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Rio+20 summit is about green growth

January 19, 2012

kyteAlmost twenty years ago, the world saw the emergence of new global-political issues such as sustainable development, climate change, and ecological degradation that changed the discourse on development and environmental conservation. These issues prompted governments, business communities, trade unions, local authorities, and NGOs to come to the table during the Earth Summit at Rio in 1992. Two decades after the first summit at Rio, policymakers will be meeting again at the Rio+20 summit in June to talk about new pathways to sustainable development.

Rachel Kyte, in her talk at The Fletcher School last week entitled From Rio to Rio: Moving towards Sustainable Development in a Multi-speed World, told the audience, “There was this hope around Rio (1992) that we were launching off into something new, something different.” Kyte is Vice President of Sustainable Development at the World Bank.

While comparing the context of the two summits, Kyte said that two decades ago the focus was on development, whereas now the conversation is more focused on green growth. Citing some of the main differences between the two summits, Kyte said, “In 1992, we were very much in the world of the north and the south. We were still using the phrase Third World. We were very much in the dynamic of the flow moving from north to south. Amazonian destruction had just begun to emerge as a global-political issue. It was a few years later that the G-7 under the German presidency made Amazonian destruction and sustainable development a critical issue.” Kyte made clear that Rio in 1992 was about the developing world, but that this Rio has to be about a global world.

She noted that the proportion of people living in poverty has dropped, and that some countries have been able to grow more equally than others. “There has been enormous progress at the city levels, provincial levels, in some countries, in Korea, in China, in Mexico, in some provinces of India, amazing things are happening at rapid speed. Nonetheless, there are systemic failures, and more than a billion people every night go to bed hungry. We also know that poverty still has a female face. There are huge inequalities between the opportunities for men and opportunities for women. It needs to get better,” Kyte said.

While highlighting the benefits of green growth, she talked about the continuing debate in economic circles on what green growth is all about: “Is it just about clarifying production functions, internalizing every externality, or are we looking at something which is fundamentally different to achieve green growth?” Kyte said. She pointed out that while growth has helped reduce poverty, it has not necessarily been good for the eco-system.

Kyte recognized that the idea of green growth might also have driven a wedge between the developed and developing world. “The word green has all kinds of connotations for developing country policymakers and leaders because they suppose underneath that somewhere in there is protectionism, a do as we say not as we do attitude. This is a psychological barrier to a truly global conversation we need to have. There is suspicion,” Kyte told the audience.

Nearly two decades ago, a seminal report on the environment was published by the World Bank, which was the first time the Bank ever came out with a signature report on the environment. In Kyte’s view, it introduced massive and fundamental changes to the institution, which has had a positive effect on sustainable development. “The change to a client driven model, the opening up to stakeholders, the engagement of civil society and the rest of the world…the Bank is no longer a bastion but an open institution,” Kyte told the audience.

Kyte believes that Bretton Woods institutions have the ability to bring people around the table, but they are capital constrained. “Now for us to do anything to scale, we must mobilize and leverage other sources of finance, which requires a complete mindset change in a bureaucratic institution. The WTO still has not figured out how really to embed sustainable development in its agenda. There is a massive and unholy fight between the environment and the trade world. At the end of the day, all developing countries fight for bandwidth to talk about these issues.” Kyte said.

Kyte outlined the path forward by highlighting the critical need for a partnership between the public and private sectors, even though building such a partnership is fraught with diplomatic and structural challenges. “How do we build structures so that the private sector is able to be a part of the problem definition as well as part of the solution structure? To solve the problem there has to be a partnership between the public and private sectors else we will miss some of the opportunities,” Kyte said.

-Article by Sachin Gaur, MALD candidate F13