Rio+20: Crisis? Not in the Green Economy

18 June 2012

Eduardo Goncalves, International Communications Director, The Climate Group, writes for The Huffington Post on the opportunity of a green economy.

With delegates now flying into Rio, already the talk is of the measly progress made to date and the measlier prospect of meaningful agreement at the end of it all. Even the presence of a Palestinian delegation has somehow become the latest issue to throw negotiators off-balance.

Not much further away, world leaders will be discussing the global financial crisis at the G20 summit. From the lack of action to break us out of stagnation and recession, you could forgive people for thinking they look like rabbits frozen in the headlights, unable to stir as the freight train crash unfolds.

Yet perhaps a single solution to both sets of problems is staring government leaders right in the face.

Consider this: in the midst of a double-dip recession, the UK's green economy sector has quietly been growing 5% a year. This year, China's solar panel exports outstripped the combined value of all of America's corn, beef and chicken exports. Stock markets may have been flat or falling, but the portfolios of green tech and related companies are outperforming their peers by 3:2. Crisis? Not in the green economy.

If world government and business leaders want a growth program that will kick-start the economy and create jobs, they need look no further than the clean tech sector. Forget real estate, construction or the dot.coms. Those bubbles have burst. The new growth market is green. There is growing belief that it's the most effective investment vehicle open to governments and markets right now. For people at home, there's even better news -- renewables are creating more jobs per joule than other forms of energy, and then there's the promise of greater energy security (i.e. lower bills).

So why haven't government and business leaders all jumped aboard? Actually, there are some key people waking up to it. They are epitomized by an eclectic group of savvy venture capitalists, business entrepreneurs and statesmen who penned an open letterto the G20 this week. They argue that the convergence of the economic crisis and the growing threat of climate change should in fact be approached as 'an historic opportunity' to rebuild the economy on a more secure footing.

Tony Blair will make an impassioned speech to be screened at Rio in which he talks of his vision of a world transformed by clean technologies. He calls on government and business leaders to come together and launch a 'clean revolution'.

Away from the spotlights, a series of new reports will be shared in the meeting rooms around the Rio summit. They will reveal that new clean technology can do things like almost single-handedly slash the massive carbon emissions from street lighting (saving the taxpayer a lot of money that could be invested elsewhere). Plus they will highlight extraordinary success stories of dozens of companies and governments around the world in starting to build a new economy that's not just greener -- but a lot stronger too.

So take the news reports about what may or may not be agreed at Rio with a pinch of salt. You may not have noticed it, but the revolution has already begun. It's being led by a clever group of companies and governments -- big and small -- who are simply getting on with it. Not necessarily because their primary interest is in saving the planet. They've just cottoned on to the fact that it's the best investment opportunity on the market right now and for the foreseeable future. Technologies such as solar will probably soon be the cheapest source of energy on the planet. The clever people want to be ahead of the curve.

Yes we need to speed things up. In fact we need to speed them up quite a lot if we are to be able to really reap the potential benefits. But take a look at the leaps in innovation, the big new money being invested, and the seismic changes of cost and scale in clean tech in just the last 5 years. The technological possibilities available today could only have been dreamt about when government heads first met in Rio 20 years ago.

Right now it may only be a small group who have noticed that the green economy is the big new opportunity. But just you wait until a few more government and business leaders hear about it. And if you fancy starting a stampede for the door marked 'success' -- well, why not let them know that by the end of the decade the clean tech market will have tripled in size to a whopping US $2 trillion.

That's a very big birthday cake. They're not going to want to be the kid at the party who only gets the crumbs.


Read the open letter from business and government leaders to G20 and Rio+20.

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