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A green economy is an economy that aims at reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities, and that aims for sustainable development without degrading the environment. It is closely related with ecological economics, but has a more politically applied focus. The 2011 UNEP Green Economy Report argues "that to be green, an economy must not only be efficient, but also fair. Fairness implies recognizing global and country level equity dimensions, particularly in assuring a Just Transition to an economy that is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive."
A feature distinguishing it from prior economic regimes is the direct valuation of natural capital and ecological services as having economic value (see The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity and Bank of Natural Capital) and a full cost accounting regime in which costs externalized onto society via ecosystems are reliably traced back to, and accounted for as liabilities of, the entity that does the harm or neglects an asset.
Green Sticker and ecolabel practices have emerged as consumer facing indicators of friendliness to the environment and sustainable development. Many industries are starting to adopt these standards as a way to promote their greening practices in a globalizing economy. Also known as sustainability standards, these standards are special rules that guarantee the products you buy don’t hurt the environment and the people that make them. The number of these standards has grown recently and they can now help build a new, greener economy. They: focus on economic sectors like forestry, farming, mining or fishing among others; concentrate on environmental factors like protecting water sources and biodiversity, or reducing greenhouse gas emissions; support social protections and workers’ rights; and home in on specific parts of production processes.
Green economics is loosely defined as any theory of economics by which an economy is considered to be component of the ecosystem in which it resides (after Lynn Margulis). A holistic approach to the subject is typical, such that economic ideas are commingled with any number of other subjects, depending on the particular theorist. Proponents of feminism, postmodernism, the environmental movement, peace movement, Green politics, green anarchism and anti-globalization movement have used the term to describe very different ideas, all external to mainstream economics.
The use of the term is further ambiguated by the political distinction of Green parties which are formally organized and claim the capitalised Green term as a unique and distinguishing mark. It is thus preferable to refer to a loose school of "'green economists"' who generally advocate shifts towards a green economy, biomimicry and a fuller accounting for biodiversity. (See The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity especially for current authoritative international work towards these goals and Bank of Natural Capital for a layperson's presentation of these.)
Some economists view green economics as a branch or subfield of more established schools. For instance, it is regarded as classical economics where the traditional land is generalized to natural capital and has some attributes in common with labor and physical capital (since natural capital assets like rivers directly substitute for man-made ones such as canals). Or, it is viewed as Marxist economics with nature represented as a form of Lumpenproletariat, an exploited base of non-human workers providing surplus value to the human economy, or as a branch of neoclassical economics in which the price of life for developing vs. developed nations is held steady at a ratio reflecting a balance of power and that of non-human life is very low.
An increasing commitment by the UNEP (and national governments such as the UK) to the ideas of natural capital and full cost accounting under the banner 'green economy' could blur distinctions between the schools and redefine them all as variations of "green economics". As of 2010 the Bretton Woods institutions (notably the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (via its "Green Fund" initiative) responsible for global monetary policy have stated a clear intention to move towards biodiversity valuation and a more official and universal biodiversity finance. Taking these into account targeting not less but radically zero emission and waste is what is promoted by the Zero Emissions Research and Initiatives. The UNEP 2011 Green Economy Report informs that "based on existing studies, the annual financing demand to green the global economy was estimated to be in the range US$1.05 to US$2.59 trillion. To place this demand in perspective, it is about one-tenth of total global investment per year, as measured by global Gross Capital Formation."
Karl Burkart defined a green economy as based on six main sectors:
The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) representing global business defines green economy as "an economy in which economic growth and environmental responsibility work together in a mutually reinforcing fashion while supporting progress on social development".
In 2012, the ICC published the Green Economy Roadmap, containing contributions from international experts consulted bi-yearly. The Roadmap represents a comprehensive and multidisciplinary effort to clarify and frame the concept of "green economy". It highlights the role of business in bringing solutions to global challenges. It sets out the following 10 conditions which relate to business/intra-industry and collaborative action for a transition towards a green economy:
Eco-investing or green investing, is a form of socially responsible investing where investments are made in companies that support or provide environmentally friendly products and practices. These companies encourage (and often profit from) new technologies that support the transition from carbon dependence to more sustainable alternatives. Green finance is "any structured financial activity that has been created to ensure a better environmental outcome."
