The concept of green growth has its origins in the Asia and Pacific Region. At the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development (MCED) held in March 2005 in Seoul, 52 Governments and other stakeholders from Asia and the Pacific agreed to move beyond the sustainable development rhetoric and pursue a path of "green growth". To do so, they adopted a Ministerial declaration (the Seoul Initiative Network on Green Growth) and a regional implementation plan for sustainable development (UNESCAP, 2008). This commenced a broader vision of green growth as a regional initiative of UNESCAP, where it is viewed as a key strategy for achieving sustainable development as well as the Millennium Development Goals (in particular 2 and 7 relating to poverty reduction and environmental sustainability) (UNESCAP, 2012).
The green growth approach adopted by the MCED sought to harmonize economic growth with environmental sustainability, while improving the eco-efficiency of economic growth and enhancing the synergies between environment and economy. As with green economy, green growth attracted significant attention as a way out of today's economic doldrums in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis (Green Growth Leaders, 2011).
In 2008, partly in response to the global financial crisis, the Republic of Korea (RoK) adopted 'low carbon green growth" as the country's new development vision, which was followed shortly after by the release in 2009 of their National Strategy for Green Growth and Five-Year Plan for Green Growth (which were accompanied by the enactment of a Framework Act on Low Carbon Green Growth). The RoK has since been instrumental in promoting the concept more broadly, including through the OECD. At the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in June 2009, 30 members and five prospective members (comprising approximately 80% of the global economy) approved a declaration acknowledging that green and growth can go hand-in-hand, and asked the OECD to develop a green growth strategy bringing together economic, environmental, technological, financial and development aspects into a comprehensive framework (UNESCAP, 2012). Since then, the OECD has become a major proponent of green growth and supports efforts of countries to implement green growth.
In April 2010, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Hanoi adopted the ASEAN Leaders' Statement on Sustained Recovery and Development, which highlighted the leaders' determination to promote green growth, including investments in long-term environmental sustainability and sustainable use of natural resources in order to diversify and ensure economic resilience.
In May 2010, at its sixty-sixth session, UNESCAP countries adopted the Incheon Declaration on Green Growth, in which members expressed their intent to "strengthen efforts to pursue green growth strategies as part of [their] response to the current crisis and beyond." Later that year, support to pursue green growth was also stated in the 6th MCED Declaration in Astana in October 2010 (UNESCAP, 2012). The main focus of green growth in this context was for developing countries in Asia and the Pacific region to harmonise economic growth with environmental sustainability, while improving the eco-efficiency of economic growth and enhancing the synergy between environment and economy.
In June 2010, the RoK was instrumental in the establishment of the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) as a non-profit foundation (which was elevated to a new international organization at the Rio+20 Conference in June 2012). The GGGI is dedicated to diffusing green growth as a new model of economic growth, targeting poverty reduction, job creation, social inclusion, and environmental sustainability, climate change mitigation, biodiversity loss, and security of access to clean energy and water. The board of the GGGI reflects a "who's who" of economic thinkers (including Nicholas Stern and Jeffrey Sachs) and its placement in RoK reflects a broader regional interest - led by UNESCAP - in helping the Asia and Pacific region to "leapfrog" over the industrialization patterns of the developed world, and avoid the trap of "growing first, cleaning up later" (Atkisson, 2012).
In November 2010, at the G20 Seoul Summit, leaders also recognized green growth as an inherent part of sustainable development which could enable countries to leapfrog old technologies in many sectors. They agreed to take steps to create enabling environments for the development of energy efficiency and clean energy technologies. This was also clearly evident in the response of G20 countries to the global financial crisis and recession of 2008-09, where some governments adopted expansionary policies that incorporated a "green fiscal" component (Barbier, 2011). In fact, almost the entire global green stimulus was made by G20 countries, with measures including support for: renewable energy; carbon capture and sequestration; energy efficiency; public transport and rail; improving electrical grid transmission; as well as other public investments and incentives aimed at environmental protection. Of the US$ 3.3 trillion allocated worldwide to fiscal stimulus over 2008-09, US$ 522 billion (around 16%) was devoted to green expenditures or tax breaks (Robins, Clover and Saravanan, 2010). In 2012, the Mexican Presidency of the G20 introduced "inclusive green growth" as a cross-cutting priority on the G20 development agenda.
A number of other international organisations, think tanks and academics have also turned their attention to green growth, including the World Bank and the Green Growth Leaders. In February 2012, the World Bank along with UNEP, OECD and the GGGI launched a new international knowledge-sharing platform in Mexico - the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP) - bringing together under the same roof the major international organizations supporting and promoting both green growth and green economy. The GGKP aims to enhance and expand efforts to identify and address major knowledge gaps in green growth theory and practice, and to help countries design and implement policies to move towards a green economy.
At least 13 separate definitions for green growth were identified in recent publications. This includes definitions by key international actors involved in green growth work:
UNESCAP: growth that emphasizes environmentally sustainable economic progress to foster low-carbon, socially inclusive development.
- OECD: fostering economic growth and development, while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies.
- World Bank: growth that is efficient in its use of natural resources, clean in that it minimizes pollution and environmental impacts, and resilient in that it accounts for natural hazards and the role of environmental management and natural capital in preventing physical disasters.
- GGGI: green growth is the new revolutionary development paradigm that sustains economic growth while at the same time ensuring climatic and environmental sustainability. It focuses on addressing the root causes of these challenges while ensuring the creation of the necessary channels for resource distribution and access to basic commodities for the impoverished.