Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A change in direction for the UN - will it lead to a change in communities?

A recent article by the Guardian highlights a change in direction for the UN from global negotiations on climate change to more inclusive development of a 'green economy'. In a major shift, the UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon will redirect efforts from trying to encourage movement in the international climate change negotiations to a agenda of promoting clean energy and sustainable development. The article notes that the change in focus reflected Ban's realisation, after his involvement with the failed Copenhagen summit in 2009, that world leaders are not prepared to come together in a sweeping agreement on global warming – at least not for the next few years. I agree completely. 
This change from the UN follows views by many commentators and activists that global political dialogues have failed to deliver a meaningful outcome on climate change. After the failed Copenhagen summit, the recent Cancun summit made some progress to keeping a deal alive, but as we have come to expect from such international grandstanding events, international politics holds sway and very little progress is achieved. The realisation of the UN is a continuation of the trend that individuals, communities, markets, and national governments can make the most difference in pragmatic action on climate change. The article notes:

"Others inside the UN system as well as in world capitals have been circling towards a similar conclusion as Ban: that gains in clean energy technology and energy efficiency could do more in the near future to reduce emissions. They could then drive the overarching deal that the UN still sees as necessary. 'The idea that the world will gather together and parcel out emissions cuts among the various nations is probably a non-starter at this point,' said Reid Detchon, vice-president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation, a Washington thinktank. "Whether it is in 2012 or 2013, the political consensus does not exist for a top-down approach."

While an international framework is still important, if not critical, to align global economies to carbon trading initiatives and equitable carbon cutting targets, the emphasis on local, regional and national initiatives needs to mature and 'push upwards'. Increasingly we are hearing the rhetoric of a 'green economy' being used in policy circles but the reality is still a long way off. While renewable energy development is considered the driver of a green economy, it is simplistic, if not dangerous to consider it as the only development of relevance to a green economy. If fact, the debate of what a 'green economy' will look like has not achieved national or even local consensus and has been dominated to date by the large (renewable) energy interests. While I would not deny that renewable energy has a central place in this future vision, its scale and scope, its geographical placement, its role in community development or dislocation (particularly at the periphery) is still a matter for debate and definition. The vision for a green economy still needs to debate the extent and pace of ecological modernisation and how it will be achieved. In the rush to build renewables, there are gaps emerging in the argument - for example, what is the role and place of radical resource efficiency across all systems of production? What is the role of community led innovation, skills development and employment? How can systems of production and consumption be changed to reflect ecological limits and reduce global impacts?

The question of a green economy is much more than the expansion of the renewable energy industry. It is a question that cuts to the heart of social organisation, innovation and development.. 

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