Green economies with social futures: a focus on the Caribbean
OP-Ed Article by Leisa Perch, IPC-IG/Team Leader – Rural and Sustainable Development
The Rio +20 meeting in 2012 is an opportunity for global policy makers to review twenty years of action on Agenda 21 and what has been delivered. Thus far, the score-card is mixed; neither wholly positive nor wholly negative. Significant challenges lie ahead. Global food prices have escalated sharply and malnutrition is on the rise. While a recent report suggests that globally efforts to sharply reduce extreme poverty by 2015 are on track, hunger remains persistent. The triple effects of the global economic crisis i.e. the weakening of the insurance sector, lower demand for exports and reduced remittances have exposed the fragility of economies and households alike. Fiscal space constraints narrowed the options for mitigating the worst of the crisis on households. Nine (9) Caribbean countries registered debt to GDP ratios in excess of 80 percent in 2010.
CO2 emissions reached a new high in 2010 and by some estimates, global disasters now cost at more than$100 billion and have impacted the lives of millions. Estimates for 2010, alone, suggest that over 40 million people were displaced by disasters.
Rio +20, therefore, must deliver an agenda: (i) focused on people-centred development, building on the MDG Summit in 2010; (ii) informed by a critical review of collective success and failures; and (iii) anchored in inclusion and inclusiveness within states and between states.
As attention turns to “greener pathways” of growth and development, in the context of the “green economy”, one can speculate on some of the questions facing heads of governments, ministers and technical advisers: How can a green economy process really bring the poor into the centre of growth and development? How can a greening economy help to bridge the current gap between those seeking work and the jobs available? How can the tourism sector be greened and still be competitive? Which pathways will stimulate new sources of growth and provide opportunities for small and micro-business? Once “green”, how to stay green? How can greening economy offer real opportunities for the working poor?
It is also not yet very clear how the green economy process will increase resilience in the face of the increasing frequency and intensity of disasters that remains one of the more significant challenges to sustained growth and development in Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) worldwide and in the Caribbean. Hurricanes, storms, heavy rains, tsunamis and earthquakes can potentially erase years of progress and investment, with predicted patterns of climate variability and change potentially putting Caribbean SIDS on a continuous cycle of “build, repair and recover”. Hurricane Ivan’s impact on Grenada in 2004 was estimated at over 200% of GDP and recent analyses estimate that Caribbean governments could end up spending as much as 20% of their GDP on coping with climate change.
Disasters have consistently shaped the ‘sustainability of growth’ narrative in the region:
- At the time of the Global Economic crisis, Dominica was just emerging from the impact of Hurricane Dean in August 2007, which caused extensive damage to the island including infrastructure and resulted in significant losses in the agriculture sector (Junge, 2009a).
- In the tail-end of the intensity of GEC, some Caribbean economies were weakened further by Hurricane Thomas, particularly St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- In some cases, countries have faced multiple events in a given year and across a period of multiple events across a number of years e.g. Antigua and Barbuda (Jose and Lenny in 1999) and Jamaica (Isidor and Lili in 2002; Ivan and Charley in 2004; Wilma, Emily and Dennis in 2005). Such a pattern provides little time and scope for economic and/or social recovery.
- As Haiti seeks to recover from the impacts of the devastating earthquake in 2010, the recovery process has been hampered by additional crises: (a) an outbreak of cholera which is estimated to have caused more than 5000 deaths with thousands hospitalized; and (ii) a tropical storm resulting in landslides, deaths and additional difficulties for transitioning many homeless into permanent homes.
Natural hazards also potentially impact on the capacity for key trading partners to deliver critical goods and services; the region is a net importer of food. Such cascade or multiplier effects make the region’s poverty situation more acute. Estimated at around 38%, this is a paradox for a region where countries generally rank highly in both human development and GDP per capita.
Strengthened public policy and leadership by government (including intensified investment) is necessary but not sufficient to deliver and sustain low-carbon growth and climate resilience. Core industries, tourism and construction, will require significant public and private investment, with green infrastructure (including new building techniques) being particularly pivotal. Green jobs in construction, though, are unlikely to deliver jobs for poor female heads of households or mitigate women’s high participation in low-skilled and low-wage work. Youth unemployment urgently needs a sustainable solution.
Research (Perch, 2011) shows that one clear weakness in development practice has been the failure to appropriately integrate social dimensions, particularly inequality and social justice, into natural resource management policies and strategies. Green economy strategies must avoid such obvious policy failures.
There are no easy answers to these questions and dilemmas. Accordingly, institutional frameworks are as important as the green economy itself. Without strong and effective governance mechanisms, including formal and informal mechanisms for negotiating across competing needs and interests, much of the efforts to “go green” may not be sustained. Both global solutions and specialized responses and recommendations to address the differentiated needs of countries including some of the smallest and highly vulnerable members of the community of nations are needed.
Greater attention by the multilateral system and by the emerging leadership in the South to these varied needs and capacities is more critical than ever. For Caribbean SIDS, much relies on their capacity to leverage such attention as effectively and as sustainably as possible.
Tran, Mark (201). Global Poverty Rates Falling, Says UN. Published July 7th, 2011. Available from http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/2011/jul/07/millennium-development-goals-2011-report
 Hurley, Gail (2010) Achieving Debt Sustainability and the MDGs in Small Island Developing States. UNDP Discussion Paper, Poverty Practice, Bureau for Development Policy. New York, October 2010.
 Charles, Jacqueline (2011). Death Toll Rises to 23 as rains lash Haiti. Miami Herald. Published June 7th, 2011. http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/06/07/2255876/death-toll-rises-to-23-as-heavy.html