Green growth: The stakes, issues, interests and views differ between rich and poor countries

Rich and poor countries differ in their assessment of environmental costs associated with economic growth; Rich and poor countries both still need that “growth”. But they differ not just in the pace, but also in the very nature of their “growth”.

by Thomas Nowotny

Excerpt from the article

Disregarding these differences is bound to deepen the policy gap between the rich and the poor of the earth. As past experience demonstrates, such disregard will complicate or even abort the search for global solutions to global problems. Poor countries resent being lectured about the need NOT to follow the production and consumption patterns of the already wealthy. At worst, such lecturing is interpreted as a neo-colonial attempt to keep them from catching up with well-to-do former imperial masters.
The wealthy, on their side, resent as callous and shortsighted the refusal of the poorer countries to adapt to their policy preferences. They would thereby jeopardize the common good, if not the very base of survival of the seven billion humans populating our planet.

We should not simply dismiss warnings on the grave consequences when in a world of soon nine to ten billion humans, the great number of the still poor will try to duplicate the patterns of consumption and production as they prevail among the wealthiest of the earth. But with an equal and even superior claim to plausibility, the argument can also be turned on its head. A world of nine to ten billion humans is not “sustainable” if not based on an order of ever rising productivity, of economic division of labor and competition; if not based on further advances in knowledge and in general education; on continued rapid urbanization; on greater use of energy. It is not possible to have “sustainability” without overall “growth”.

Would the cessation of rich countries’ growth be in the interest of the poor countries? To this question, recent history has provided us with a neat answer. No and on the contrary poorer countries have a substantial interest in the continued growth of their wealthy counterparts. The two sides have become to depend on each other...

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Thomas Nowotny is President of the SID Vienna Chapter. To learn more about SID Vienna activities, how to participate or how to become member of the chapter, please visit the SID Vienna Chapter website at:

Photo credits: flickr/byJoelLodge




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Comment by Pincas Jawetz

by SID·May 7, 2012

In New York I participated on the fringe of the Preparatory meeting for what they call RIO+20  ( and which I prefer to call Brundtland+25, because it really tries to reinvent Sustainable Development)
Getting pulled in by Paul’s comment I just want to inform you of the most important novel idea here to be submitted to the body of negotiators:
The document that will go to Rio will have in it some form of call for a U.N. HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.
Finally there are countries ready to fight for the idea that SUSTAINABILITY is about the future and not just about Development in the present - and the "Growth" concept as measured by the way GNP is being defined.
Also, there are people ready to talk about the "Global Commons" and resources that are outside Sovereignty of Nations and thus not simply out there for the taking by the Corporations. This concept, for obvious reasons,  has less backing.
I am happy to see that ideas I tried to put forward ten years ago for the "Center for UN Reform Education (CURE)" at the Johannesburg Summit,  are being picked up now by some governments and - what is important to us - by the EU.
Pincas Jawetz
SID Vienna Chapter

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Comment by Paul Hesp

by SID·May 7, 2012

I am thinking of the possible impact of a document like this. It should end with more concrete proposals for ways out of the predicament. Therefore, I would limit the discussion of the various known positions and arguments with regard to sustainable development to the essentials.
While I share the arguments for the need of the developing countries to catch up, I do not believe that the present environmental trends will allow us to ‘balance’ economic growth and environmental protection. Without a radically different approach to what constitutes development we are rather like an alcoholic who thinks he can balance his need/preference for liquor and the deterioration of his liver. I think there are enough signs that the global ecological balance has been seriously upset already. Nature doesn’t do compromises and takes no notice of human/politicians’ needs, preferences and aspirations.
Concrete suggestions for economic development delinked from further environmental destruction would require that the document should also be concrete about the environmental issues which offer scope for successful action.
In this connection the first point I’d like to make is that localized production and consumption of food deserves more than a footnote. Export agriculture in developing countries not only often has negative social consequences (starting with 17th  century plantations in the East Indies) or for biodiversity and climate (clear-cutting of forest in Brazil for ranching), it also means exporting scarce natural resources such as water. A concrete example of the latter from my own experience: I worked in a kibbutz  for a year in the 1960s. Israel’s agriculture is heavily export-oriented. At that time the river Jordan, which feeds the Sea of Galilee, was a serious river. The Sea of Galilee is now in the process of disappearing. And Israel imports water (by tanker ship) from Turkey. And let us not forget: much of the exported food is thrown away or contributes to lifestyle diseases.
Obviously, a radical rethinking of economics is needed. One of our great problems is that most of us have never linked the economic cycle to ecological cycles (at least not since we depended on local agriculture). Otherwise, more progress would have been made in, for example, realistically pricing natural resources and services. Academia could do much more in this respect.  
The point about the ‘decreasing returns’ of an additional amount of income above a certain level is a good one. But we still equate a good life, and especially power, with luxuries. However, a shift to wellness services (for example) will hardly reduce the demand for goods – just look at the adverts (four/five star resorts, global travel). The question is: which leisure, cultural, etc., services will increase our quality of life while reducing (indirect) material needs? Obviously, there is a lot that politicians, big business and last but not least the advertising industry could do to wean us off our present addictions. They might start by giving a good example.
With regard to the last: the various actors in society must become more serious about their responsibilities. NGO’s have been moving against the stream for about four decades now in promoting sustainable development. Other actors in society should show such Zivilcourage as well.     
Paul Hesp
SID Vienna Chapter