Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ecological resilience: a life insurance policy for communities

by Peter Bjerregaard

What is the Green Economy really? That was the key question posed by UNEP here in Rio this week when experts and policy makers met in the UNEP Pavilion for a discussion on the link between research and policy during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
The overall answer to the question was to integrate nature and start valuing the services provided by ecosystems, such as water, agriculture and biodiversity. One of the main points of discussion was therefore the importance of creating healthy and resilient eco-systems for the long-term socio-economic development. To do so, Patrick ten Brink, Head of the Environmental Economics Team at the Institute for European Environmental Policy, stressed that we need clear goals for how we should measure progress, and that science needs to play a key role in both goal-setting as well as evaluating the progress.

“Science helps policy makers to make informed decisions. Science can tell us where we will need water in the future and how this will affect communities in these areas,” said ten Brink, and underlined that the overall challenge for society was not only a question of moving towards a greener economy but also move towards a higher degree of resource efficiency.

Building on that point, ten Brink underlined the importance of integrating all aspects of a green economy when assessing the economy and emphasized that ecological resilience essentially should be understood as a life insurance policy for communities.

Decoupling

The way the economy is right now, according to the conclusions of this discussion, is essentially a brown economy contributing to resource scarcity and climate change. However, integrating science in the policy making process can help ensure that we stay within a so-called ”safe operating space” of the planetary boundaries, according to ten Brink. In order to achieve this, he recommended that governments design intelligent tax systems, which would both create growth and protect the environment. A case in point is Denmark, which has almost doubled its GDP, reduced its carbon emissions and has stabilized energy consumption.

Luisa Prista, Head of Unit for Environmental Technologies in the European Commission's Directorate-General for Research, stressed that the private sector has the solutions and needs to integrate them wherever it can. "Partnerships will lead to solutions, and not only technological partnerships. Political partnerships will also lead to solutions,” said Prista, who stressed that the main reason behind the need of partnerships is that “our brain is simply too small to solve such complex and multifaceted problems.”

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