Ten ways to secure social justice in the green economy

Environmental protection efforts can exclude local communities – but a balance is possible with careful planning

Fishing exclusion zones can push people who depend on these resources further into poverty (Pic UN Photos)

Fishing exclusion zones can push people who depend on these resources further into poverty (Pic UN Photos)

By Kate Raworth

‘Green economy’ and ‘green growth’ policies are moving to centre stage in many developing countries’ national strategies.

From Viet Nam to Mozambique, there is a new focus particularly on curbing greenhouse gas emissions while promoting steady GDP growth.

For the sake of ecological integrity, this is good news – but what about social justice?

Green policies designed to transform key sectors – such as energy, transport, infrastructure and agriculture – can have complex implications for women and men in vulnerable communities.

It would be dangerous to assume that they will automatically help to tackle poverty. Without careful design, they could well do the opposite.

There has been far too little focus on the social consequences of green policymaking, so CAFOD and IIED set out to explore the principles that can help to secure social justice in the green economy – and we came up with ten.

1. Champion integrated social and environmental policymaking.

Generate a common vision of a shared and lasting national prosperity that is both green and just. Working across government ministries and with diverse national stakeholders, this can best be achieved by enriching ongoing integrated planning and policymaking, rather than demanding a new, one-off strategy.

2. Embrace holistic approaches to planning and monitoring both poverty and the environment.

Take a multi-dimensional approach to tackling poverty and promoting the wellbeing of minorities and vulnerable groups by addressing their health, education, income, decent work, living standards, security, empowerment and resilience.

Likewise, extend environmental goals beyond greenhouse gas abatement to address whole ecosystem integrity and functionality, and respect for planetary boundaries. Business, government and civil society should all plan and account for their performance against the same basic framework.

3. Get beyond compensation: seek co-benefits and transformational change.

Ask clearly and early: where are synergies between social and environmental goals, and how can these best be promoted? At the same time, explicitly recognise that trade-offs between them will arise, identify who will be affected and focus on ensuring that the process protects poor people’s interests and enhances their wellbeing.

4. Be aware of the bias and limits of economic methodologies and market instruments.

Economic valuation tools and cost-benefit analyses are commonly used for designing policy. But they risk overlooking and undervaluing social and cultural goods and services, distributional impacts, and long-term value. Likewise, market-based instruments such as cash transfers may provide critical safeguards, but their effectiveness depends on institutional capacity and procedural justice being in place.

5. Promote poor people’s empowerment and address elite power.

Ensure policies and services are co-designed with the participation, knowledge and practice of communities to ensure they meet local needs and interests.

Support the smart devolution of natural resource governance to community scale, while promoting equitable governance within the community. Be strategic in recognising and addressing the influence of powerful elites and interests — overt and covert — in blocking, capturing or unlocking the gains of green policymaking.

6. Ensure gender- and ethnicity-aware policy design.

Enable women and minority groups to co-design schemes that are intended to serve their specific needs and interests. Provide skills training and childcare support, particularly to promote women’s ability to benefit from opportunities in transitioning sectors.

7. Expand the creation of decent green jobs.

Seek out policy designs that deliver pro-poor returns by considering locally based investments that create jobs at low financial, resource and energy cost. These may be complements or alternatives to capital-intensive, nationally driven investments. Identify job opportunities throughout product life-cycles — from sourcing and assembly to reuse and recycling — to optimise job creation, such as in renewable energy programmes. Promote and enshrine skills upgrading and decent work in law to increase the likelihood of such co-benefits.

8. Consider spacing, timing and phasing.

The transition to a green and just economy will not be smooth. Understand the geography of sectoral change: stranded assets, job creation, job losses,
induced migration and all their associated opportunities and threats. Anticipate the timing of the start-up and wind-down of social and environmental interventions, to protect communities that are vulnerable to price or regulation change.

9. Support adaptive, context-specific, local policy approaches.

Be adaptive, with flexible, responsive policymaking that can adjust as the impacts of policy measures become clear. Be context-specific, redesigning initiatives to suit each context. At the same time, harness the reinforcing benefits of local change, recognising that successful outcomes are often achieved at local or city scale.

10. Ensure donor policy alignment.

Call on international agencies and donors to align their support behind the national or local strategy. They should not set policy prematurely around
what they see as ‘low hanging fruit’. Donors’ domestic and foreign policies — such as biofuels mandates and standards for carbon credits — must also be coherent with developing countries’ strategies.

In particular, donors’ commitments to providing international carbon finance need to materialise in ways that can underpin a diversity of transitions to green and just economies in developing countries.

We address these preliminary guidelines primarily to the many in-country stakeholders involved in making the transition to a green economy.

However, at a time when the United Nations, development banks, donors and other international players are devising green economy and green growth programmes for developing countries, IIED and CAFOD suggest they also scrutinise their own frameworks using the above guidelines.

Doing so could help international players to sharpen their conception of their own particular roles and identify the complementary actions and partnerships they need to put in place.

Kate Raworth is visiting fellow in economics at IIED. This first appeared in a policy brief on the IIED website.

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