December 2022 - You are accessing an archived version of our website. This website is no longer maintained or updated. The Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform has been migrated here:

Green economy
The term green economy was first coined in a pioneering 1989 report for the Government of the United Kingdom by a group of leading environmental economists, entitled Blueprint for a Green Economy (Pearce, Markandya and Barbier, 1989). The report was commissioned to advise the UK Government if there was a consensus definition to the term "sustainable development" and the implications of sustainable development for the measurement of economic progress and the appraisal of projects and policies . Apart from in the title of the report, there is no further reference to green economy and it appears that the term was used as an afterthought by the authors. In 1991 and 1994 the authors released sequels to the first report entitled Blueprint 2: Greening the world economy and Blueprint 3: Measuring Sustainable Development. Whilst the theme of the first Blueprint report was that economics can and should come to the aid of environmental policy, the sequels extended this message to the problems of the global economy - climate change, ozone depletion, tropical deforestation, and resource loss in the developing world. All reports built upon research and practice in environmental economics spanning back several decades.

In 2008, the term was revived in the context of discussions on the policy response to multiple global crises. In the context of the financial crisis and concerns of a global recession, UNEP championed the idea of "green stimulus packages" and identified specific areas where large-scale public investment could kick-start a "green economy" (Atkisson, 2012). It inspired several governments to implement significant "green stimulus" packages as part of their economic recovery efforts.

In October 2008, UNEP launched its Green Economy Initiative to provide analysis and policy support for investment in green sectors and for greening environmentally unfriendly sectors. As part of this Initiative, UNEP commissioned one of the original authors of Blueprint for a Green Economy to prepare a report entitled a Global Green New Deal (GGND), which was released in April 2009 and proposed a mix of policy actions that would stimulate economic recovery and at the same time improve the sustainability of the world economy. The GGND called on governments to allocate a significant share of stimulus funding to green sectors and set out three objectives: (i) economic recovery; (ii) poverty eradication; and (iii) reduced carbon emissions and ecosystem degradation; and proposed a framework for green stimulus programs as well as supportive domestic and international policies (UNEMG, 2011).

In June 2009, in the lead up to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the UN released an interagency statement supporting the green economy as a transformation to address multiple crises . The statement included the hope that the economic recovery would be the turning point for an ambitious and effective international response to the multiple crises facing humanity based on a global green economy.

In February 2010, Ministers and Heads of Delegation of the UNEP Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nusa Dua acknowledged in their declaration that the green economy concept "can significantly address current challenges and deliver economic development opportunities and multiple benefits for all nations." It also acknowledged UNEP's leading role in further defining and promoting the concept and encouraged UNEP to contribute to this work through the preparatory process for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in 2012 (Rio+20).

In March 2010, the General Assembly agreed that green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication would form one of the two specific themes for Rio+20 (resolution 64/236). This led to a great deal of international attention on green economy and related concepts and the publication of numerous recent reports and other literature aiming to further define and demystify the concept.

One of the key reports was the flagship Green Economy Report released by UNEP in November 2011 under its Green Economy Initiative. UNEP partnered with think tanks and commercial actors (including Deutsche Bank), lending credibility to its economic analyses (Atkisson, 2012). Importantly, the report also provides a working definition of "green economy" which has since been cited in numerous other publications.

A series of other publications by UNEP, UNCTAD, UNDESA and the UNCSD Secretariat have attempted to elaborate on the concept and outline guiding principles, benefits, risks and emerging international experience . In December 2011, the UN Environment Management Group (a system-wide coordination body of over 40 specialized agencies, programmes and organs of the United Nations) also released its system-wide perspective on green economy - Working Towards a Balanced and Inclusive Green Economy - which identifies and clarifies the use of green economy and other related terms. This report adopts the definition provided by UNEP in its 2011 Green Economy Report. A number of non-government organizations and partnerships have also developed in recent years which aim to promote green economy as a concept and undertake research, analysis and outreach .

There is no internationally agreed definition of green economy and at least eight separate definitions were identified in recent publications. For example, UNEP has defined the green economy as "one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. It is low carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive" (UNEP, 2011). This definition has been cited in a number of more recent reports, including by the UNEMG and the OECD. Another definition for green economy offered by the Green Economy Coalition (a group of NGOs, trade union groups and others doing grassroots work on a green economy) succinctly defines green economy as "a resilient economy that provides a better quality of life for all within the ecological limits of the planet."
United Nations