25. 02. 2014

Greening The Recovery

I’m not quite sure when academics and activists first identified “The Green Economy” as a “coming priority” – at least 25 years ago, I suspect, in the run up to the Earth Summit in 1992.

Since then, the Green Economy has come and gone, as a political issue, more times than I care to remember.

Right now, it’s in a “gone” state. Seriously gone. As this blog keeps pointing out, from the day on which David Cameron committed the Coalition Government to being the “Greenest Government Ever”, to the Prime Minister’s latest stumbling performance as the floods took hold of peoples’ lives and imagination, the Green Economy has been completely overshadowed by a host of competing priorities – deficit reduction, economic growth, reducing the size of the state, and so on.

Two years ago, UCL’s admirable Institute for Sustainable Resources decided that the Green Economy was sufficiently “coming” to warrant a new initiative to give it some additional policy momentum. The Institute’s Director, Paul Ekins (one of the Co-Founders of Forum For The Future and now a Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy at UCL) duly convened a high-level commission, and got cracking.

As it happens, the political judgement was poor: stocks in the Green Economy have declined substantially since then. But, happily, it was a judgement that has led to a really eloquent and authoritative articulation of the case for a Green Economy, just a year out from the next General Election, all laid out in the final report “Greening the Recovery”, published yesterday.

(I should declare an interest here as a Visiting Professor at UCL: I was one of the “peer review group” that was consulted all the way through the drafting process.)

For Green Economy watchers, there won’t be many surprises here – a clear emphasis on a new industrial strategy and environmental taxes, underpinned by some important macro-economic reforms. For a country that has always been incredibly weak on long-term infrastructure investments, innovation strategy and manufacturing, the report’s 26 Recommendations are geared not so much to specialist green sectors as to the future of the UK economy as a whole.

One of Paul’s interlocutors at the launch was Martin Wolf, FT columnist and all round economic pundit. Apart from panning the idea that this is a win-win-win territory (good for the economy in terms of resource efficiency and Gross Value Added, good for society in terms of jobs and skills, and good for the environment), he was broadly very supportive of the Report’s analysis and recommendations.

But he had zero expectation that these recommendations would be listened to by anyone in office, describing the political backdrop as both “lethal” and “dreadful”. With most people bamboozled by the likes of the Daily Mail into thinking that anything “Green” means a combination of high prices and hair shirts, and with climate deniers all over the media and the policy establishment, he dismissed the idea that any mainstream political party would get stuck into this whole area in a timely and purposeful way.

Lots of the contributors to the ensuing debate were much more hopeful, refusing to succumb too easily to Martin’s ever-so-persuasive cynicism. Whichever way that one goes, we still need authoritative, quality policy work – and the UCL’s Institute for Sustainable Resources has really done us proud in that regard.

View the report here.

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