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Towards a Green Economy: Leadership for The Clean Revolution

30 April 2012
Towards a Green Economy: Leadership for The Clean Revolution

By Mark Kenber, CEO, The Climate Group.

First published on the Earth Summit 2012 Blog.

In order to reach the visionary ideal of a green economy, we'll need a Clean Revolution across the globe. At the Rio+20 Earth Summit in June this year, top-level politicians will be called upon to help catalyse the global transition to a green economy, alleviate poverty and create stable economic prosperity for all. Despite the huge advances made by the UN Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) since its inception at the original Rio Earth Summit in 1992, it is clear that this transition needs to be quicker, ambitions greater, and actions stronger.

The Brundtland Report 'Our Common Future' (1987), the central document which informed the original summit, shaped the conceptual foundations for sustainable development, defining it as 'development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.' But in a world of ever-increasing demand for resources coupled with an urgent need to curb the environmental effects on our way of life, delivering this vision of sustainability will not be an easy task. By 2050 there will be 9 billion people competing for resources on this planet. The world's middle class will grow from less than 2 billion to 5 billion in the next 20 years. In this time, China will build another 'United States' in terms of homes and commercial buildings, and global electricity demand could double between 2009 and 2035 . Despite this insatiable rise in demand for global resources, by 2050 we will need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by around 80% of today's levels to avoid dangerous climate change.

There couldn't be a more pivotal moment to achieve meaningful political commitments to sustainable development. It is imperative, however, that these commitments inspire swift and concerted action on the ground. In order to create a world where prosperity doesn't come at the expense of the environment, where sustainability and profitability go hand in hand, and where development is created on a long-term basis, we're going to need a transformation of our productive systems, and strong action from those in positions of power. In order to reach the visionary ideal of a green economy, we'll need a Clean Revolution across the globe.

The word 'Revolution' invokes images of radical transformation of the incumbent political, economic and social systems; an unprecedented and rapid process of change to the current way of life. Well perhaps that's what this is. But rather than revolutionaries taking to the streets, the Clean Revolution is already quietly underway in boardrooms and cabinet offices, where business leaders and politicians alike are harnessing unique opportunities to transform the way we produce and consume energy and natural resources.

The Clean Revolution is a swift and massive scaling-up of clean energy technologies and infrastructure. It will satisfy the increasing energy requirements of emerging economies which are determined to develop unhindered, while continuing to provide the high quality energy services the developed world has come to expect. Simultaneously, it will cut emissions in a way that protects our livelihoods, creates jobs and supports economic growth. The Clean Revolution is a process of change that will target the underbelly of our productive systems; an energy generation infrastructure which has been in place since the last 'revolution', the Industrial Revolution of the 18th century.

Whether in business strategy or government policy, the game-changing opportunities of clean growth are now being grasped. Compared to just 50% back in 2007, 81% of CEOs in 2011 stated that sustainability issues have been fully embedded into the strategy and operations of their company.

Examples of this can already be seen across the corporate landscape. Lighting currently accounts for 19% of global electricity consumption, so the development and instalment of energy efficient lighting could save 670 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. Global lighting manufacturer, Philips, predicts that a full switch to LED lighting could reduce energy consumption for lighting by 40% worldwide. Alongside huge cuts in emissions, the switch would save an estimated 130 billion Euros in running costs. Philips is leading this Clean Revolution by building partnerships around the world to find the most effective and economically viable diffusion methods.

Policymakers have also begun to see the opportunity for growth in low carbon markets. China has developed from non-player to world-leader in creating economic value from clean technology. Chinese investments of $912 billion in clean energy and environmental protection will create 10.6 million jobs, boost GDP by $1.3 trillion and drive an additional $220 billion in energy savings.

These examples of low carbon strategy bridge the traditional but false dichotomy between economic growth and environmental protectionism, showing that we have the technology available to us that can not only reduce the mal-effects of our production systems on the environment, but also save us money, create employment opportunities and generate growth.

However, case studies do not tell the whole story. The Clean Revolution must develop from a few standout incumbent market leaders and some marginal innovators, into a truly mainstream transformation. In order for any revolution to inspire this kind of universal transition, one driver above all others will determine its success. And that driver is leadership. The success of the Clean Revolution depends on strong, resolute and unified leadership that provides a positive and inspiring vision of tomorrow while answering the economic and political imperatives of today. For the transition to a truly global and universal green economy, it is essential that we encourage and foster this leadership. This is where the story of The Clean Revolution Campaign begins.

The Climate Group's Clean Revolution Campaign is a worldwide, three-year campaign targeting the people with the power to bring about a green economy on a global scale – in print, in the press, online and through high-profile events and roundtable discussions. By bringing leaders together, we give them the forum to act and the confidence to inspire others. The Campaign will look to spread a narrative of transformational action, showcasing success stories of low carbon initiatives and policies. These success stories will drive others to support The Clean Revolution, and create successes of their own. It will prove to international decision makers that transformation is not only possible, but a reality. Through our in depth case studies we will demonstrate to the world why the Clean Revolution is the pathway to future prosperity.

Just ahead of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, between June 17-19, we will announce the start of the three-year Clean Revolution Campaign, founded upon a coalition of governmental bodies, businesses and global decision makers who support the declaration that the Clean Revolution is not only necessary, but viable and desirable. We will reveal a number of strategic partnerships, individual commitments and practical solutions, including cooperative support from the UNEP, the World Bank and other key partners. We will showcase success stories on the ground that are real, profitable and scalable; success stories that show low carbon transformation producing tangible results. We will announce a number of transformational actions, which will be the projects behind the campaign. We will praise leadership, highlight opportunity and do what we at The Climate Group have always done best: convene, inspire and empower the world's decision-makers to take action on the low carbon economy.

By bringing the world's leaders together and arming them with the right evidence, we give them the confidence to take brave decisions and to rally others, propelling a positive, inclusive, politically neutral vision of low carbon prosperity - accelerating the transition to a green economy.

We need to cut our emissions by 80% by 2050. But we need to do it in a way that protects our livelihoods, creates jobs and supports economic growth around the globe.

We need nothing short of a Clean Revolution.

And we need to start at the top.

In order to expand the Clean Revolution Campaign we will need all the support we can get. See how you can follow and share its inspirational story by visiting, and by following @ClimateGroup on Twitter. Use the #CleanRevolution hashtag to ask Mark Kenber questions during is live Q&A with Tom Burke, Founding Director, E3G on the Clean Revolution 10am GMT, May 1, 2012. More info here

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