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DESA Guidebook Compares Green Economy, Green Growth and Low-Carbon Development

September 2012: The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) has published a guidebook exploring the history and definitions of three concepts, namely green economy, green growth and low-carbon development. This Guidebook is the first in a series.

The publication notes that while each of the three concepts emerged from different sources, the terms are now being used interchangeably in approaches to integrate environment and development in economic decision making, policy and planning.

The term "green economy" came into common use in 2008, when the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) promoted “green stimulus packages” to address the financial crisis and launched its Green Economy Initiative. In 2010, the UN General Assembly (UNGA) chose "green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication" as one of two themes for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD, or Rio+20), which heightened international attention on it and related concepts.

The green growth concept emerged in the Asia and Pacific Region when governments at the Fifth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development agreed to pursue a green growth path to harmonize economic growth and environmental sustainability. The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) then developed a regional initiative recognizing green growth as a strategy for achieving sustainable development and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Similar to green economy, green growth gained traction during the financial crisis. The Republic of Korea has promoted the concept by adopting a low-carbon green growth vision and establishing the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI).

Low-carbon development originated in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and is also referred to as "low-emission development strategies" (LEDS). LEDS includes low-emission or climate-resilient economic growth, and has gained increased attention as an alternative to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets in developing countries.

According to the Guidebook, all three approaches generally aim to achieve sustainable development, reconcile economic and environment considerations and include social dimensions. However, while "green economy" often includes reference to ecological limits or planetary boundaries, "green growth" does not. [Publication: A Guidebook to the Green Economy: Issue 1: Green Economy, Green Growth, and Low-Carbon Development - history, definitions and a guide to recent publications]