Green stimulus – fine words, little action

by | Apr 2, 2009

I have long thought that we’ll live to regret our failure to use the current crisis to nudge the global economy onto a greener trajectory. A WWF/E3G report, published today, heightens this fear.

By weighting elements of national stimulus packages, it offers a quick and dirty estimate of how green each one is. The answer is ‘not very’ with the UK’s risible effort one of the worst offenders.

The share of ‘climate friendly’ stimulus is small, researcher find, and it’s more than offset by investment in roads (including one to Manchester airport) and fossil fuel R&D (yes – read that and weep).

You can quibble with the analysis. Investment in nuclear is not included on the green side of the ledger – which seems unfair on the French, who have low per capita emissions relative to GDP and expect additional nuclear investment to push them lower. But the scoring is transparent and easy for others to replicate with different weightings.

And there’s a much bigger point: why is it up to a couple of NGOs to do this work? By now, the G20 should have set up standardised and sophisticated systems for monitoring the net carbon impact of each country’s stimulus package.

That they haven’t shows how confused and fragmented our thinking remains about the interlocking crises the world faces.

Disclosure: I recently agreed to act as an adviser to E3G in the run up to Copenhagen, but have had no involvement in any aspect of this report.


  • David Steven is a senior fellow at New York University, where he founded the Global Partnership to End Violence against Children and the Pathfinders for Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies, a multi-stakeholder partnership to deliver the SDG targets for preventing all forms of violence, strengthening governance, and promoting justice and inclusion. He was lead author for the ministerial Task Force on Justice for All and senior external adviser for the UN-World Bank flagship study on prevention, Pathways for Peace. He is a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and co-author of The Risk Pivot: Great Powers, International Security, and the Energy Revolution (Brookings Institution Press, 2014). In 2001, he helped develop and launch the UK’s network of climate diplomats. David lives in and works from Pisa, Italy.

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