The problem of green development continues to generate a great deal of controversy. This was evident during the course of the debates regarding the conception of a green economy that were included on the agenda of the Rio +20 conference, which was held in Rio de Janeiro during 2012. However, almost two years after the conference was held, the transition to a green model of development and its practical implementation remains an extremely challenging task for many Eastern countries. The creation of a global green economy is seen as a tool both for sustainable development and tackling the issue of climate change.
Those Eastern countries that supported the idea of green development in whole, as proposed by developed countries, did not hide their concern with its concrete implementation, viewing the concept through the prism of their own economic interests. They fear that the concept of a green economy will replace the concept of sustainable development and raise questions regarding how it fits with solutions to their social problems such as, poverty and employment.
These Eastern countries, while evaluating the positive aspects of green development, simultaneously pay attention to the actual risks that it presents for them. Firstly, the conception of “green development” is primarily interpreted in environmental terms. Eastern countries fear that the environmental concerns of developed countries (climate change, loss of biodiversity, deforestation etc.) overshadow their own development interests (liberalization, the problems of external debt, poverty and the possibility of increasing international assistance).
Secondly, the approach to the realization of this conception that is emerging, ignores the characteristics peculiar to different countries. The need to take account of these peculiarities is enshrined in the position adopted by the Conference on Development and the Environment held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, regarding common but differentiated responsibilities. According to representatives from Asian associations of scientists, the developing countries are, by contrast with developed countries, still at the material resource consuming stage of development. They are unable to leap across this stage within a short space of time. They will therefore be compelled to face substantial challenges as they undertake the transition to an environmentally orientated developmental model.
Thirdly, the Eastern countries have become concerned that the creation of a green economy can be exploited by developed countries to justify economic protectionism and perpetuate inequality between developed and undeveloped countries, impeding the development of the latter.
Fourthly, the provision of assistance to the developing countries and the relief of their debt may be linked to the implementation of green development programs.
The capability of Eastern countries themselves to reach a new level in their economic development requires a more advanced technological base and considerable financial influx into the economy. How can this be realized without the assistance of developed countries? According to UNEP’s estimates the creation of a “green economy” requires both public and private investment in the range of $1.05-2.59 tr per annum, which equates to between 1.6% and 4% of global GDP in 2011.
Eastern countries’ requirements of international assistance to undertake green development seem therefore indisputable. However, this must be accompanied and supported by the policies they undertake at national level regarding the integration of environmental considerations within the strategy and tactics they adopt for economic development.
The transition to a green model of development is associated with benefits for some countries and losses for others. The re-orientation of the economy towards a green growth model at the initial phase is capable of confounding the issue of employment. It may reduce the competitive advantages enjoyed by polluting industries, and deepen, globally, the different levels of development between countries.
Even if the dynamically developing Asia-Pacific countries have sufficient technological and financial resources and, most importantly, the political will to enter this “green world”, it is unlikely that this can be expected from the least developed countries in Africa or South Asia. A high level of interest in ecologically safe development among developing countries is characteristic of newly industrialized countries, China and India. The reason for this does not lie only in the initial economic possibilities of each country. The readiness of states in the developing world to follow environmental requirements depends in a large degree on how they visualize their own position in a globalized world, the entry to which is facilitated by a sustainable model of green development.
If, for the least developed countries, sustainable green development offers the possibility of accelerating their economic growth, then for the median developed countries, it offers the prospect of a transition to a qualitatively new phase of development, drawing them closer to the level of the developed countries. Their awareness of the benefits of sustainable development is resulting currently in the formation of a strategy of green development, which, in comparison with the traditional model of extensive economic growth, accelerates technological modernization and facilitates the adaptation of the country within an economically integrating world. This is demonstrated today by those Eastern countries with high rates of economic growth, such as China or India.
Natalia Rogozhina, doctor of political science and senior research fellow at the Institute of World Economy and International Relations, the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.