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Attempting to put more ‘Green’ into the heart of development

Fish market Antananarivo Madagascar

Fish market Antananarivo Madagascar

Developing countries need long term economic growth to continue toward a path toward prosperity.

The aid buzzword sustainability is often used to describe maintaining progress, but the Organization for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD) says it should also apply to the environment.

As the global population swells from 7 billion now to 9 billion in 2050 the demand for food, water and energy will place more stress on countries at the structural and physical levels.

Putting Green Growth at the Heart of Developmentreleased this week to coincide with World Environment Day, calls attention to the idea of green development for donor countries and developing countries alike. It reflects the lessons learned from a previous OECD publication advocating for green development and last year’s RIO+20 Summit.

“We found a lot of suspicion and hostility around the notions of green growth when we tried this a few years ago,” said co-author Jan Corfee-Morlot to Humanosphere.

“There was a suspicion that green growth was a masquerade to force a vision on developing countries, which was not our intent at all. So we took a closer look at the suspicions and went to see how countries went about green growth strategies.”

They learned that many countries were already implementing green growth strategies, but all were not labeling them as such. For example, Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy aims to increase the country’s GDP by 475% and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.

Countries are already cooperating and trying to learn green growth strategies from each other, explained co-author Shannon Siyao Wang.

“Ethiopia’s Prime Minister sees green growth as an integral part of the country’s long term growth strategy,” she said.

The report sets out what it calls a twin track of recommendations to enable countries to pursue green development plans domestically and for the donor governments that want to support green growth strategies in developing countries. The report is explicitly designed not to tell countries what to do.

“Our job is to support the development cooperation community,” says Corfee-Morlot. “We couldn’t work on the topic of green growth from the inside out.”

One of the challenges will be in shifting countries away from fossil-fuel based energy and emission-intensive landscapes. Countries like Nigeria and South Sudan rely heavily upon the oil sector and the DR Congo on its minerals. These non-renewable resources are singled out as creating the ‘resource curse’ that enables corruption and inequality, but they also not so good for the environment.

That does not have to be the case. Wang cited Norway as an example of a country that uses its oil revenue surpluses to fund a $664 billion pension fund. The money is used to invest in companies that enable global economic growth. A new investment criteria in 2012 established that companies must disclose their impacts on forests as a part of receiving money from the fund with the hope that they can support efforts that reduce global deforestation.

Achieving green development in developing countries will require national level leadership that will integrate green goals into development plans. The solutions cannot be top down and must take into consideration the social dimension of development programs. Finally, the report recommends that countries have the appropriate mechanisms to monitor the implementation of a green development vision and ensure that the targets are met.

The potential gains are significant. As many as 50 million low-income households in developing countries could benefit from sustainable management of natural forests. China is on a path to increasing employment thanks to its investments in green jobs and the forestry sector. Another example is Madagascar controls were implemented to eliminate over-fishing. Now people are catching larger shrimp and an improved ability to access markets is helping to enable higher export prices.

“The challenge is to waste no time in embarking on this transformative journey. An urgent goal will be to manage the difficult trade-offs between short-term demands and longer-term impact, and the need to make choices that will deliver a more stable and sustainable future while also securing immediate gains,” says OECD Secretary General Gurría in the report’s introduction.

He recognizes that it is much easier to talk about green development goals then to actually do them.

“The international community must work hand-in-hand with developing countries to foster green growth. This report demonstrates the benefits of making this a priority to ensure better policies for better lives,” he says.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]