Plotting the eco-revolution

I’ve recently been reading about the period of great revolution in Europe during the first half of the 19th century. Many European revolutionaries had a pan-European vision of a glorious struggle for liberation, nurturing strong links with other revolutionaries across the continent*. Thus, bands of foreign revolutionaries would readily assist their comrades in arms when the outlook for successful agitation looked better in another country than their own: “Our home is stuck in its ways without hope of emancipation,” ran the thinking, “But we can see excellent opportunities in your country, so we’ve come to lend our support.” Cue lots of devilish plotting and scheming that arguably only ended with Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination in 1914.


In my inbox this week, a glossy report from UNEP entitled the Green Economy – Why a Green Economy Matters for the Least Developed Countries.  The foreword to the synthesis opens up as follows:

The  world  is  preparing  for  the  2012  UN  Conference  on  Sustainable  Development
(Rio+20),  where  one  of  the  themes  will  be  “green  economy  in  the  context  of
sustainable development and poverty eradication”. This publication examines the
idea that Least Developed Countries (LDCs) possess the economic conditions, the
natural and cultural assets, and the policy setting to embrace, if not lead, a green
economy transition, which would in turn accelerate their development.


I don’t suppose for a moment there is a revolutionary bone to be found in UNEP’s staff, but UNEP’s overall philosophy is clearly strongly influenced by Western environmentalism. It is certainly regrettable that the big Western economies completely missed the opportunity to focus their recent economic stimulation programmes rather more strongly on creating green economies, but I’m slightly uneasy over UNEP urging LDCs to “lead” the transition to a green economy.

“We want to get rich first, then we’ll worry about the environment,” sums up the approach taken by many developing countries to climate change negotiations, and, in the absence of a bit of leadership from developed countries, who can blame them?

This is not to say that I do not understand the academic arguments for pushing for a green economy in LDCs; they are often proportionately richer in natural resources, and have less invested in carbon-intensive ways of doing things; there is a clear potential for leap-frogging straight to clean technologies. But I cannot help escape the feeling that we need to be very careful about advocating strategies our own countries have spurned. Most developing country governments seem to smell the fish pretty easily.


* Eventually such ideals faded under growing nationalistic currents – the parallel with Pan-Africanism is striking.

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