There has been very little discussion on the potential negative social and environmental consequences of promoting a green economy. Furthermore, nothing is being said about the need to reduce demand and over-consumption by wealthy nations. The sceptics are therefore defining ‘green economy’ as repacking of consumption-oriented neo-liberal economics, Mohammed Abdul Baten and Humayun Kabir write
OVER the past couple of years, the word ‘green’ has been prolifically used — from biology, where it is used to describe chlorophyllous colour pigments, to economics, where it defines an economy-wide implication. Symbolically, green is used to represent the nature. With an increased attention to environment over the past few years, in response to mounting threat of climate change, it is not surprising to call for a holistic, nature-oriented approach that could protect both environment and livelihood. However, there is also a large number of critics who have showed their reservations against the widespread use of the word based on an antiquated ethical question: Is it a new shrewd approach for industrialised countries to accumulate wealth or is it really useful for protecting the deteriorating state of nature.
The concept of ‘green economy’ is still unclear, and there has been mounting debate on how it would be implemented in developing and underdeveloped countries. Since Bangladesh is still underdeveloped, it is too early for her to have a concrete decision on either fully accepting or rejecting the green economy framework. However, it is now evident that conventional fossil fuel based ‘brown economy’ has resulted in many externalities ranging from climate change to financial crisis. Under these circumstances, an economic system focused on nature has become important. The United Nations Environment Programme has also justified its position for favouring green economy by setting this year’s World Environment Day theme as ‘Green Economy: Does it include you?’
Until today, the green economy framework stood on technological platforms that influenced politicians to capture the political and economic opportunities presented by potential new technologies and their implications for promoting a convenient and supposedly ‘green’ economic agenda. But there has been very little discussion on the potential negative social and environmental consequences of promoting a green economy. Furthermore, nothing is being said about the need to reduce demand and over-consumption by wealthy nations. The sceptics are therefore defining ‘green economy’ as repacking of consumption-oriented neo-liberal economics.
Like orthodox economic system, green economy is also based on three nodes: production, distribution, and consumption; it slightly differs in the final output. Generally, orthodox economic system is primarily intended towards growth with or without having consideration to the environment, but a green economy results in improved human wellbeing and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. Sectors in green economy include renewable energy, low-carbon transport, energy-efficient buildings, clean technologies, improved waste management, improved freshwater provision, sustainable agriculture, forestry, and fisheries (UNEP, 2011).
No doubt, green economy aims at improving environmental conditions, but the question is whether developing countries can comply with the approach. Countries like Bangladesh has poor economic strength, which leaves little room for prioritizing environmental issues over poverty eradication, energy access, transportation needs, food and water security and rural development, which are immediate development priorities. How can such countries sustain their growth while maintaining environmental integrity? The answer is quite simple, if we consider Karl Burkart’s definition of green economy. He identifies six priorities for operationalising green economy: renewable energy, green buildings, clean transportation, water management, waste management and land management. In fact, green economy provides a huge opportunity of green jobs and hence helps to eradicate poverty. It allows investing in green technology, using eco-friendly energy sources as much as possible and using more efficient methods. It promotes the reduction of carbon footprints through reduced energy use, consumption and recycling. Consequently, it accelerates the transition to a low carbon society.
It is true that green economy is still being promoted under auspices of heavily subsidized fiscal policy with the aid of improved technology. Seven G20 countries (China, France, Germany, US, Mexico, Republic of Korea, and South Africa) have announced green components in their stimulus packages, with as many as 10 to 20 per cent range. China and South Korea stand out, however, with green investments that represent 34 and 78 per cent of their stimulus packages, respectively (UNEP, 2009). An agro-based nature dependent country like Bangladesh also has huge potential in capturing the benefit arising from different green economy sectors.
Green economy and Bangladesh
On one hand, geographical location makes Bangladesh one of the most vulnerable countries; on the other hand, it creates huge opportunity for renewable energy. ILO identifies four renewable options in Bangladesh: solar photovoltaic electrification, bio mass energy, wind energy and improved solar cooking stoves. Over the last few years, solar energy has received huge acceptance in rural areas as a means of electrification. Urban residents have also started using solar energy due to regular power crisis and its low-cost hassle free source. The Bangladesh Renewable Energy Policy (2008) has recognised renewable energy as the most cost-effective and sustainable energy source to meet the country’s growing energy demand. Moreover, solar PV and biogas/biomass are creating new jobs opportunities both in rural and urban areas along with improving environmental condition.
