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What is Green Growth? And can we have some, please?

Submitted by on 13 Sep 2011 – 15:19

Barry Gardiner MPBarry Gardiner MP, Leader of the Opposition’s Special Envoy for Climate Change and the Environment

Next year will mark the 20th Anniversary of the original “Earth Summit”.  Rio+20 represents a key opportunity for our mutually inter-dependent world to secure political commitment for green economic development. Will we do it? Do we even know what green growth is?

Before setting out the features of a green economy, perhaps we should take a step back and identify what it is that we (people, businesses and government) want from our economy. I would identify five key shared objectives:

1.    security of food, energy and other material resources;

2.    high rates of employment through skills training and job creation;

3.    prosperity through innovation and competitiveness;

4.    a healthy natural environment with well-functioning ecosystem services;

5.    an equitable distribution of resources and wealth that maximises assent.

Green economic development can secure all of these; but it will take genuine cooperation between government and business to chart a course to success. Green economic development will not come from slowing growth, but from the right kind of growth. So how is it different?

Biodiversity & Ecosystems

The principal feature of a green economy is the value it places upon biodiversity and ecosystem services. Natural capital refers to those parts of the natural environment that deliver social and economic value: wetlands providing purification of our water supply or woodlands stopping soil erosion. The conventional model of growth makes inefficient use of Natural Capital. It sees the services that our ecosystems provide as mere externalities. A green economy sees business and government allocating more accurate values to these. Take pollination: 84% of European crops rely on insect pollination. During the last 20 years there has been a 54% decline in honey bee colony numbers. The food crop value of pollination services is estimated to be in excess of $45billion globally. When we understand the value of such services we improve our cost/benefit analysis and can take much better policy decisions that preserve real economic value.


A sustainable economy needs to be a low-carbon economy. To avoid dangerous climate change of more than 2°Celsius, global greenhouse gas emissions per person need to be no more than 2 tons of CO2-equivalent (2tCO2e) by 2050.Today Sub-Saharan Africa is already above that, whilst European countries and Japan emit around 10 tCO2e per person. The US is in excess of 20 tCO2e per person.

Here is a seven point plan that sets out minimum steps if we are to reach that 2° limit.

1.             Identify skills shortages related to the manufacture, installation and infrastructure of new low-carbon technologies and establish training programmes to ensure that the roll-out of new technologies is not undermined by capacity constraints.

2.             Re-engineer the use of fiscal incentives to eradicate perverse subsidies that encourage poor use of resources and redesign “green taxes” to deliver behavioural change rather than ever-increasing revenue dependency on polluting activities.

3.             Develop positive fiscal incentives to drive low-carbon energy generation such as feed-in tariffs, capacity payments and a floor price for carbon.

4.             Encourage research and development in new green technologies through selective use of tax credits.

5.             Establish a price for carbon.

6.             Establish product design standards and construction/building regulations to reduce energy waste and promote thermal efficiency.

7.             Place a premium on clear ambitious targets and regulatory stability to maximise investor confidence.

The Structure of a Green Economy

The structure of a green economy looks very different from the status quo. It achieves the decarbonisation of energy and industrial processes. It builds in climate resilience. It encourages investment in new technology and the job opportunities related to this new technology. It values and protects Natural Capital and ecosystems. It invests in biodiversity and effectively manages natural resources. It recognises resources. It sees all waste as a potential raw material for another process.

A Green Economy is not about sacrificing quality of life. It is about living well. It promotes jobs and growth and aspires to a higher standard of living. More than this; it wants all these things for our children and grandchildren as well. It recognises that our destructive impact on our own planet is so great that human beings now consume each year, the resources that it takes the planet one year and four months to replace.

As a Labour politician, I am proud that Labour has always been an Internationalist Party, promoting justice and fairness across the globe. Our policies for a Green Economy push that sense of justice not just across geography but across the generations. We recognise that our right to live well and our duty to improve the lives of all those currently sharing this planet with us, give us no liberty to diminish the ability of our children to fare as well. A Green Economy rises to this challenge for generations yet to come, so that the environment we hold in trust will be transmitted to them cleaner, healthier and more resilient.