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Towards a Green Economy?

talks at the UN

The young woman next to me on the plane jiggled her leg the whole flight. Ten and a half hours. Even when she was asleep. Maria was an Italian activist also travelling to the Rio Summit, with dreadlocks down to her elbows and ankle bracelets that sang softly. I decided her jitters were a sign of her impatience for change. Having worked in Colombia and Ecquador she is now part of a European programme on Environmental Justice.

“We do not believe in the Green Economy,” she tells me. “Nuclear power can be the Green Economy. And huge dams that displace indigenous people. For us ecology has to go hand in hand with social justice.”

The Green Economy is the hot topic at Rio. Others see it very differently. The WWF official I shared a bus ride with was quietly excited by the concept and in particular by the plan of a Southern African president (I won’t name the country) to announce that his nation will commit to a totally green economy. (We’ll have to read the communiques to understand what that means in practice.)

Opinions are definitely divided. Western nations seem to be positioning the Green Economy as the key to a sustainable world. Whereas many poor countries see it as a way to halt their development or impose a foreign model. Peasant groups fear it will result in their land being taken for intensive agribusiness and left groups characterise it as a new label on the same old economic system.

With so much at stake it’s no surprise that views differ. And of course the war of words betrays fundamentally different views about how the future should unfold. But I can’t help hoping that this doesn’t get in the way of pragmatic, tangible efforts that could make an immediate difference. Is deadlock really what we need at this point in the history of the planet?