The world’s political, financial and ecological systems are under ever-increasing pressure. Within the work of the Swedish government’s 2012/2013 ʻfuture commission’, a research team was asked to come up with non-regret suggestions on how governments can tackle these challenges. For Swedish-speaking readers, a governmental sub-future-commission-report on green economy is also published "På väg mot en grönare framtid - möjligheter och utmaningar".
The UN definition and the OECD definition of a socially inclusive green economy were the starting point for the research team’s report, which can be read as a blueprint on how to build ecological, social and economic resilience to promote sustainable human welfare, i.e. a "green economy". The governmental commission was afterwards (in a Swedish newspaper article) criticized by some of its own invited commissioners for not paying enough attention to proposed non-regret suggestions in the final report. The seven most important policy steps for green-economy candidate countries, according to the research-report, are:
Continual investment in a just transition. Investments could be considered a prudent insurance policy against any negative fallout from future ecological, economic and social shocks. Such investments not only offer opportunities to bolster the resilience of society, but they also give countries the opportunity to prosper when the rest of the world demands new technologies generated by green policies.
Specific investment in: natural capital; clean, renewable-driven, real capital and last but not least, human and social capital to strengthen the overall national balance sheet, especially in times of global stagnation and instability. To make the transition just, and to get democratic support for the transition, investments in social-floor welfare systems will also be necessary.
The adoption of pro-active policies to ensure the green economic transition takes off now. Being proactive might increase short-term expenditure and involve trade-offs. But, a wait-and-see approach - while cheaper in the short term - is probably more expensive further down the road, when relative prices have changed and all other countries want to move out of their unsustainable patterns at the same time. Lagging behind on the green transition not only forces countries to adjust to external events, but it will be under conditions not of their making. Goods, services and exportable technologies which carry the sustainability stamp will enhance a country’s international image as a sustainable role model.
Make use of green economic policies to promote the development of a sustainable energy system (i.e. one based on renewable energy). This increases energy security and contributes to rural economic development, as renewable energy originates from rural ecosystems. As an important part of any energy system transition, green economic policy instruments could be particularly helpful in unleashing the untapped supply of 'negawatts' (energy savings), especially in buildings used for housing and services.
Finance ministries should be directly accountable for ensuring that green economic targets are pursued as vigorously as any other headline economic indicator. The use of compulsory green procurement policies will provide a strong demand for green technologies and services. It is important to introduce a green tax shift, although it is crucial that such a shift is fair.
Securing the bottom-up involvement of the wider society in the transition. The business community, social partners, interest groups and civil society must be part of the transition process. Skillful communication of the necessity and benefits of (reaching) long-term targets is essential to build solid democratic support for a transition, without hiding its challenges.
How about real world politics - does anyone seem to actually go in this desired direction? Well, "New-Deal"-like-investment-plans are more and more discussed as parts of the solution to the economic crises in many countries and regions, but to pass the sustainability test, these investment plans have to be "Socially Inclusive New Green Deals". In the "Beyond-GDP"-discussions on how to better measure welfare, both balance sheets and especially natural capital and social capital are discussed. The upcoming UN sustainability goals are examples of initiatives which could be political flagships, if the Ministries of Finance were made accountable of reaching such targets. The UN initiated project "New Climate Economy", which has also been called "The benefit of (climate-policy) action" might change how climate policies are discussed.
There is plenty of research describing the challenges facing us. There is research about policies which could tackle these challenges. There are also more and more examples of political papers preparing for possible upcoming policies. The trick, and the political assignment, however, is to tackle these issues not separately but systemically. The advantage (and nature) of non-regret policies are that they will work out in any possible future outcome. So let us go tackle our challenges systematically, holistically and wholeheartedly!