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Green Growth Is the Path to Sustainable Development, Panelists Say

March 28, 2012


Robert Orr, United Nations assistant secretary-general for planning and policy coordination; Rachel Kyte, World Bank vice president for sustainable development; and Andres Flores Montalvo of Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

Inclusive green growth is smart growth. It means putting in place policies that will encourage efficiency and removing those that don't. As the path to sustainable development, inclusive green growth will be more affordable in the long-run, create new opportunities, and take into account the true value of natural assets, the ecosystems upon which we depend.

World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development Rachel Kyte laid out that vision of inclusive green growth during a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution on March 27 with Robert Orr, assistant secretary-general for planning and policy coordination at the United Nations, and Andres Flores Montalvo of Mexico’s Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources.

What is important is not the label, the panelists said, but that we act.

“Over the last 20 years, economic growth has lifted more than 660 million people out of poverty and raised the income levels of millions more. However, that’s not quite enough. Growth has worked for many, but it’s not inclusive enough and it’s not working quickly enough and at risk of degrading the environment,” Kyte said. "At the same time, 1.3 billion people still don’t have access to electricity; 2.6 billion people don’t have access to sanitation; 900 million people still have no access to safe, clean drinking water. The numbers go on.”

Over the next three months, green growth for all will be increasingly in the spotlight as policymakers and activists globally prepare for United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in June. The World Bank will be supporting governments to take the necessary steps to green their growth.

" There are plenty of ethical and cultural reasons to protect our environment. But it is actually smart economics, too. "
Rachel Kyte, Vice President for Sustainable Development, The World Bank

Rachel Kyte

Vice President for Sustainable Development, The World Bank

Green Growth in Action

In Mexico, policymakers have seen the damage that climate change can bring in the form of prolonged droughts and deadly storms—in 2010, the damages ran to 6 percent of GDP—so the country is working on a low-emissions strategy and a national adaptation strategy. Improving energy efficiency, increasing the renewable energy supply and low-carbon transport, and managing waste and forests are among the country’s priorities for greener growth.

With the increasing degradation of natural capital around the world and growing social inequities, “this is the time to catalyst a shift to greener sustainable growth,” Flores Montalvo said.

The Path to Inclusive Green Growth

Other countries can set green growth for all in motion.

Orr emphasized the need to improve social equity to expand growth and the importance of partnerships involving governments, the private sector, and civil society that reach far beyond one local issue and can tap wide ranges of funding.

Policymakers also need better data sets that allow them to put value on their natural resources and analyze it alongside GDP, Kyte said. Government adoption and practice of natural capital accounting is one shift in thinking that the World Bank will be encouraging in the run-up to Rio at the Rio conference itself.

Another step in the path toward sustainable development is by helping governments establish enabling policies to address market failures, and mobilize financing to meet the additional upfront costs of investments which over time produce returns to the triple bottom line.

“Green growth is about avoiding decisions that lock-in irreversible environmental damage,” Kyte said. “There are plenty of ethical and cultural reasons to protect our environment, but it is actually smart economics, too.”