Investing Just 2% Can Create a New “Green Economy”

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Investing just two percent of global GDP each year can create a new “green economy,” according to Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication,  a report recently published by UN Environment Programme (UNEP). UNEP created the report to contribute to the UN’s upcoming 2012 Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Defining a green economy as “low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive,” the report explains how to transition to a green economy through investment in ten key sectors, including agriculture. Potential benefits suggest that economic progress does not have to come at the expense of environmental health.

“Greening agriculture,” as the report calls the transition to more sustainable agricultural methods, would require about US$198 billion per year. But this could have high social, environmental and economic returns, including reducing crop losses, poverty and greenhouse gas emissions. Investments in small- and large-scale agriculture could, for example, create 47 million more jobs by 2050.

The report imagines a future where agriculture is no longer a main emitter of greenhouse gases (GHGs)—agriculture emits anywhere from 13 to 30 percent of total GHGs worldwide. Greening agriculture, states the report, could change agriculture to “a GHG sink, while reducing deforestation and freshwater use by 55 percent and 35 percent.”

To get to this better future, the report outlines investments in key areas–research and development to improve plant and livestock species; plant and animal health management, including techniques like “push-pull,” where legumes are planted near other crops to attract pests away from the crops; agribusiness partnerships to adapt the corporations in control of seed and pesticide markets; simple methods to improve post-harvest storage; and soil and water management practices, such as no-till and drip irrigation.

“Green agriculture” could increase yields between 54 and 179 percent, which would reduce poverty and malnutrition. Investments to increase agricultural productivity “have proved to be more than twice as effective in reducing rural poverty than investment in any other sector,” according to the report.

Towards a Green Economy shows that external costs (negative effects such as pollution, land degradation, and health problems) associated with agriculture are estimated at billions of dollars per year. In the UK, for example, such costs may outweigh net farm income. Moreover, these costs will continue to increase if agricultural practices continue as usual. With this in mind, the economic benefits of changing agricultural practices seem even clearer.

The report also outlines clear proposals for national and international policy changes. At the national level, these include policies that support smallholder farmers’ land tenure rights, women farmers, and sustainably produced food served at public institutions like schools.

UNEP also recommends economic tools, such as rewarding farmers for using environmentally friendly practices and inputs, and capacity-building projects. Such projects include strengthening extension services through using information and communications technologies (ICT) and partnering with local NGOs and businesses.

But changes must happen soon, according to UNEP. “Green agriculture could nutritiously feed the global population out to 2050 if worldwide transition efforts are immediately initiated,” says the report.

Guest Post By Mara Schechter

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