Development expert: “Green development needs more than green growth”

Green development is about more than just green growth, says Bina Agarwal, an economics professor at Manchester University (Photo: Brandeis University). And hipline the photo credit to the url I had sent you.

“Green growth could be achieved without paying much attention to social inclusion, poverty and inequality,” she said in an interview with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). Green development, on the other hand, “simultaneously requires conserving nature while enhancing the well-being and freedom of the most disadvantaged,” she explained. “Ultimately we want a world that is pro-poor, pro-development and pro-environment.”

Agarwal will speak at the CGIAR Development Dialogues in New York at a discussion on Integrated landscape approaches for agriculture, forestry and other land uses, hosted by CIFOR.

For Agarwal, integrated landscape approaches hold the key to sustainable development. “Planning across ecological rather than administrative landscapes is essential, since nature does not follow man-made administrative boundaries,” she said.

However, she concedes, this will require compromises not only among competing users of land, but also among competing goals—compounded by existing inequalities and power structures “which often leave the most disadvantaged out of the frame.”

Dr. Agarwal spoke with CIFOR ahead of the event; her interview follows.

Q: You are a professor for Economics and Environment. These two elements have not played well together in the past, i.e. economic development has more often than not been achieved at the expense of nature and natural resources. What in your view are the three key thoughts that should be kept in mind during the CGIAR’s Development Dialogues?

A: First, although in the past economic development has often been achieved at the cost of the environment, this is not inevitable. As global awareness of the environmental consequences of past practices has grown, so has the search for solutions which build on the complementarities (rather than the trade-offs) between economic development and conserving nature. This is also true within academia where the field of ecological economics gives centrality to tools of analysis which can guide us towards such solutions.

Second, we need to distinguish between green growth and green development. Green growth could be achieved without paying much attention to social inclusion, poverty and inequality. Green development simultaneously requires conserving nature while enhancing the well-being and freedom of the most disadvantaged. Ultimately we want a world that is pro-poor, pro-development and pro-environment.

Third, we must pay much more attention to institutions of governance that can promote cooperation among communities and nations. How can such institutions be constituted so that they endure and also provide linkages across scales – that is a critical challenge.

Q: The theme of the session you will speak at is ‘Integrated landscape approaches for agriculture, forestry and other land uses.’ What do you think of landscape approaches as a means of managing competing interests in the context of sustainable development and climate change?

A: Integrated landscape approaches will be key to sustainable development. Many agricultural systems in Asia and elsewhere already integrate farms and forests, as in the practice of agro-forestry, or the dependence of smallholder farmers upon forests for green manure, fodder, water, etc. New forms at integration are also emerging, as in agro-ecology. Planning across ecological rather than administrative landscapes is essential, since nature does not follow man-made administrative boundaries.

But to do this will not be easy, since it requires building consensus on priorities among competing uses of land, labor and capital, as well as competing goals. Existing social and economic inequalities create power structures which often leave the most disadvantaged out of the frame.

Q: Forests are cut down at an alarming rate for economic activities. How can their role, especially for carbon storage, be more valued in an economic system that is aimed at maximizing short-term profit?

A: I think there is some room for optimism. FAO estimates of global forest land use change during 1990-2005 show that forest cover has been increasing in Asia (especially in China, India and Vietnam) even while it is declining elsewhere.

In India one significant contributor in my view has been institutional – the shift in 1991 from largely state-managed to substantially community-managed forests, in recognition of the stake that local communities have in forests for daily needs, and allowing them to formulate the rules of protection and extraction. Many such communities have been protecting forests, not for short-term economic gain but from a longer-term stake in the ecosystems services that forests provide.

Where women are more involved in management, the results are found to be even better. I think mainstream economic theory has conceived of human motivation too narrowly as dominated by individual self-interest. Ground experience suggests otherwise. That provides hope.

Q: The face of landscapes is ever changing. What impact do migration and urbanization have on land-use patterns?

A: Migration can take many forms. Traditionally pastoralists and settled communities co-existed and cooperated. But migration from rural to urban areas today creates huge pressures to expand urban infrastructure for housing, public services, water delivery, waste management, education and health facilities, and other needs.

All this places enormous pressures on land for other uses, including agriculture and conservation. Also, the rural poor have to migrate out of distress and end up in slums. Inequalities in land access and use continue to rise.

Indeed, the costs of urbanization are not adequately factored in by those who favor large corporate farms as the most efficient way of feeding ever-expanding cities. We need to have more integrated rural and urban landscapes which allow people a continuum of choices. This would be more sustainable in the long run and also lead to greater life satisfaction among the many.

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