Green economy performance of environmental initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean

Ronal Cainza and Simon Lobach


A major outcome of the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), is the international community’s recognition that a green economy is a tool for achieving sustainable development. Countries attending the conference emphasized that any green economy intervention should simultaneously contribute to the following three goals: sustaining economic growth, enhancing social inclusion and maintaining the healthy functioning of the earth’s ecosystems (United Nations Environmental Programme [UNEP] 2011; United Nations 2012). The Green Economy Report produced by UNEP (2011) asserts that the transition towards a green economy contributes to achieving sustainable development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that countries adopted in 2015 speak to these same objectives.

As suggested by Strange and Bayley (2008), assessing progress on sustainability has to identify not only the economic, environmental and social impacts but also the synergies and trade-offs across the three pillars of sustainable development. By definition, a green economy has to address the complex connections and interdependence of these three pillars, with the aim of avoiding the trade-offs that traditional sustainable development policies can imply. The key assumption of the green economy approach is the idea that initiatives that help achieve outcomes in one pillar do not need to lead to trade-offs with other pillar objectives. Consistent with this, we argue that any set of indicators for green economy initiatives must measure and give equal weight to economic growth, social equity and ecosystem protection.

UNEP has been at the forefront of promoting a green economy and it is providing policy advice, technical assistance and capacity building to governments around the world. One initial gap was the absence of a measurement approach. Efforts to introduce metrics to evaluate the transition towards a green economy have recently been initiated. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD; 2011) proposes indicators to monitor progress towards green growth; the Global Green Growth Institute launched in 2019 the Green Growth Index, which measures country performance in four green growth dimensions - efficient and sustainable resource use, natural capital protection, green economic opportunities and social inclusion (Acosta et al., 2019), and PAGE (2017) developed the Green Economy Progress Measurement Framework to help countries evaluate their overall progress towards an Inclusive Green Economy. In 2020, UN-Environment has developed the Inclusive Green Economy Policy Review methodology (UNEP, 2020), which assesses the coherence and effectiveness of existing policies in fostering an Inclusive Green Economy transition.

The scope of most existing measurement frameworks is at the country or subnational level1 and gives little space to comprehensively and simultaneously measure stand-alone initiatives’ contributions to green economy and the SDGs. If the green economy is to be viable and successful, then measurement frameworks need to also identify potential trade-offs and win-win—win options between the three pillars of sustainable development.

This chapter proposes a methodology to fill this gap. Acknowledging that indicators traditionally require a lot of system- and measurement-related work, we develop a system of assessment that is quick and helps policy makers and others assess whether so-called green interventions actually meet the objectives of a green economy. We develop criteria built on existing indicator frameworks and a green performance grading system. These criteria help measuring the social, environmental and economic performance of environmental initiatives, and informing about their contribution to the SDGs. We then test this framework by applying it to four environmental initiatives (located in Latin America and the Caribbean).

The remainder of this chapter is organized as follows: we first describe our proposed methodological framework for assessing the green economy performance of environmental initiatives. Then, we present the four environmental initiatives. Finally, we discuss the major results from our analysis, including enabling conditions and financing as well as main challenges and opportunities.

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