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Sustainable Development & Green Economy: The Planet’s Future or Greening Indigenous Communities Into Oblivion?

In the effort to reach a truly sustainable future it is clear that a lot still needs be done. On the face of it, ­the green economy concept seems to be an efficient solution to reduce global warming and achieve development sustainably. However, it is not without problems. One such major problem is that developing countries do not always have the necessary technology and priorities when it comes to transitioning to a green economy. Their priorities involve providing citizens with access to basic needs such as food, water and employment.

Developed countries on the other hand, have the necessary funds and technologies to shift the focus of their economy. These countries also have a different set of priorities such as reaching new markets, developing new technologies, green products and services.

The only way the transition to a green economy can be successful for all countries is if this transition process is done equally. For this, developed countries need to share their advanced knowledge and technology so that developing countries will have equal opportunities to develop and conquer new markets. This would also have the effect of encouraging more countries to take up green economy initiatives by reassuring emerging countries that they will not be jeopardized or left behind.

Globally, countries view the green economy concept as a positive step towards sustainable development, but since the RIO 2012 summit indigenous groups have been protesting against it. Transitioning to a green economy involves changing key economic sectors such as the energy or transportation sector which can lead to drastic changes in local environments for indigenous populations as a result of the construction of a dam or new roads, for example. There is a danger that in the excitement and rush to implement green economy policies at national and international levels, local governments and policy will be forgotten. Many people, including indigenous groups all over the world, claim that for green economy to be a true solution to climate change it must work at all levels, including the local.

Some projects are trying to do this, proving that the green economy can bring advantages and new sources of income for indigenous tribes at a local level through eco-tourism and handicraft. But for green economy to be accepted by such groups, and be successful, it is vital that indigenous tribes are consulted and informed of the changes and benefits they can expect before a local or regional green economy project is implemented.

It is only by doing this success that can be achieved on a local indigenous level, and it is only by gaining success on a local level that green economy will ever truly help change our world’s economy and its future. Only when it is financially more viable for people in developing countries to embrace green economy initiatives such as ecotourism rather than logging, and for countries to stop the over exploitation of natural resources in favor of sustainable, and internationally equitable development, will we see true global environmental change for the better.

Despite the many issues with their implementation, there are no doubts that the fundamental concepts of sustainable development and green economy are positive examples to follow and provide goals to aim for, so long as they are applied appropriately and with great consideration. The greater danger would be if we did nothing at all. As chief Raoni of the indigenous Kayapó tribe in Brazil once said: “If man continues to destroy the earth, these winds will return with even more force … not once … but many times … sooner or later. These winds will destroy us all. We all breathe one only air, we all drink one only water, we all live on one only earth. We must all protect it.” (Raoni, 2000)

*This Article is adapted from my master’s thesis: ‘Sustainable Development & Green Economy: the planet’s future or greening indigenous communities into oblivion?’ which was completed as part of the Master’s Curriculum at the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy in Erfurt, Germany.

*Cover image ‘Kayapó warriors’ by International Rivers


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