A week ago, I was in Nairobi, Kenya at a reception celebrating the 40th anniversary of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Established in 1972, UNEP is the environmental body within the UN. While many associate environmental issues with tree-huggers and save-the-whale extremists, a number of South American and Central American countries have been dealing with serious environmental issues impacting the health and livelihood of our people.
Bolivia and other South American countries have turned over ownership of their water to foreign companies, but the people have balked at the privatization of a natural resource. Ecuador (known for the Galapagos Islands) is one of the nations that suffers the most deforestation in the world. While our native countries are facing hard environmental decisions, we should be proud that they have also accepted global leadership positions in creating an environmental agenda for the 21st century.
The governments of Colombia and Guatemala, for example, have co-authored a document outlining a list of sustainable development goals to the UN, which would serve as guiding principles on how we manage our planet’s natural resources. Brazil, which just surpassed the UK to have the sixth largest economy in the world, has not only developed advanced mechanisms around environmental monitoring, but is also hosting this year’s 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit in 1992. This global environmental conference in Rio de Janeiro will include heads of state and government officials from more than 200 countries and will focus on two themes: sustainable development and the green economy.
Sustainable development is about managing our planet’s natural resources in a way that allows for a balance between consumption and production. People in industrialized nations have a standard of living that is much higher than those in developing countries. Jean Audouze, President of France UNESCO said, “If every human being wished to live with the standards of American people, we would need seven Earths to support this amount of people. If every human being wanted to live in the same standards of a European, we would need three Earths to support all those people.”
The green economy not only represents a shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy and environmentally safe practices, but is also a way of redefining how national economies are measured beyond GDP. A bigger economy does not necessarily constitute a better economy. A green economy recognizes three different principles: People, Planet, and Profit. This intersection of social, financial, and environmental factors can be used to collectively measure growth in the new green economy. Financial indicators can’t be the only way we measure growth.
Transitioning to a green economy will create new jobs in many different industries – not just specialized jobs in solar, biodiesel, or wind turbines, but jobs across different industries as they reinvent the way they do business. In addition, these new jobs will also expand who has access to them. Retraining a country’s national workforce will provide opportunities for people who have traditionally been shut out of jobs and burgeoning industries. These efforts will help simultaneously aid in addressing the eradication of poverty and the sustainability of our planet.