Global, national and subnational ‘champions’ play a crucial role in making the case for change and providing leadership during change processes (Sukhdev et al., 2011). Many of the cases we examined substantiated this, with examples such as South Korea (Case 1), South Africa and Mexico (Case 2) illustrating how inspirational, high-level leadership has played a crucial role in initiating and sustaining ambitious green growth planning processes.
Leaders pursue strategies for a wide range of complex reasons, and in some cases the political benefits are not always obvious. For example, the desire to demonstrate global leadership has been a key motivator for leaders of a number of countries in recent years. Some leaders, notably former President Calderon of Mexico and Lee of South Korea have made climate change and green growth their ‘legacy issue’ investing considerable personal and political commitment to drive progress both domestically and internationally. In other cases leaders may undertake domestic green growth planning processes to influence or align with key economic or political partners in their regions (such as in Colombia and Chile), or to secure a more level playing field for competition. Recession can be a motivator too, with compelling arguments increasingly made that supporting green investment can contribute to restoring economic confidence (Zenghelis, 2012). Green stimulus packages such as in the South Korea and US demonstrate how leaders can use green growth opportunities for temporary economic stimulus (Jacobs, 2012).
Leaders and policy-makers are well aware that economic growth, and the employment it generates, remain the core interest of voters and investors, and therefore that any measure that threatens to constrain growth is unlikely to attract political support. This has been a key barrier to action on climate change, where the dominant discourse has traditionally centered on the economic cost of mitigation, and international negotiations have been largely concerned with how the global ‘burden’ should be distributed (Jacobs, 2012). In this respect making the case that green growth policies enable better growth offers a means for leaders to overcome this negative and politically unattractive framing of the issues (Jacobs, 2012).
Increasing numbers of governments, in both developed and developing countries are integrating green growth objectives into their core development planning processes, recognizing that these strategies can play a significant role in achieving economic development objectives. This trend is illustrated by statements such as the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leader’s Declaration of 2011, which stated: “We are committed to advancing our shared green growth objectives. We can and must address both the region’s economic and environmental challenges by speeding the transition toward a global low-carbon economy in a way that enhances energy security and creates new sources of economic growth and employment” (APEC, 2011).
Green growth is a departure, and a potentially radical one, from the current development paths of most countries. It will not be ‘naturally driven’ by markets, electorates or existing policies and often faces stiff opposition from interest groups. Effective planning for green growth will have to address all the typical barriers normally faced by governance and institutional processes such as election cycles, leadership changes, and entrenched bureaucracy and, as the experiences from Chile, Colombia and Brazil illustrate, ensuring sufficient time and resources are made available to support the planning process.
In the case of climate change mitigation, key barriers are the vested interests of those most likely to be negatively impacted by any energy price increases, including workers and investors in emissions-intensive sectors, and energy consumers (often the poor). Moreover, in any market transition existing capital assets and skills can suffer rapid depreciation, and effective green growth processes must recognize and address this. Jacobs (2012) points out that: “…the political battles over green growth will not take place simply at the level of discourse. It is clear that high carbon and resource-intensive industries will seek to ensure that the concept of green growth does not make intellectual or political headway. But even more vociferously they will oppose the particular environmental policies which are put forward to stimulate it.” Therefore, effective green growth strategies will have to establish political support for a positive economic message while finding solutions for those who will experience losses.
The critical role played by individual leaders in driving the green growth process means that long-term implementation is potentially vulnerable to political transitions and shifting priorities of leadership. This can be seen for example in Colombia’s Low Carbon Growth Strategy process, South Korea’s green growth planning process, the Long Term Mitigation Scenarios (LTMS) in South Africa, MAPS Chile and the Brazilian GHG Mitigation Scenarios (‘IES’ – Implições Econômicas e Sociais) where shifting from a process driven by presidential championing, to one institutionalized into legislation or constitution has proved difficult. Strategies to effectively manage political transitions are therefore essential for the long-term viability of green growth. Processes that survive political changes are likely to be stronger for the spread of leadership, for example, the Chile MAPS project is driven by a full inter-ministerial Steering Committee, and Brazil’s IES is supported by numerous ministries, which can help ensure continuity across leadership transitions in countries that do not experience a total civil service rotation with every new administration.
In South Korea, strong leadership from the President’s office, followed by ministerial representation on the Presidential Committee for Green Growth, sent a strong message throughout the government that green growth planning and implementation was a priority (UNESCAP, 2012b). President Lee (2009) stated: “The challenge for Korea going forward is to recognize that we are entering a new stage in our development that will no longer permit us to conduct ‘business as usual’, without regard to the toll our economic activities are taking on the environment and, indeed, on future generations(…) It is imperative that we fundamentally change our economic strategy“.
In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon played a key role in driving the process of creating a national action plan and legislation on climate change. His strong personal and political commitment to the environment and addressing climate change was reinforced by the experience of natural events, such as flooding in the south of the country that led to public demands for action and increased political sensitivity to the issue.