Aiming for the Green Path: The Transition to the Green Economy International Conference

September 21, 2016 | By Thor Morante Brigneti

Held in Bratislava on September 6 and 7, 2016, the international conference Transition to the Green Economy (T2gE) focused on shaping the role of civil society in the transition.

The event, organised under the Slovak Presidency of the Council of the EU by the Ministry of Environment of Slovakia, provided an opportunity for stakeholders from governments, businesses, financial institutions, research institutes, academia and civil society to engage in an informed discussion on critical issues connected to the European and global transition to a green economy. “With this conference, we want to create a space for open discussion and a wide exchange of views and experiences on how to initiate a new era of economic transformation to one that respects the environment and social aspects of development”, said Environment Minister László Sólymos.

With over 500 participants from 32 countries, ideas were exchanged in the context of sessions on policy, research and knowledge, and civil society actions, with constant reference to financing and investment criteria that take into account what needs to be achieved in order to enable markets to become more resource efficient while achieving growth.

The REC, strongly committed through its mandate to support the transition towards a low-carbon and circular economy, and with its extensive expertise and experience in the transition to green economies, was directly involved in the Civil Society Actions segment, which dealt with how civil society groups can cooperate with and relate to other stakeholders. Such groups have a crucial role to play in achieving an efficient transition by ensuring wider public understanding through education and information, while advocating for stakeholder engagement and societal buy-in.

Other concepts presented by the REC were the need to shape strong alliances with businesses; explore and pilot social and technological innovation potential; and enhance connectivity with the policy-making arena. Society can also play a crucial watchdoggin role, ensuring social debate and public participation in order to better boost and trigger policy responses.

The labour union concept

One point of extended debate on the transition towards a green economy will have to deal with the risks faced by some industrial sectors. Labour unions will therefore play an important role in terms of capacities for the transition to a green economy. A coalition of civil society groups with labour unions is critical in order to address these risks, achieve cooperation, and identify solutions.

Nevertheless, as Maroš Šefčovič, vice president of the EU Commission in charge of the Energy Union, stated during the first plenary session, “This transformation is still disruptive, not in the sense of slowing down our economic output but in the sense of transforming, innovating and smartening it. In fact, some 9 million Europeans already work in the low-carbon energy industry and we expect this number to double by 2030. Other eco-industries are important job motors, too, such as waste and wastewater management and other activities linked to the protection of the environment. So this transition to a low-carbon and greener economy can represent a goldmine for jobs and growth.”

According to Pier Vellinga, professor in climate change and water safety at the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, “The transition is not easy; one of the biggest barriers is we have a policy and legal framework wired to an older economic model (…) This requires systematic change, not just for chemicals, agriculture, energy or water: it includes everything.”

The outcomes of the conference are expected to be presented at a meeting of the environment ministers of OECD member countries, as well as at a meeting of the Environment Council. Given our extensive expertise and recognised leadership in this field, the REC is committed to maintaining its involvement in the transition to a green economy.