Debating Green Economy Agendas:

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NGOs’ divergent . roles. in . framing social . in/equity. Les . Levidow . Development . Policy and Practice, Open University . DSA conference, 1 November 2014. 'Green economy' context. The . 'green economy' agenda has been recasting or even displacing ‘sustainable development’ as the main gl.... ID: 395746 Download Presentation

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Debating Green Economy Agendas:

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Debating Green Economy Agendas: NGOs’ divergent rolesin framing social in/equity




Policy and Practice, Open University

DSA conference, 1 November 2014


'Green economy' context


'green economy' agenda has been recasting or even displacing ‘sustainable development’ as the main global concept for debating feasible, desirable futures.


economy’ has been widely promoted, especially by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in preparing the Rio+20 Summit in 2012.

Concept was

meant to link resource-protection, social equity and social inclusion (UNEP, 2011).

Despite the latter emphasis, the 'green economy' agenda has been seen as a regression from the earlier social aims of sustainable development. As a novel feature, a ‘natural capital’ framework assigns economic values to natural resources through new financial instruments. In parallel with the 2012 Summit, NGOs advertised an alternative event with the question: ‘Green Economy: The New Enemy



How have ‘green economy’ agendas framed social


How have NGOs done so in their interventions?

How do those frames relate to various concepts of



Analytical perspectives: Advocacy networks


advocacy networks encompass diverse actors – research groups, local social movements, foundations, the media,


, etc.

They can

influence issue-creation, agenda-setting, institutional procedures, policy and state behaviour.


contrast to some issues, environmental degradation results from structural forces lacking a human face.


environmentalist advocacy networks devise strategies to place blame on powerful actors who can be targeted

(Keck and 


, 1998).



Analytical perspectives: NGOs’ diverse roles

Some global conservation bodies have supported schemes treating local people as a problem.

Some NGOs have joined multi-actor efforts, especially public-private partnerships to implement global frameworks. Towards ‘global solutions’, NGOs and corporations jointly developing the infrastructure for carbon markets (


and Hoffmann, 2012).

By contrast, the concept ‘justice’ reframes the issues: ‘NGOs and their allies have sought to bring about a fundamental rethinking of how the goals of conservation and effective resource management can be linked to the search for social justice for historically marginalized peoples’ (


et al., 2005).

Some NGOs have built transnational alliances strengthening local-national social movements to protect natural resources and people’s access to them; this agenda ‘focuses closely on questions of power, equity and representation’ (e.g. Schwartzman et al., 2010).


UNEP’s overall definition: A green economy results in ‘improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities’. It is ‘low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive’ (UNEP, 2011). The green economy seeks economic growth with ‘significant decoupling from environmental impacts’. A green economy ‘creates jobs and economic progress, while at the same time avoiding considerable downside risks such as the effects of climate change, greater water scarcity and the loss of ecosystem services’. The new focus on a green economy reflects the ‘growing recognition that achieving sustainability rests almost entirely on getting the economy right’ (UNEP, 2011).

Green economy






A ‘right economy’ = ?


valuing natural resources, especially ecosystem services, so that economic activity more wisely manages them to benefit the poor (UNEP, 2011).


to this diagnosis, the same market remedies can protect ecosystem services and the poor alike.


public-sector dependence on the private sector: ‘active participation of the private sector can contribute to the achievement of sustainable development, including through the important tool of public-private partnerships’ (UN, 2012).



‘Green markets’ for poverty alleviation

Financial instruments

REDD+ linked with social equity & livelihoods

New instruments, e.g.

Payments for Ecosystem Services (PES)

Biodiversity offsetting

Water credits



New instruments have been elaborated so that credits can become universal and tradable by third parties.


Natural Capital accounting: controversy


Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) for Business Coalition has encompassed the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and others.

WWF initiated

the Natural Capital Project, whereby


become incorporated into the process. Its promotional film asks the question, ‘What is nature worth?’, whose answer requires metrics.  

Natural Capital Declaration (2012) was a commitment by finance sector CEOs to account for natural capital in their balance sheets. As a problem-diagnosis, ‘Neither these [ecosystem] services, nor the stock of Natural Capital that provides them, are adequately valued compared to social and financial capital.’


‘calls upon the private and public sectors to work together to create the conditions necessary to maintain and enhance Natural Capital..’


(NGO coalition) said: the Declaration ‘is based upon a fatally flawed understanding of the root causes of crises (imperfect valuation of ‘Natural Capital and Ecosystem Services’) and proposes an equally flawed solution to them (proper pricing)’.


Green Economy Coalition


of transnational NGOs and conservation groups attribute inequality to social exclusion from capital, which therefore must be shared more equitably:


inequities and unemployment rates, particularly among the young, wastes human capital and hinders innovation… the prospect of a green economy offers potential for alternative ownership models that will share natural and financial capital more



Green Economy Coalition,



‘the justice principle’ for more equitable access of many kinds.


proposals overlap with aspects of

UNEP, which sponsors the Coalition.



