Mainstreaming Green Growth: Venice, the ideal place to wade through the issues

Save our socks!
Save our socks!

Today’s post is by Ryan Parmenter, Policy Analyst in the OECD Environment Directorate’s Green Growth and Global Relations Division

Ever plodded through flood waters to get to a conference? In late January, the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP) held their 3rd annual conference in Venice, Italy at the impressive Ca’ Foscari University. More than 200 experts from universities, governments and agencies converged to discuss the role that fiscal policies can play in greening growth. With the streets filling rapidly with water, nature (influenced by a changing climate) provided extra motivation to act immediately on this issue as participants flocked to indoor heaters and radiators to dry out their drenched shoes and socks.

Using an innovative format, we discussed the findings of over 50 peer-reviewed papers. This ensured that the conference subject was covered from a variety of angles. I personally attended sessions that ranged from considering how to use carbon taxation revenues to address pension deficits, to evaluating an Italian car scrapping programme.

I was struck by one theme that cut across nearly all of the discussions: the ongoing problem of mainstreaming green growth. Mainstreaming needs to involve people from the organisations and ministries that make decisions on a wide range of policies and programmes. To be truly effective at addressing the complexity and scale required for greening growth, engagement is required with more than just those who work strictly on environmental matters.

Almost all of the discussions I attended noted some element of concern about whether the right people were in the room. There were repeated calls from panellists, moderators and participants regarding the need to address the social implications of greening growth as well as increased engagement with central banks and finance ministries. On a broader level, it was noted that success requires a collective effort and international co-operation in order to address the green growth concerns that so easily expand across borders.

Related to mainstreaming, there were two stand out moments:

In a parallel session on Climate Change and the Green Economy Transition, Erika Jorgensen from the World Bank pointed out that Environment Ministries do not by themselves have the authority or funding required to effectively address green growth. She extended the point to say that any national priority cannot be handled by a single government ministry. This was a direct and succinct assessment of the mainstreaming problem and the reality facing green growth issues.

In another moment, during a high-level panel discussion on Complementary Structural Policies for Effective Fiscal Reform, Simon Upton (OECD Director of Environment) requested a show of hands to determine if anyone in the room represented social ministries (e.g., health or labour). Although no official count was provided, it was evident that only one or two of the 200 people in attendance raised their hands. This was a very effective illustration of the often narrow attention that green growth issues can receive.

Based on the prevalence of this challenge at the conference, it would seem that the very well-worn problem of “silos” is still relevant for green growth and requires attention. To its credit, the OECD continues to do its part related to mainstreaming. In total, 13 OECD experts participated in the event representing the Economics Department (ECO), the Centre for Tax Policy and Administration (CTP), the Trade and Agricultural Directorate (TAD) and the Environment Directorate (ENV). In addition, the OECD presented its forthcoming study with the International Energy Agency, International Transport Forum and Nuclear Energy Agency on “Aligning Policies for the Transition to a Low-Carbon Economy”. This project looks to identify the frictions and unintended consequences of policies in areas such as investment, finance, energy, taxation and innovation that may be working against climate policy. In other words, such a project is trying to involve ministers and parts of governments not typically involved in climate policy discussions. This is just one of the ways in which the OECD is trying to develop a broader, systems approach to inform green growth policy assessment and development.

So, apart from mainstreaming (and a fair amount of “urban-streaming” in the streets and overflowing canals outside), nature’s wicked sense of timing meant this green growth conference had a real a sense of urgency. With the city of Venice flooding during the second day our soggy socks were very effective in reminding us about the real world changes that are occurring and the need for continued action from all ministries, academia and other key players to work on going green.

Useful links

OECD work on green growth

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