Urgent research help needed!
Countries / regions
in a state of 'ecological take-off'
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Philip Sutton
Director, Policy and Strategy
Green Innovations Inc.
Tel & fax: +61 3 9486 4799                        
    23rd May 2000                                                                            

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by Philip Sutton.


I am engaged in a number of projects where it would be advantageous to know which countries or regions around the world are near or are actually in a state of "ecological take-off".

I define 'ecological take-off' as a condition where:

The world will not achieve ecological sustainability unless the majority of countries in the world enter a state of ecological take-off.

If it happened to be the case that there was no country or region in the world that was at this point we would just have to develop a hypothetical image of the condition. However I think we are fortunate that some countries and regions are approaching this stage and perhaps some have actually reached ecological take-off (see the table below).

A number of questions suggest themselves. For example:

Some of the countries / regions near or at 'ecological take-off

Key initiatives / strengths

The Netherlands Systematic national plan to reduce pollution to sustainable levels and associated covenants with industries, a range of ecotaxes, and a strong program to promote the application of life-cycle assessment
Denmark Promotion of the renewable energy industry (especially wind and biomass energy), promotion of energy efficiency including district heating and cogeneration, strong ecotax/tax shifting program, organically grown food and clothing mainstream in most supermarkets due to consumer pressure
Costa Rica Reorientating the national economic development strategy around the natural environment (especially rainforests); the only nation without an army
Germany Strong initiatives to promote a closed-cycle economy, and strong targets for pollution reduction (especially water pollution)
Sweden Strong anti-pollution programs, ecotaxes, Natural Step program to green business, nominal policy to close nuclear power stations (as yet unimplemented, little action to foster alternatives)
Norway Introduced ecotaxes, similar programs to other Scandinavian countries
Switzerland A strong program to shift from road to rail transport, carbon dioxide reduction targets with backstop emissions-tax if targets not met, wider ecotax reform about to be introduced.
California Strong environmental protection legislation, promotion of the renewable energy industry (especially wind energy and photovoltaics), promotion of energy efficiency, reform of the power industry, zero-emissions vehicles initiative.
New Zealand Comprehensive environmental management legislation (1991) based on sustainability principles); national government environmental strategy; native forest logging virtually ended and forestry now based on largely sustainable plantation forestry; commitment to stabilising greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 (key role for economic instruments); wide popular support for environmental protection and understanding of the value of NZ being a clean and green economy; growing business awareness and support for progressive environmental positioning.
Pacific north-west of the US (Oregon and Washington State) Early changes (1970s?) were signalled by Oregon's historic role in passing the USA's first bottle bill, promoting land-use planning, and protecting its beaches.  A sustainability-orientated economic realignment was locked in, in the 1990s) due to the national decision to protect the habitat of the Spotted Owl (closing large areas of timber harvesting from native forests).  But now the State Governor , John Kitzhaber, is about to sign an executive order, a policy directive, on sustainability to requiring  the State administration to conduct business in an environmentally sustainable manner.

Iceland is currently under consideration for addition to the list as it apparently is planning to create the world's first hydrogen economy.

The essentials for a self-sustaining 'ecological take-off' might be the combination of:

a recognition of ecological limits

a commitment to transformative change

an entrepreneurial drive for solutions

control over free-rider firms

factors that reduce the commercial risk of going for sustainability

factors that induce 'entrainment'/'lock-in'

resources for creativity, capital availability

the ability to achieve average or above average productivity growth under a green economic regime

etc. etc.

Maybe in the northern European countries these factors come from sources that are not feasible in other countries ie. governments supply the visionary sustainability-promoting entrepreneurialism, businesses are used to working in partnership with government and most expect to have to contribute to the wider social good, politics is more consensual (as can be seen in the effective application of proportional representation).

Perhaps in some Milton Friedmanesque countries these factors could be provided by different players ie. in some regions we might look to sections of the private sector (eg. progressive multinationals, creative local firms and private think tanks) for visionary, sustainability-promoting entrepreneurialism. (This latter option seems to bear some similarities to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's 'Jazz' scenario.)

Immediate help needed.....

Please contact me if you can help me with the following:

views on whether the countries listed in the table warrant being referred to as being near or at a state of ecological take-off

suggestions for other countries or regions to be added to the list

additions or corrections to the key initiatives / strengths listed against each country or region

improvements to the definition of ecological take-off

ideas on what needs to be done to help other countries or regions reach ecological take-off (and related theorising).

Organisations doing work related to this question are:

Resource Renewal Institute in California

Martin Jänicke, Environmental Policy Research Unit of the Free University of Berlin


Philip Sutton

Author:  Philip Sutton
First posted:  1998
Content updated:  20 August 1998
Format updated:  23 May 2000
Feedback & Enquiries:  Philip.Sutton@green-innovations.asn.au

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