Rio+20 takes place against a backdrop of an environmental, economic and development crises of endemic proportions. This is as a result of global financial and economic crises, underpinned by an unsustainable, short term, market driven economic paradigm, climate change, food insecurity and increasing global poverty. With the existing Rio Conventions failing to meet their targets, the developmental impacts of climate change for instance threaten to bring unprecedented reversals in poverty reduction, food production & security, health and with devastating impacts on the most vulnerable sectors of society. The financial crisis also has multiple ramifications for economies and societies at global, regional and local scales. These include, escalating food & fuel prices, all of which fuel high levels of poverty and inequality, job losses, threatens social stability and will ultimately undermine long-term economic and social development. In short the sustainable human development is in crisis. This reality has brought about a sharp focus on the link between environment, development and socio-economic rights implying that any future projections for sustainable development must once again recommit to balancing social, economic and environmental objectives of development.
Analysts have attributed the current crises to a development paradigm that was heavily focused on economic growth and resulted in social marginalization and resource depletion. Reflections on the quality of development were neglected as social indicators declined while the natural capital or environment deteriorated. The search for a fundamentally new economic and social paradigm has thrust the concept of a new ‘green economy’ to the center of development policy debates. This concept has gained currency to a large extent because it is ostensibly regarded as providing a response to the multiple crises that the world has been facing. The United Nations General Assembly put the Green Economy at the centre of strategies to deal with the recent global financial crisis, underscoring the view that it should be at the centre of sustainable low-carbon development going forward. The green economy provides an alternative paradigm that offers the promise of growth while protecting the earth's ecosystems and in turn contributing to poverty alleviation.
However, exactly what a green economy is and should be and with what measures and instruments it should be implemented are questions that are being intensely debated on multiple political fora and yet remain inadequately answered. The concept is largely contested and as a result there is no unique definition of the green economy. Instead there currently exist a number of definitions, conceptions and perceptions of what a green economy is and/or how it ought to be operationalised in practice. Among these definitions are those put forward by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which have gained currency in the mainstream and will be integral to discussions at Rio+20. These have been subject to much criticism, not least from African indigenous peoples (IPACC, 2011). Furthermore, attempts to theorise the concept are increasingly throwing up tensions between and within the global North and South on the perceived utility of the green economy in its present form.
The dominant definitions of a green economy such as that provided by UNEP have fallen into the trap of promoting market based instruments for the management of natural resources with little consideration for ecological and social impacts. The obtaining green economy concept maintains a simplistic conception of sustainability, based on its three classic pillars without opening it up to be inclusive of human, environmental and social rights which have been significantly integrated since the first Rio Summit in 1992. Africa for instance is well endowed with natural resources and the majority of peoples’ livelihoods and national economies rely on the sustainable use of natural capital. However, ongoing debates on adopting a green economy have not considered ways in which biodiversity, ecosystems and natural resources can be incorporated or drive the practical implementation of the green economy strategies while minimizing human footprint. Additionally the mainstream concept still maintains a blind spot on gender considerations as well as the stewardship role that local communities and indigenous people play in the management of natural capital. An aspect that is critical for Africa considering that women and indigenous peoples make up a significant proportion of sectors of society whose livelihoods are directly dependent on the use of natural resources and their vulnerability contexts.
In essence, the mainstream concept still retains the centrality of the aggregate economy and does not seek to transform the (global) economy along with its main macro-economic parameters in an eco-social direction, with a clear effort to decouple growth from natural capital depletion and to ensure that growth does not undermine human rights, basic needs, human security and human resilience, particularly of the poor. In its current form the green economy poses a danger of further opening up the exploitation of natural capital reservoirs to the private sector and disenfranchising vulnerable sectors of society. A new political economy of sustainable development is needed wherein human rights principles are mainstreamed into development and national as well as global economic development models will be inclusive and deliver long-term sustainability and greater equity.
Although various actors from Africa will be participating in the Rio +20 Summit the continent lags behind in unpacking the concept of a green economy and articulating its own vision, a notable exception being Africa's indigenous peoples who, in 2011, issued the //Hui!gaeb report on the Green Economy, Equity and Green Governance. In Southern Africa for instance, only South Africa has elaborated a vision for green economy and even then this strategy narrowly focuses on green jobs. The rest of the region is yet to create a broadbased space to further explore long-term implications of the green economy on its poverty reduction strategies and economic development agenda. Furthermore, consultative meetings on this matter have been fragmented and isolated across stakeholder groups. So far environmental NGOs have played a much more dominant role in regional preparations for Rio+20 compared to other civil society groupings that represent women, youth, workers and trade unions, indigenous peoples (and other groupings listed in the Convention on Sustainable Development major groups).
Thus OneWorld in partnership with OSISA and the Heinrich Boll Foundation are facilitating a policy roundtable on ‘the ‘Prospects and Challenges of an Inclusive/Pro-poor Green Economy in Africa’ with particular focus on southern Africa.
The goal of this policy roundtable is ‘to contribute to the formulation of a common vision on the green economy in Africa amongst African negotiators, civil society & researchers’.
- To contribute to the debate on Green Economy strategies in Africa by bringing together decision and policy makers, researchers, civil society and practitioners to deliberate on the prospects and challenges of an inclusive pro-poor green economy’.
- To define some of the policy questions and responses that need to be considered if green economies are to be inclusive and pro-poor in the context of the region
- To support key regional actors to champion an inclusive pro-poor agenda for Rio+20 and emerging discourse on sustainable development