Rio+20: Whose green economy?


23 May 2012

On Monday I went to an event organised by the UK parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, on the Rio+20 Earth Summit. Held at St-Martin-in-the-Fields church in London, it was advertised as a public debate bringing together MPs, faith groups and civil society. 

The meeting coincided with the launch of a report by the Environmental Audit Committee on the ‘green economy’. 

I heard a lot of goodwill and many fine words, and even an inspirational Bob Dylan song, but less focus on action. Although speakers such as climate scientist Professor Chris Rapley spoke about the urgency of dealing with climate change, less was said about how this should happen, and there was no critique of the UK government’s green economy agenda. 

Many of the speakers mentioned the importance of moving towards a green economy, but none explored what might be meant by the term. David Cameron is currently pushing a version of the green economy which seeks to deal with environmental degradation by expanding the role of the financial sector and creating new markets in natural resources like water and biodiversity. This approach is premised on the idea that in order to protect nature, we need to ascribe a financial value to it. 

Some of the problems with commodifying natural resources have already been exposed by the disastrous effects of excessive financial speculation on global food prices, and the failure of carbon markets to effectively reduce carbon emissions.

Ultimately, a market-based approach would mean that the only thing necessary to demonstrate that an ecosystem could be destroyed would be to prove that more money could be made by trashing it than by protecting it.

At the St Martin event, Martin Haigh from the church’s environmental sustainability task group spoke about the way we view nature: do we see is as a storehouse for resources, or are we part of it? He emphasised the need to move away from the subjugation and dominion of nature and towards a greater connectedness. Another speaker argued for a model of society whose economic health is not based on consumption and growth, and where human and environmental health are safeguarded.

But the government appears not to be heeding such voices, with its agenda being summed up by one MP who stated that the market is ‘the most powerful tool for change’. It’s crucial that we highlight the problems with the government’s version of a green economy, and advocate a system that prioritises people and the planet over profit.

Find out more about the World Development Movement’s work on the green economy through our new microsite, launched today. 

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