October 28, 2011
Guest post by Kaj Embrén, Sustainable Development export and blogger, Stockholm, Sweden.
Revolution and recession. For good reason, these two words have dominated headlines over the past year. Yet talk of such political and financial tumult has resulted in the neglect of a third issue, which is both critical and germane: sustainability.
In every crisis there is opportunity, and in my opinion, only through sustainable models can upheaval be turned into enduring opportunity.
Take the example of Libya: a nascent nation that has rid itself of Gaddafi, which now must attempt to overhaul his legacy of crumbling infrastructure, poor education and high unemployment, whilst nurturing a lasting peace. This second revolution, if successful, will certainly be more prosaic and protracted than the first. If it fails, however, the ensuing reality could possibly prove more fraught than life under the former tyrant.
To succeed, any newly elected Libyan leaders must utilize their country’s natural resources (both finite and renewable) and secure the future well being of their citizens. For inspiration, I suggest they look to Norway and read the story in The Financial Times.
Such a comparison may at first seem preposterous, like, say, equating deserts to fjords. But if one looks closer, it is clear that these apparently disparate nations share some essential features in common. Most importantly, both have relatively small populations (of around 5 million people) and abundant oil and gas reserves.
Resources alone do not guarantee national prosperity. Recent history is littered with instances of countries, from D.R.Congo to Venezuela, that fall victim to the so-called Paradox of Plenty phenomenon, where vast resources prove more of a curse than a blessing. Then, there is the very real threat that a ruling elite can simply embezzle any wealth, as was the case in Gaddafi’s reign.
The Norwegian model, in stark contrast, is egalitarian and sustainable. Since 1996, the Norwegian government has invested over $240 billion of its oil revenues into social welfare initiatives, on the one hand, and renewable energy projects, such as hydro and wind power, one the other. In doing so, it has comprehensively and responsibly insured it’s citizens’ futures.
In addition, Libya has one infinite advantage: the Saharan sun. Currently untapped, the lucrative potential for the solar power generated could supply much of Europe as well as the domestic market.
Sustainability breeds stability, and if the overthrow of Gaddafi is not just to be the latest in an perennial succession of coups, let’s hope Libya can emulate the achievements of its northern counterpart.
Turning to recession, sustainable development can help remedy the anemic economies of the West. Investing in the Low Carbon Economy, which is predicted to be worth over $500 billion by 2050, will provide some much needed invigoration to countries that are facing years of sluggish growth and unprecedented levels of unemployment.
As with Libya, sustainability offers the West opportunity; it is a responsible means to attain an economically desirable end. To quote Bill Clinton, in a recent interview with The Financial Times:
“For $1bn invested in a new coal plant, you get fewer than 900 jobs, for solar you get 1,900 jobs, for wind turbines 3,300 jobs and [for] retrofitting buildings, 7,000-8,000 jobs. These kinds of projects represent a process of natural co-operation between the private and public sectors. I just say, “Here are the jobs, here is the investment. Are you really against it?”
Sustainable development must be viewed as a viable financial alternative to escape recession, rather than a simply ethically motivated luxury to be shelved whenever a state’s disposable income dries up.
I hope to have, albeit briefly, made the case for sustainable solutions, which can offer much needed stability as well as future-proof models for growth. In the era of financial uncertainty and political upheaval, what more could you want?
Kaj Embrén, Sustainable Development export and blogger, Stockholm, Sweden.