The Green Shoots of the Green Economy

NAIROBI – In just two years, the idea of a “Green Economy,” with its links to sustainable development and poverty eradication, has gone from being an interesting idea to being among the top two issues at the upcoming UN Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20.

Many people may wonder whether the Green Economy is just pleasing jargon or a genuinely new pathway to a low-carbon, resource-efficient, and sustainable twenty-first century. Is it the fundamental departure from the development models of the past that its advocates proclaim, or just another case of the emperor’s new environmental clothes?

Perhaps the answer can be found in some of the extraordinary transitions taking place in the electricity and energy sectors around the world. Many people, for example, scoff at the idea that solar power could be anything but a niche market for enthusiasts or a costly white elephant, over-hyped by environmental do-gooders. In 2002, one private equity fund estimated that annual installations of solar photovoltaic (PV) arrays might reach 1.5 gigawatts (GW) by 2010. In fact, 17.5 GW was installed in 2010, up 130% from 2009. And PV installations are forecast to rise further this year, by perhaps 20.5GW, taking global capacity to around 50 GW – the equivalent of around 15 nuclear reactors.

All of this is not happening only in developed economies like Germany, Spain, and the United States, but in countries like Bangladesh, Brazil, China, India, Mexico, and Morocco. Indeed, according to an estimate by IMS Market Research, more than 30 countries will be part of this emerging solar revolution by 2015.