"If the world is really smart about investing in the protection and sustainable use of this capital, nature can be a powerful solution-provider for many of the global challenges we face."
What is the Green Economy?
The term “Green Economy” is the new buzzword for how we transform our economies to make them sustainable and more productive now and for future generations. The ideal of a Green Economy is one that protects nature’s ability to provide all the things we need from it while growing jobs, businesses and better lives for people, especially the very poor. Many people currently use the term to mean different things, which is causing some confusion. Some focus on lowering carbon emissions or investing in green technology. Those are part of it, but not all of it. And occasionally, people worry about it as a disguise for green protectionism – which would be a real perversion.
The Conservancy is concentrating on the “green” part of Green Economy. We are in the business of investing in “natural capital” – the goods and services that nature provides, such as food to eat, fuel to use, fiber to build and to wear, water to drink, medicines to heal, and floodplains and coastlines that reduce flood risk for people and business.
If the world is really smart about investing in the protection and sustainable use of this capital, nature can be a powerful solution-provider for many of the global challenges we face.
What kind of challenges?
There are now seven billion of us. By the middle of this century, Earth will hold around 9 billion people and likely will hit 10 billion toward the end of the century. Within that raw population growth, we will see the global middle class expand from just under 2 billion to about 5 billion over the next 25 years.
Don’t get me wrong. Over the last two decades, hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of grinding poverty in what has been the most successful period of poverty alleviation in history. The fact that three billion more people are set to join the global middle class is something to be celebrated – a true milestone in the history of human development.
This population growth means increased competition for arable land, water and energy. Agriculture already accounts for 70 percent of the world’s water withdrawals and, by 2025, two-thirds of the world may be facing water shortages. Soil fertility is declining in many places around the world, and we are fully exploiting half of the world’s fisheries and over-exploiting another third.
Several recent economic studies suggest that those environmental factors may actually constrain long-term economic growth and prosperity. And, of course, climate change poses real risks that may exacerbate these challenges, especially in some of the poorest places in the world, which are the least able to adapt to shocks like droughts and hurricanes. (Just look at the Horn of Africa right now.) The world needs to be a whole lot smarter about how we produce the goods to meet the needs of a growing, wealthier population.
So achieving our mission requires us to engage directly to help people use nature more sustainably.
How does that connect with conservation work on the ground?
The Nature Conservancy’s on-the-ground experience is a unique value we bring to the pursuit of a Green Economy. We have successful projects that prove that nature can indeed be used sustainably and equitably for the benefit people, business and whole economies.
One example is our “water funds” projects in Latin America. In a nutshell, downstream water users – like the municipal water utility in Quito, Ecuador and a brewery in Bogota, Colombia and farmers around Cali, Colombia – pay into funds that support conservation in the upper watersheds. That, in turn, produces measureable improvements in water quality. It’s a cost-effective “green infrastructure” alternative to relying entirely on expensive water treatment systems.
By addressing the needs of people and business explicitly, and by helping people understand the value that nature provides to their lives, we can secure new investments and new partners for our own goals.
What will it take to actually make a Green Economy possible on a large scale?
We need to create a “new norm” so that investing in nature is second nature – not because it’s nice to have, but because it provides cost-effective solutions to real problems. We must factor nature into everything we do.
The first principle of ecology is that everything is connected in complex and subtle ways. That’s how we need to think about solutions – we need to be smart, subtle and sophisticated.
- So, we need new ways to generate energy to power our lives that don’t cause climate change and that can connect up the 1.4 billion people who don’t have access to electricity.
- And we need a way to ensure that everyone benefits from sustainable economic growth and development – so no one gets left behind.
- And we need to get a lot smarter about how we manage our natural resources – the goods and services that nature provides – food to eat, fuel to use, fiber to build and to wear, water to drink, medicines to heal, and “green infrastructure” to mitigate floods and storms.
This change won’t come from government alone or from individuals by themselves; it must come from all sectors of society, including business.
We believe we can create a healthier, more sustainable planet by 2050 – if we make the right choices and investments now.