A Chat With: Andrea Bassi on how a green economy can reduce climate change

By Julie Mollins

BOGOR, Indonesia (CIFOR) — Governments in Indonesia and Vietnam are making headway on forging strategies that could establish “green growth” policies to help slow climate change, but more effort is needed throughout Southeast Asia to ensure the region reaches its development goals, according to economist Andrea Bassi.

Bassi, who runs a consultancy firm called KnowLedge Srl is an expert on energy and environmental policy, including green economics, climate change adaptation and mitigation, will participate in a panel discussion on green growth in Southeast Asia at the Forests Asia Summit next week in Jakarta.

Over the past 10 years, Bassi has worked with more than 30 governments and several international organizations evaluating and developing green economy strategies and scenarios. He is also a professor at Stellenbosch University in Stellenbosch, South Africa, and author of “Tackling Complexity: A Systematic Approach for Decision Makers“.

He discussed his work and the upcoming summit during a brief chat:

Q: Why are you attending the Forests Asia Summit?

A: To share my experience in working with green growth policy formulation and assessment using integrated methodologies and models, and to learn from policy makers and other practitioners on their green economy expectations, goals and challenges.

Q: What do you expect to learn or achieve at the summit?

A: I’d like to learn what decision makers in the region think about green growth, especially concerning sustainable consumption and production, in the context of spatial planning. This information is essential to support the adoption of an integrated approach that truly represents the strengths of a green economy and green growth approach.

Q: What is your interest in the topic — green growth in Southeast Asia?

A: I’ve worked with green economy and green growth since 2008 — from the launch of the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Green Economy Initiative — I’ve since worked with more than 20 governments in green growth policy formulation and evaluation. I’ve been involved in several green growth projects in Southeast Asia, ranging from natural resource management — for example, water, with the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) in Vietnam — to infrastructure — for example, roads, with the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in Thailand —and including national and provincial planning — with the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) in Indonesia. I’m particularly interested in the use of indicators and models to inform policy formulation and evaluation.

Q: How could a green economy be implemented in the region?

A: There are several options to be prioritized based on the type of development desired and the unique characteristics of the local context. In general, the two main strategies include (1) the conservation of natural capital, for those sectors heavily relying on the use of natural resources — for example, agriculture and forestry — and to maintain ecosystem services, and (2) the improvement of resource efficiency, for the industrial and services sectors. Both strategies lead to higher resilience and reduced vulnerability, reducing costs and increasing productivity by lowering resource intensity and waste generation.

Q: How would you design a strategy for implementation for a green economy?

A: A green economy strategy needs to be based on the following three elements: (1) the assessment of the investment required to reach stated goals, (2) the avoided costs generated by the implementation of the policy — or investment — and (3) the added benefits resulting from policy implementation. Only when the avoided costs and added benefits are estimated across social, economic and environmental dimensions the true advantages of a green economy strategy emerge. Also, it’s very important to assess both synergies and bottlenecks, in order to retain “win-win” impacts and avoid side effects.

Q: What impact could a green economy have on climate change?

A: A green economy has two impacts on climate: it supports mitigation — by reducing emissions and increasing carbon sinks — and it improves adaptation by improving the state of the environment and reducing the vulnerability to ecological scarcity.

Q: How long would it take to implement? 

A: Certain green economy interventions can lead to positive short-term impacts, while others require a longer time — both for implementation and to have measurable outcomes. On the other hand, implementation is primarily influenced by institutional commitment, and personal will.

Q: Are the signs positive or negative that such a step could be taken?

A: There are several positive signs, both at the international and national level. The green economy work being done by such organizations as WWF, GGGI, UNEP and UNDP, among others, is commendable. New tools are being developed and tested at the national level, with active support from national experts. Further, project assessment frameworks are evolving, including several green economy dimensions. For example, WWF’s infrastructure assessment methodology, applied to the “Road to Dawei” project and the Asian Development Bank’s sustainable transport appraisal rating — STAR.

Governments are also making very encouraging steps, with, among others, the ongoing work on green economy in Indonesia and the green growth action plan developed in Vietnam. On the other hand, these are early steps, and more efforts are needed to reach implementation and measure the effectiveness of green economy strategies in reaching development goals.

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