To ecological economists and many ardent environmentalists, ‘green growth’ is an oxymoron. However, there is an increasing trend towards the use of terms like ‘green growth’, ‘green jobs’, and ‘green economy’ in environmental policy debates. This stems from recognition that the political-crafting of arguments for progressive environmental policies is critically important.

Staying true to this trend, France has chosen ‘green growth’ as a theme for next week’s Deauville G8 Summit. Environmental governance discussions on the docket for the summit are overwhelmingly framed in the context of ancillary economic benefits including:

  • Reducing dependence on fossil fuels; with benefits for security through reducing reliance on the Middle East and other volatile oil-producing regions, and benefitting the global economy through putting downward pressure on commodity prices such as oil and food.
  • Job creation; resulting from investment in the physical and intellectual infrastructure of the green economy, most notably in the energy sector.
  • Increasing competitiveness in high-tech sectors and the knowledge economy; if green is the future and technology is the tool to get us there, the race between nations and regions to gain competitive advantage in green-tech will be influential in determining the global economic power hierarchy of the 21st century.

‘Green is good’ has usurped ‘our common future’ as the mantra for environmental progress not because of its own strength as a framing—this is still unproven—but because it has become the next logical step now that appeals to collective responsibility have failed to generate the proactive policy-making required to stave off the major environmental challenge of the next century, global climate change.

Climate change now overshadows all other environmental issues in international politics for a number of reasons—suffice to say, the urgency and pervasiveness of climate change has made the search for a successful political argument for mitigation policies paramount.  The positive economic framing of environmental policies on the G8 agenda is the latest manifestation of this recognition.

The ‘green growth’ choice illustrates some political astuteness from France, as does the decision to have this conversation at the G8 table rather than at the G20. Similar to the framing case, the forum for decision-making on climate issues is in need of an evolution.  The UNFCCC process has been uninspiring to say the least, in large part because there are too many actors and such a diversity of interests and perspectives that agreement on anything is very difficult.  Many commentators see the G8 and G20 processes as possible building block decision-making forums that can build the confidence of members in international climate policy.  In smaller forums with less geopolitical diversity, partner nations are more likely to see each other as collaborators rather than competitors, making agreement far easier to achieve.

Because of this factor, the G8 is a logical place to have these discussions, making this year’s summit a key building block in a new strategy to kick-start climate governance in the 21st century.

Nigel Moore is a Research Assistant for the Energy and Environment Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation.  He is a third year undergraduate student in Environment and Business at the University of Waterloo.

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