(IUCN + WWF) also play

leading roles in the Natural Capital Project.  


Transnational advocacy NGOs(People’s Summit Declaration and WSF)


UNEP's involvement in the financialisation agenda.


alternatives they linked food sovereignty with commons:


markets seek to take power away from the people and distribute resources according to the participants’ ability to


a commons-centred approach treats nature, the environment, food, water and other vital aspects of our lives as something we all share rights to and a responsibility for. Food and energy sovereignty are part of this rapidly developing, commons-centred, alternative view of how we should run a truly green global


(WDM, 2012).


People’s Summit 2012

Reiterated the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, while also denouncing the UNEP agenda:

Here commons link cultural and natural diversity:

The diversity of nature and the cultural diversity associated with it are the basis for a new paradigm of society… For the peoples’ sovereign control of the commons, and against the attempts at commodification’, and ‘For Life and commons, social and environmental justice’.


‘unequal power relations established by capitalism, in which the dominant economic and political powers have taken control of natural resources, territories, populations, and their knowledge’.


agenda was again attacked at the World Social Forum (WSF) in March 2013.


NGOs’ dilemma


face a strategic dilemma about whether or how to reclaim the ‘green economy’ concept.


versions proliferate, some overlapping with UNEP’s framework.


NGOs seek an alternative concept for linking resource struggles in the global North and South.


a related dilemma, NGOs seek greater public-sector responsibility for public goods against commoditisation and privatisation, but such an agenda has no reliable champion in the leadership of major political parties.



Conclusion 1: NGOs’ divergent roles


economy' debate provides a window into divergent


of transnational NGOs.

They have elaborated various approaches to social equity, corresponding to diverse concepts of justice, either implicitly or explicitly. Likewise they diverge in where/how they place blame for environmental degradation (Keck and 





‘natural capital’ framework promotes the dominant liberal-individualist framework of justice (Caney, 2005, Armstrong, 2013), seeing resources as stocks which can be quantified and traded, thus facilitating a neoliberal agenda.


has been elaborated by transnational public-private networks, led by nature-conservation groups, e.g. WWF and IUCN.




how nature is neoliberalised by commoditising more resources, facilitated by the state and civil society groups (cf. Castree, 2008).

Through the Green Economy Coalition, various

NGOs invoke ‘the justice principle’ for more equitably sharing natural and financial capital through community


This re-interprets natural


This coalition has some members who also play leading roles in the Natural Capital Project.


Conclusion 2:


justice’ has linked transnational advocacy networks with social movements in the global South. Their perspective identifies unequal power relations as the fundamental problem. Their alternative agenda promotes community protection and responsibilities for natural resources.



the dominant agenda conceals and undermines commons, the concept ‘environmental justice’ makes them more visible. NGO advocacy networks aim to make visible the sources of injustice, as a basis to transform unsustainable practices of production and consumption (cf. Martin, 2013, Schlosberg, 2004, 2013; Fraser, 2008).


the dominant agenda depoliticises power relations, social movements have been ‘attempting to make something visible that was previously invisible’ (




, 2014: 155




Strategic positioning: There is some correspondence between NGOs’ stances and diverse concepts of


How to explain the correspondence in terms of strategic positioning vis a vis the UN system?


Parallel or competing approaches? In what sense do these different approaches compete with each other for influence? or debate each other?

‘Justice’ meanings and roles: In the 1990s the concept ‘justice’ had ambiguous, diverse meanings amongst various NGOs. More recently it has been promoted most strongly from anti-capitalist, pro-commons perspectives, especially as ‘environmental/climate justice


Is the concept being


in more

oppositional ways



Stakes: Why does it matter that NGOs’ roles have such differences? What are the stakes?


NGOs’ divergent alliances, frames and roles in ‘green economy’ debate


Cause of social inequity and environmental degradation Solution/ justice conceptRelation to UNEP agendaAlliance   Natural Capital Project: Finance sector, nature- conservation groups(e.g. IUCN, WWF), TEEB for Business Coalition, etc.Invisibility of natural capital (as stocks) in economic valuationsNatural capital accounting (& ecosystem pricing) to be considered in decisions on financial products and servicesVanguard via public-private networksGreen Economy Coalition:Transnational NGOs, e.g. IUCN, WWF, IIED, IISD, Consumers International, ITUC + companies (Philips) + UNEP sponsorCommunities’ inequitable access to financial and natural capitalJustice principle: communities’ greater access and control over capital for the global public good Complementary or supplementaryPeople’s Summit +WSF: Transnational advocacy networks linked with social movements, e.g. FERN, GJEP, BankTrack, WDM, Re:Common, etc.Commoditisation undermining commons and communities that protect themEnvironmental Justice: global networks resisting enclosures by linking commons, communities and resource sovereigntyOppositional




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