Director, Policy and Strategy
Green Innovations Inc.
Tel & fax: +61 3 9486 4799
|23rd May 2000||
Paper marked up in HTML format
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 environmental agenda has a broad base in terms of issues
- concern for the environment is embedded in the mainstream culture (both civic and business)
- environmental improvement is continuous over decades
- environmental programs do not get significantly wound back during economic down-turns (or better still they are advanced in ways that are appropriate to that stage of the business cycle)
- changes in government do not significantly set back environmental improvement
- public policy is driven by a vision of a preferred environmental future (especially an ecologically sustainable future)
- the leading sections of the business community are environmentally proactive (or better still sustainability promoting).
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:
- What are these countries and regions?
- What special initiatives have they taken and what special strengths do they have?
- How did these countries / regions manage to achieve ecological take-off?
- Is there anything we can learn from their experience that can be applied elsewhere?
- Do cultural differences make aspects of the experience of countries and regions in a state of ecological take-off irrelevant for certain other countries / regions? Which aspects are they for which countries /regions?
- What are the essential requirements for countries and regions to reach ecological take-off? (that is, requirements that are not culture dependent)
- How can the progress of countries in a state of ecological take-off be accelerated so that they contribute effectively to the achievement of ecological sustainability globally and locally?
- How can we develop and apply effective, locally relevant strategies for getting our country or region to the point of ecological take-off?
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
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
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.)
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