Green growth on the agenda

Yesterday, I attended a side event. For most delegates and NGOs, side events at the climate change negotiations are the main events. This is where countries, inter-governmental organisations, companies and research institutes present latest policies, programmes and ideas on solving the climate problem. It is an excellent place to learn, get inspired and network. So today, the Republic of South Korea held a side event on their green growth programme.

South Korea has made green growth the centrepiece of its long-term development programme. The first speaker, Dr. Han Seungsoo, the former prime minister of the Republic of South Korea and chairman of the Global Green Growth Institute defined green growth as the national quest for economic growth that is compatible with low emissions of harmful greenhouse gases. This is a radical thought.

Traditional economic thinking assumes that rapid economic growth and high greenhouse gas emissions are natural bed fellows. In expanding national income and lifting people out of poverty, developing countries will have high energy intensities and will expand their carbon emissions, the argument goes. Green growth strategies combine high economic growth with lower emissions.

The side event had an impressive line up. It had Sir Nicholas Stern, Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics and Lead Author of the influential Stern Review of Economics of Climate Change. According to Nicholas Stern, green growth represents a new industrial revolution comparable to what happened in the 19th century. Investments in clean technologies and processes will drive the economic growth of the future. Economies that fail to modernise its energy technologies and processes will stunt and face atrophy.

Ministers and senior government officials from Brazil, Ethiopia, Korea and UAE took turns to present their national green growth economic programme. Today, Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda will be here to present his country’s green growth development plan. A Nigerian, Dr Chukwumerije Okereke of the University of Reading led this important work for Rwanda.

As I listened to these leaders speak on their new economic strategies, I couldn’t keep my mind from drifting back home. No country in the world has a stronger case to embark on a green economic strategy than Nigeria. Korea was motivated to make green growth its official development plan because 93% of its energy requirements were imported. The development of clean energy technologies will save energy, create new industries and ensure growth in employment.

In Nigeria, we almost have no price to pay for this economic transition. Green growth in terms of converting the over 15 billion cubic meters of natural gas flared annually into power production is practically our only hope for boosting power supply and revving up a double digit growth. And we can also reposition agriculture as the engine of growth and employment by massive dam infrastructure expansion and proper management of existing ones. Accompanied by new financing programmes put in place by the Central Bank of Nigeria, Nigerian agriculture will be transformed. And we would have protected our farmers from the uncertainties created by the impacts of climate change.

As I listened, one other thing that struck me was how far climate change has left the shadows of the environment. Not long ago – in many countries, action on climate change was the prerogative of environment ministries. Today, in India, China, Rwanda, Kenya – you can go on, the office of prime ministers and presidents have taken over national action on climate change. When the National Assembly began work on the climate change commission, we thought Nigeria was blazing the trail. But we were not. The bill passed by the National Assembly to establish this office under the president is still wasting away on the president’s table.

In times like this, I miss people like Chukwuma Soludo, with all his imperfections – people who can see far into the future and have the courage to summon a government to action.

Ewah Otu Eleri Executive Director, International Centre for Energy, Environment & Development