The Bangladesh Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper has acknowledged the concept of 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle) and has been promoting it to improve current hazardous and unsustainable waste management practices. The opportunities for greening the waste sector come from three inter-related sources: 1) growth of the waste market, driven by demand for waste services and recycled products such as recycled paper, plastics; 2) increased scarcity of natural resources and the consequent rise in commodity prices, which influence the demand for recycled products and waste to energy; and 3) emergence of new waste-management technologies (UNEP, 2011). Creation of new jobs in the waste management sector is also important. Waste Concern (2010) estimates that composting urban waste and plastic waste recycling account for 90,000 and 68,000 jobs respectively in Bangladesh.
Bangladesh being an agrarian country holds many opportunities for promoting green agriculture. Green agricultural practices reduce application of synthetic chemical fertilisers and pesticides while providing low-input alternatives to high-intensity agricultural activities. In Bangladesh, green agriculture practice has many forms including organic farming, mushroom cultivation, bee keeping, sericulture, bio-slurry, pesticide free vegetables and water conservation. Even though many farmers fear that primarily the production may reduce in green agriculture, low input agriculture will eventually create much more profit than conventional mechanised agriculture as well as improve ecosystem health. In addition to the existing bulk of labour engagement in the agriculture sector, green agriculture will create an additional 41,548 jobs annually in Bangladesh (ILO, 2010). However, green agriculture is facing a multitude of challenges. Some of these include rapid contraction of arable agricultural land, lack of adequate organic fertiliser, insufficient environment friendly technologies, skilled manpower, lack of awareness about green agricultural practices, population growth, changing pattern of demand driven by increased income, and increasing vulnerability of agriculture to climate change.
With an increased attention to climate change, forestry is now under critical scrutiny by both policymakers and practitioners. Its mitigation potentiality and economisation of nature has broadened the scope of utilisation. However, risks persist on benefit distribution: will real forest users have access or will market determine the future of forests? With an increased focus on nature, nursery business, social forestry, agro-forestry could generate huge employment opportunity within the country. In addition, Bangladesh can collect money from international climate market by selling carbon stored in different natural forests under the REDD+ (Reducing Emissions Avoided Deforestation and Degradation) framework. It is intriguing that Bangladesh has developed its ‘Green Development Programme’, which calls for an inclusion of donors, private sector to work in collaboration with government. Even though forestry is a less prioritized sector in terms of employment generation in Bangladesh, ILO estimates that the forestry sector may create as many as 2,8813 jobs annually under the green economy framework.
Industry and manufacturing
There is a common concept that the manufacturing sector and nature are disproportionately related. In fact, this is true in the conventional economic system where nature is considered as the capital supplier and very little attention has been paid to environmental health than growth. Manufacturing sector consumes a lion share of energy produced, hence emitting carbon more than any other sectors. Bangladesh is not an industrialized country; however the emission from manufacturing sector is not negligible compared to other sectors. Yet, isolated efforts have been made to increase energy efficiency and implement conservation measures in some industrial facilities such as sugar mills, spinning mills, fertiliser factories, processing mills and cement mills. ‘Cogeneration’-very low installation costs, small size installations, suitable for rural areas- is another energy efficiency opportunity that has been piloted in several sugar factories and textile mills.
Real estate and housing
The real estate and construction sectors have probably been the fastest growing over the last couple of years in Bangladesh. However, most often, constructions occur at the expense of forests, arable land and important wetlands. Moreover, construction materials are produced in an energy intensive, environmentally destructive way. Nonetheless, we have ample opportunities to apply principles of green economy to the construction sector, which could generate new job opportunities along with saving energy and money. Fortunately, our developers have started apprehending the importance of green technology and 66 per cent companies have already started using green building technology (Waste Concern, 2011).
The transportation sector is one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases. Even though the ratio of men to cars in Bangladesh is very low compared to many other countries, it is increasing at an alarming rate in the urban areas. More importantly, the urban environment has been experiencing unbearable traffic jam due to inadequate roads and increased number of private cars, resulting in a decrease in valuable working hours and increasing environmental degradation. Despite the challenges, there is a huge potential to make the transportation sector greener and environment friendly. Bangladesh is well ahead in the road of green transportation. The government has increased taxes on private cars to encourage use of public transport. It has also introduced compressed natural gas as a fuel alternative to petrol and diesel, another important initiative towards a green transportation system.
GREEN economy has ambivalent implications for Bangladesh. Some sectors such as forestry, tourism, transportation, and water resources management, could run well under the green economy framework. Conversely, we need to be cautious about implementing green economy principles in the agriculture sector since production may reduce initially and may create a temporary food crisis for a land deficit country like Bangladesh. It does not mean that we should continue with environmentally destructive agriculture, but that we should start green agriculture today, possibly in a limited scale which can be replicated on a wider scale in future. At the same time, we have to be careful about equity issues. The benefits generated from green economy should be distributed following the principle of equity and justice.
Mohammed Abdul Baten is lecturer at Independent University Bangladesh and senior research associate at Unnayan Onneshan and Humayun Kabir is researcher at Unnayan Onneshan.