As industries' environmental impacts become more apparent, green topics have not only taken center stage in pop-culture, but the financial world as well. In the 1990s, many investors “began to look for those companies that were better than their competitors in terms of managing their environmental impact.” While some investors still focus their funds to avoid only “the most egregious polluters,” the emphasis for many investors has switched to changing “the way money is used,” and using “it in a positive, transformative way to get us from where we are now ultimately to a truly sustainable society.”The Global Climate Prosperity Scoreboard – launched by Ethical Markets Media and The Climate Prosperity Alliance to monitor private investments in green companies – estimated that over $1.248 trillion has been invested in solar, wind, geothermal, ocean/hydro and other green sectors since 2007. This number represents investments from North America, China, India, and Brazil, as well at other developing countries.
Green growth is a term to describe a hypothetical path of economic growth that is environmentally sustainable. It is based on the understanding that as long as economic growth remains a predominant goal, a decoupling of economic growth from resource use and adverse environmental impacts is required. As such, green growth is closely related to the concepts of green economy and low-carbon or sustainable development. A main driver for green growth is the transition towards sustainable energy systems. Advocates of green growth policies argue that well-implemented green policies can create opportunities for employment in sectors such as renewable energy, green agriculture, or sustainable forestry.
Several countries and international organizations, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Bank, and United Nations, have developed strategies on green growth; others, such as the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), are specifically dedicated to the issue. The term green growth has been used to describe national or international strategies, for example as part of economic recovery from the COVID-19 recession, often framed as a green recovery.Critics of green growth highlight how green growth approaches do not fully account for the underlying economic systems change needed in order to address the climate crisis, biodiversity crisis and other environmental degradation. Critics point instead to alternative solutions such as a circular economy, degrowth, doughnut economics or similar fundamental changes which better account for planetary boundaries.
Measuring economic output and progress is done through the use of economic index indicators. Green indices emerged from the need to measure human ecological impact, efficiency sectors like transport, energy, buildings and tourism, as well as the investment flows targeted to areas like renewable energy and cleantech innovation.
Ecological footprint measurements are a way to gauge anthropogenic impact and are another standard used by municipal governments.
Green economies require a transition to green energy generation based on renewable energy to replace fossil fuels as well as energy conservation and efficient energy use. Renewables, like solar energy and wind energy, may eliminate the use of fossil fuels for electricity by 2035 and replace fossil fuel usage altogether by 2050.
The market failure to respond to environmental protection and climate protection needs can be attributed to high external costs and high initial costs for research, development, and marketing of green energy sources and green products. The green economy may need government subsidies as market incentives to motivate firms to invest and produce green products and services. The German Renewable Energy Act, legislations of many other member states of the European Union and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, all provide such market incentives. However, other experts argue that green strategies can be highly profitable for corporations that understand the business case for sustainability and can market green products and services beyond the traditional green consumer.
In the United States, it seemed as though the nuclear industry was coming to an end by the mid-1990s. Until 2013, there had been no new nuclear power facilities built since 1977. One reason was due to the economic reliance on fossil fuel-based energy sources. Additionally, there was a public fear of nuclear energy due to the Three Mile Island accident and the Chernobyl disaster. The Bush administration passed the 2005 Energy Bill that granted the nuclear industry around 10 million dollars to encourage research and development efforts. With the increasing threat of climate change, nuclear energy has been highlighted as an option to work to decarbonize the atmosphere and reverse climate change. Nuclear power forces environmentalists and citizens around the world to weigh the pro and cons of using nuclear power as a renewable energy source. The controversial nature of nuclear power has the potential to split the green economy movement into two branches— anti-nuclear and pro-nuclear.
A number of organisations and individuals have criticised aspects of the 'Green Economy', particularly the mainstream conceptions of it based on using price mechanisms to protect nature, arguing that this will extend corporate control into new areas from forestry to water. The research organisation ETC Group argues that the corporate emphasis on bio-economy "will spur even greater convergence of corporate power and unleash the most massive resource grab in more than 500 years." Venezuelan professor Edgardo Lander says that the UNEP's report, Towards a Green Economy, while well-intentioned "ignores the fact that the capacity of existing political systems to establish regulations and restrictions to the free operation of the markets – even when a large majority of the population call for them – is seriously limited by the political and financial power of the corporations."
Ulrich Hoffmann, in a paper for UNCTAD also says that the focus on Green Economy and "green growth" in particular, "based on an evolutionary (and often reductionist) approach will not be sufficient to cope with the complexities of [[climate change]]" and "may rather give much false hope and excuses to do nothing really fundamental that can bring about a U-turn of global greenhouse gas emissions. Clive Spash, an ecological economist, has criticised the use of economic growth to address environmental losses, and argued that the Green Economy, as advocated by the UN, is not a new approach at all and is actually a diversion from the real drivers of environmental crisis. He has also criticised the UN's project on the economics of ecosystems and biodiversity (TEEB), and the basis for valuing ecosystems services in monetary terms.