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Ecologists at Bali's Environment Summit Call for a New Economic Order

  • Solenn Honorine

Ecology is becoming more and more a question of economy: how much would it cost to reduce emissions; how much would we save by weatherproofing buildings. But analysts meeting in Bali for a summit on the environment say that, to save the planet, humanity has to go through an economic revolution similar in scale to the industrial revolution

The sound coming from a small machine is the sound of green economy.

"This is the world's first commercially available pedal generator, allowing to convert your human power into usable electricity. It can currently recharge our own portable lights. It can also charge mobile phones," said Sameer Hajee, whose company, Nuru Design, has 10,000 clients in Rwanda, India and Kenya. It relies on a network of 80 peddlers who make a living out of pedaling to recharge the lights or cell-phones of their neighbors.

Nuru Design plans to increase its customer base tenfold by the end of the year. This activity is no charity but a viable business, servicing people who do not have access to electricity.

"Essentially the market is so huge," Hajee said. "There are two billion people affected by this problem. So, to the extend that you can get this technology to them, this could potentially be a very profitable business."

Economist Pahvan Sukdhev is a special advisor to the United Nations Environment Program. He explains that businesses such as Nuru Design are examples of what a "green economy" would be like.

"It is actually a new paradigm that, in many ways, is beginning to be seen," he said. "And, what you see is a new economy breaking through what's breaking down: that heavy, industrialized, over-ambitious, over-productive, over-consumptive model, which is actually going to completely destroy our chances of survival in the future. And, what the green economy is, it's an alternative that doesn't do all that."

Pahvan Sukdhev says that the green economy can generate growth. The International Labor Organization estimates that renewable energy could generate up to 20 million new jobs, if it were to represent 30 percent of the worldwide energy output.

Chinese Society Entrepreneurs and Ecology represents 130 businessmen who have embraced the principles of green economy: one builds energy efficient high-rise buildings; another ecology-friendly flooring that use fast-growing bamboo.

The Society's secretary general, Lee Peng, says businessmen in China are starting to change their attitude towards green economy.

"The majority of them is still struggling to be compliant with environmental regulations," said Peng. "But then, at the top of the pyramid, you have a small-but-growing group of entrepreneurs in China who see that greening their business is not just a legal requirement, nor a responsible act to do. It is the only way that they can secure the core competitiveness of their businesses."

Kenyan national Wangari Maathai won the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the Green Belt Movement, an organization that engages in tree-planting activities and environment conservation. She says that the goods and services provided by nature - like clean air, rain or fertile soils - should not be taken for granted. She says her organization, albeit a non-profit, has an economic impact that should be acknowledged.

"In terms of the soil that we have protected; in terms of the biodiversity we have protected by protecting forests; in terms of facilitating rainfall patterns and, therefore, supporting agriculture; this is in terms of millions of U.S. dollars," said Maathai. "I am sure. This, I'm sure, is what we should be doing in the future: paying for the environmental services we get from our environment and paying the people who take care of these services. Eventually, we should have to pay them to do this work for all of us."

Last December in Copenhagen, the international community took a first step towards making society pay for the services provided by nature for free. It is called the initiative for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation, where local population would be paid to protect forests.

Pahvan Sukdhev says that this shows that the world is slowly moving towards a green economy.

"I'm an optimist, and I think if you're a pessimist that's just an excuse for inaction. People are ready [for a green economy], but the problem is, there are vested interests," he said.

Pahvan Sukdhev says that the change called for is in scale similar to the industrial revolution, but with a heightened sense of urgency, because of the threat of climate change. It would require a high political commitment that the world has yet to show.