At last year's Rio+20 sustainable development conference, Green Economy emerged as one of the two main issues, alongside strengthening the institutional framework for sustainable development. But how can we translate what has been referred to as the ‘rather abstract’ concept of Green Economy into concrete development cooperation activities and results? Achim Halpaap of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) recently delivered the ‘Introduction To An Inclusive Green Economy’ training, and shares his ideas. 

“An interesting thing to note about recent European Commission, European Parliament and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) definitions of Green Economy is that they do not start with, but end with the environment,” said Chris Vanden Bilcke, Head of the Brussels UNEP office last week. “Growth is promoted, but within the limits of the planets ecosystems and boundaries.”*

“We’re all talking the same language,” he said, “and this allows us to dialogue better about Green Economy with partner countries.” 

Why Do We Need Green Economy? members from EuropeAid, the Brussels office of the United Nations Environmental Programme, and UNITAR in Geneva offer their opinions 




Equally important is ensuring that development practitioners understand how they can incorporate Green Economy principles and considerations into their everyday work. 

A recent one-day training on Green Economy in Brussels focused on how to achieve this. It brought together some 25 key development practitioners from the European Commission (EC). 

The training was delivered by the EC in collaboration with UNITAR, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Labor Organization (ILO)

Moderator Achim Halpaap, Head of the Environment Unit at UNITAR, has spent the last twenty years working in environmental research, capacity development and policy-making. Following are excerpts from an interview that he gave to, where he considers challenges and solutions to successfully incorporate Green Economy practice in development programming:

The Current Situation

“At the UN level, we are working mainly with governments to help them in their strategic planning to advance the Green Economy; technical training and capacity development is an important part of this. We are partnering with UNEP, ILO and UNIDO through a global Partnership on Action on the Green Economy (PAGE), but equally important, bilateral cooperation agencies are increasingly becoming engaged, and the EC is a major player in the field.

“In a training setting, we encourage participants to think through what the Green Economy means in practice for policy planning or at project level, whether it is in a particular sector, thematic area or regional programme.

“Our ultimate objective is that participants will have learned what difference the Green Economy concept will make in his or her work.



An Example of Green Economy Practice

“For instance, let’s say someone is involved in a development project advancing the transport sector. In the old days, it would have meant maybe building another motorway. But now we can look at alternatives – how can we introduce public transport? How can we create incentive systems and change investment flows to have low carbon transport systems? These questions are new drivers that shape our development cooperation.

“Green Economy principles involve valuing natural capital, social inclusion as well as economic sustainability. The challenging question for development cooperation practitioners is, ‘How can I include these considerations in whatever I am doing?’

“The Green Economy may affect anything from macroeconomic policy reform to projects at the local level which create new green jobs while advancing social development and environmental sustainability. 


“One main message is that the Green Economy idea is not going to work unless developing countries take full ownership. 

“In countries, it is not just the Minister of the Environment that is concerned, it is the Minister of Planning, of Finance, sectoral ministries, etc. Dialogues also have to happen with the private sector, which needs incentives to innovate and develop new green products and services. We also have to look at the international trade systems and explore how to enhance the share of developing countries in the growing global trade of environmental services.

‘We, in the development cooperation sector, can only provide catalysing support to countries. This means that we should not be driving the process, because if donors are the owners of green growth strategies, there is very little chance that they will be integrated into national planning processes. The key is to work with our partners in government and other key stakeholder groups in a way that they have full ownership of the concept and process.

“We are seeing that many countries are now requesting support for advancing the Green Economy. We are ready, whether it is the UN or bilateral development cooperation, to provide our services to enable governments, together with the private sector and NGOs, to enact the necessary policy reform. 

“Ultimately, we need to think through how we can encourage governments to fundamentally reform their economies at the macroeconomic level: How to create the right incentives for innovation and investment? How to change approaches that maintain the status quo of carbon intensive development? It is about transforming the economy. That is a major task that requires awareness-raising, it requires transfer of knowledge, and it requires skills development - so the challenge is tremendous.


“The 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness says donors should use country systems and recognise a country’s national strategy. If countries develop their own green growth strategies then, at the national level, multilateral and bilateral donors can ask how we, collectively as development partners, can support these national processes.

“So we need to think about the division of responsibilities of the various development partners to support country-driven strategies. Multilateral development partners, such as the UN, may be good at facilitating policy dialogue, but when it comes to investment projects, this is where the bilateral partners, development banks and the private sector have the comparative advantage.

“In the past, environment and economy were seen as opposing. What we really have to look at now is how we can integrate environmental considerations fully into economic and financial planning, so that environment is seen as a positive driving force for economic growth and development, rather than being associated with the negative message of increasing costs. Hopefully, this turnaround can happen quickly enough to get our ecological trends in a better direction.”

The next Green Economy training will take place in Brussels on September 27th.

Additional resources are available in the Public Group on Environment, Climate Change and Green Economy:

•Access the UNEP Green Economy Report 

•Watch this video showing a Green Economy success story in Kenya presented by co-trainer Moustapha Kamal Gueye, ILO 

•Learn about the interlinkages of macro, meso and mircrolevel action to advance the Green Economy in this video from Shrashtant Patara, Development Alternatives, India

* The definitions referred to can be found in clause 56of the Rio+20 outcome paper; the EC’s recent Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, ‘A Decent Life for All’; and the UNEP Green Economy website .

This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Laura Giappichelli, Nadia Lamhandaz, Achim Halpaap and James Morris with support from the Coordination Team.


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DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.


Show previous comments

Indeed, congratulations for the striking formulas which are displayed in the video above.

I would also say that we need a greener economy. Planet earth is a small boat in a big universe…

Please tell us why you need Green Economy by commenting on this article!

"We Need Green Economy because Biodiversity Protection is our Life Insurance". Double thumbs up to Thierry Lucas from UNEP for this.

Indeed, congratulations for the striking formulas which are displayed in the video above.

I would also say that we need a greener economy. Planet earth is a small boat in a big universe…

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