Edward B. Barbier


On his book A Global Green New Deal: Rethinking the Economic Recovery

Cover Interview of September 05, 2010

The wide angle

This book is a substantial revision and expansion of my influential February 2009 report for the UN Environment Programme.

In October 2008, the global economy was reeling from a spate of shocks and crises—food, fuel and finance.  It was on the verge of plunging into the worst global recession, the likes of which the world had not seen since the 1930s.  The governments of the 20 largest economies of the world, the Group of 20 (G20), were willing to commit significant fiscal stimulus packages—which over the next year totaled to more than $3 trillion—towards economic recovery.

But the question begged to be asked: Would the post-recovery global economy be sustainable, or would it be prone to the very economic and environmental risks and weaknesses that had led to this latest recession?

This question is even more critical today, given our stalled and unstable world economy: Do we want the recovery simply to revive the existing “brown” world economy and its business-as-usual growth, or do we want to reorient the global recovery towards a “greener” economy that will allow it to avoid future economic and environmental pitfalls?

The GGND makes the case for the latter approach.  The multiple economic and environmental crises threatening the world economy today demand the same kind of initiative that was shown by Roosevelt’s New Deal in the 1930s in the United States—but at the global scale and embracing a wider vision.

The main aim of A Global Green New Deal is to articulate this vision as well as the mixture of policy actions for creating a more sustainable recovery and world economy.  The book is divided into four parts.

Part 1 puts forward the case why a GGND is essential to the sustainability of the global economy.  Simply revitalizing the world economy today will do little to address the imminent threats posed by climate change, energy insecurity, growing freshwater scarcity, deteriorating ecosystems and, above all, worsening global poverty.  On the other hand, if combating these threats is seen as the main objective of a global economic recovery, then we can begin formulating policies that can produce a more lasting and equitable recovery.

Parts 2 and 3 provide an overview of the key national and global policies, respectively, that are necessary for a GGND.  This recommends an expenditure of at least 1% global GDP on green initiatives over the next several years.  G20 countries should prioritize energy efficiency and clean energy investments, and developing countries should aim to improve agricultural productivity, freshwater management and sanitation.  But increased public and private investment cannot do this alone.  Such investments should be accompanied by a swath of domestic and international policies—from removing perverse agricultural, fishing and energy subsidies to taxing or trading carbon emissions, instigating tax credits for low-pollution cars and other clean-energy innovations, financing the transfer of green technologies to developing countries and creating a global carbon market through climate change negotiations.

Part 4 looks to the future, and discusses the wider implications for restructuring the world economy towards “greener” development.  Important additional issues are explored, such as how green policies can help address structural imbalances in the world economy by reducing chronic deficits, inflation and debt.  It is also argued that one of the advantages of a GGND is that it will help economies worldwide develop and enhance an environmental tax base for sustaining a healthy and efficient green economy of the future.  Finally, the relationship between innovation policies, pricing and regulatory reform and long-term development of clean energy sectors is examined.