economy indeed is a way forward that can save not only us but the whole planet but the issue here is to convince the government who indeed is the biggest stakeholder and who can play the major role. and other major issue is creating a massive awareness about the urgency and the accessible options we have with respect to green economy.
Zalim Singh Feb 19, 2013 12:20pm
try becoming vegetarians.
Tariq Feb 19, 2013 12:31pm
Pakistan should harness the annual flood waters by way of building dams at appropriate sights and control the flow of water when/where needed, this will address some of our present/future water shortages.
CAPTAIN PLANET Feb 20, 2013 05:28am
Don't Worry I will save you all....for I am super consumer... with my mighty power of NEEDS and WANTS I WILL deplete the world of it's resources so one day there won't be any earth left thus no expensive goods and hi-tech gadets that we will be dependet on. And when some catestrophic event occurs we won't suffer the loss worth in the billions.
Dheeraj Feb 20, 2013 05:31am
Pakistan, like India must exploit the huge potential it has in renewable energy sector-solar, wind, biomass, small & mini hydro and geothermal. Government should come up with policy incentive and market mechnism such as mandating consumption of RE by utilities. This will for sure make Pakistan a power surplus from a power deficit and also address the larger issue of climate change.
Khan Feb 20, 2013 07:48am
Singh ji does vegetable grow in air, can you enlighten us or just for the sake of commenting you commented
muradali Feb 20, 2013 10:21am
aerophonics and hydrophonics system should be applied