Witnessing an actually existing transition to a green economy

Witnessing an actually existing transition to a green economy

Written by Mark Swilling on 2015-12-01 15:59:30

I am spending the week in Addis with an amazing group of 40 Ethiopian officials and academics who are all directly involved in the implementation of Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) policy and strategic programme. I think what impressed me most is the sophistication of the debates about the issues in the different sectors. Here is quite a young group of University educated Ethiopians using complex conceptual frameworks drawn from climate science, ecosystem science, resource economics and sustainability science to generate detailed analyses of developmental opportunities and constraints aimed at achieving in precisely quantified ways the goals of economic growth and improved wellbeing without increasing carbon emissions and simultaneously restoring natural systems (especially soils and forests). I have yet to come across anything remotely close to this in the South African context. And it is NOT the kind of reality that needs to be addressed in the global North.

I am spending the week in Addis with an amazing group of 40 Ethiopian officials and academics who are all directly involved in the implementation of Ethiopia’s Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) policy and strategic programme. UNEP’s Regional Office for Africa was requested by the Ethiopian Government to assist the national effort by developing what has come to be called the Green Economy Toolkit (GETK).

With funding from GIZ, SI Projects was contracted to coordinate a consortium of content and software development experts to develop the GETK. I am the formal head of this team (with Blake Robinson from SI Projects doing the day-to-day project coordination). The aim of the GETK is to provide sub-national governments in five African countries (Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique) with a practical decision-support tool to develop sub-national green economy plans to capture project funds becoming available via a multiplicity of National Government budgets and international funds. Given the problem of capacity at sub-national government level across Africa, such a decision-support tool is of, course, an absolute necessity.

Starting end 2014, intensive research and several workshops have taken place to develop the content that has now been incorporated into a software programme developed by Forge (www.forgetech.net), a Cape Town-based software development company. The GETK is a step-by-step guide for formulating a green economy plan, with each step broken down into detailed actions linked to folders that contain descriptions of the most well-known approaches as well as planning tools and what they can be used for. This makes it possible for over-stretched officials to cut-and-paste text into their proposal templates, and to gain quick and easy access to the primary tools that they can rapidly deploy to conduct local analyses (e.g. soil analysis or waste characterisation) and facilitate local processes (e.g. how to set up and run a stakeholder workshop or manage resource conflicts). The GETK provides a step-by-step guide for formulating a general green economy plan for a specific sub-region, but also more detailed sectoral plans. Detailed descriptive information and related planning tools are included in the GETK for ten sectors: Agriculture, Food Systems and Nutrition, Energy Security and Low Carbon Energy Supply, Greener Resource Extraction & Industrial Activity, Integrated Waste Management and Waste Minimisation, Integrated Water Resource Management & Planning, Sustainable Built Environments & Urban Planning, Sustainable Fisheries, Sustainable Forest Management, Sustainable Mobility, Sustainable Tourism.
Significantly, the actual content information for each of the sectors has been developed by sector experts from the participating countries. This means that the tool kit architecture, software and research content have been entirely developed by Africans! I find this very inspiring.

The workshop here in Addis started with a presentation by Adugna Nemera, a very senior official from the Ministry of Finance and Economics. He gave a detailed history of the CRGE policy, and repeatedly emphasized how it has been thoroughly integrated into Ethiopia’s growth and development policy (after all, he is from the Ministry of Finance and Economics, and not the Ministry of Environment who were, by the way, the hosts of the workshop).The overall ambition is for this country of 80 million people to be a middle income country by 2025 without an increase in emission levels from 2010 levels (which then stood at 2 tons per capita). Such a commitment goes to the essence of what a sustainability-oriented development state looks like – the subject of my recent publication. An elaborate policy implementation structure has been established at national, regional and local levels, together with a budget and budget allocation mechanisms. The top decision-making structure is chaired by the Prime Minister’s Office, which is most impressive (and very different to what happens in South Africa where green economy is separate from economic growth strategies).

Facilitated by Dr. Desta Mebratu (based in Nairobi, but from Ethiopia), what impressed me most about this workshop was how these groups of officials and academics from the different regions plunged into applying the step-by-step guide to their respective sub-regions. Rehearsing the systemic logic of the planning approach inscribed in the GETK, using the support tools provided and adding in their own local knowledge, it was remarkable to see how such a tool helped to fast forward collaborative learning processes for the purposes of generating plans for capturing financial resources. What also really struck me was how the sector experts compiled their presentations in accordance with the ‘decision-support’ ethos of the GETK. In short, the GETK is a framework for formatting expert knowledge into user-friendly accessible information, and it also provides practitioners with a rapid learning platform for generating the kinds of plans that can generate new funding flows.

I think what impressed me most is the sophistication of the debates about the issues in the different sectors. Here is quite a young group of University educated Ethiopians using complex conceptual frameworks drawn from climate science, ecosystem science, resource economics and sustainability science to generate detailed analyses of developmental opportunities and constraints aimed at achieving in precisely quantified ways the goals of economic growth and improved wellbeing without increasing carbon emissions and simultaneously restoring natural systems (especially soils and forests). I have yet to come across anything remotely close to this in the South African context. And it is NOT the kind of reality that needs to be addressed in the global North.

After sitting and listening for a day and a half, I suddenly realized that I was witnessing in practice what an actually existing transition to a developmentally inclusive green economy must look like. One of the organisers, a young Ethiopian women who has studied sustainable agriculture, has agreed to take me to ride the new Addis metro this afternoon – what better tangible proof can there be of a long-term vision than a metro in a city where the majority live in informal settlements and where the middle class is set to expand rapidly (but now with an option to get around in a metro, not in cars). Of course this does not mean that all is just and good – land grabs, polluting Chinese industries, elite capture of public investments are all happening. But at least something is afoot here, and it seems a critical mass of well educated people employed by a state that is not afraid to be interventionist is definitely committed to making a sustainability-oriented transition happen.These are the people that I like working with. These are the kinds of processes that the Sustainability Institute is so well positioned to support over time.