The five Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland) are often considered at the forefront of adopting “green economic” policies – those that aim for sustainable development without degrading the environment. Through various initiatives, their governments have taken steps to reduce carbon emissions and transition to renewable energy while creating new jobs and stimulating the economy.
Representatives from the Nordic countries, including Swedish Ambassador Karin Olofsdotter, will discuss innovative policy approaches to sustainability during an event Friday sponsored by the Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs and the Miami-Florida Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence.
We spoke with Norwegian Ambassador Kåre R. Aas about what the green economy is all about and how the U.S. could learn from the Nordic model.
We hear a lot in the news about the so-called “green economy” but it’s not always clear what that means. How would you define it in its simplest terms?
The green economy builds on what we call “green competitiveness” – creating jobs and growth, while reducing emissions. This is how industries and markets should work. The other side of this is to have a “circular economy” – not just producing new things, but reusing and recycling more. A circular economy creates major business opportunities with lower costs and better efficiency, by creating new products from old.
Why is it so important in the world today?
Today’s use of resources and materials is not sustainable in the long run. Climate change is accelerating with potentially devastating impacts for resources and livelihoods; air and sea pollution is increasing; and the world’s population is growing. We can’t expect to have continued growth, peace and prosperity in the face of rapid and drastic climate change. Acknowledging these realities is what forms the basis for the Paris agreement, combined with the fact that this problem can be solved. Most of these solutions have to be developed by industry and promoted by policymakers.
How does this relate to jobs?
Markets are changing as more and more countries are introducing more ambitious climate policies. To be competitive in many of today’s markets, and even more of tomorrow’s markets, you need to deliver climate-friendly solutions. That means new business opportunities and new jobs. Companies that offer clean products or services will have a competitive advantage. I think that those who are ahead will be the winners when new regulations and requirements are implemented.
Beyond the environment, is there a larger connection to social justice and human rights?
Absolutely. Climate change will be hitting the poor hardest. Many of the consequences of climate change, such as sea level rise, increased drought and flooding, and more extreme weather, will have larger impacts on the poor. In vulnerable regions, this can increase tension and conflict, and lead to migrations. Those who have means and resources can to some extent prepare and protect themselves, whereas the poor lack that capacity. So preventing dangerous climate change is therefore also a social issue, in addition to being a security issue.
What has Norway done to promote a green economic model?
In Norway, there is broad agreement on climate policy and our long term targets, even under changing governments. This gives predictability for business and industry – they know that climate policy is here to stay, basically forever. Legally binding targets for emission reductions and strong environmental legislation have been in place for a long time, as have economic incentives for a green economy. Norway introduced carbon pricing in 1991. Putting a price on emissions – making the polluter pay – puts a premium on clean alternatives. We are also increasing investments in innovation and technology development.
How can other nations transition to a green economy? What are some of the steps?
Our experience shows a science-based approach is best. Getting the data and analysis on what is possible. Furthermore, thinking about how you can build on existing strengths. In Norway, we have advanced metal and smelting industries, and a world-leading oil and gas industry. Some of these industries are now looking at how they can use their existing expertise to develop new climate solutions. For instance, Statoil, which has world-renowned expertise in deep water offshore drilling, is developing deep water offshore wind solutions. They have won a contract for a wind farm off the coast of New York.
A third element is to make sure you know what the whole range of potential benefits are. Many climate measures have significant local benefits in terms of reduced air pollution, better transportation and better housing. We need to look at the whole picture.
Also, cooperation between industry leaders, trade unions and government is critical in discussing solutions and providing input to policy making. Building ownership among different stakeholders helps build predictability, too.
What are some of the challenges to pursuing a green economy?
Transitions are always challenging because you have to change how you traditionally do things. Some groups feel that they are losing out, or they don’t see that they will benefit. These concerns must be taken seriously but not be allowed to stand in the way of finding opportunities. Another challenge is stepping up innovation fast enough. International cooperation regarding innovation and technology development is important. Norway participates in major European programs, which is a great help.
Why would anyone oppose a green economy?
Some may be skeptical because they don’t see immediate benefits or because old business models don’t work anymore. But lack of communication, lack of involvement and lack of knowledge could also stand in the way.
How can the public – in particular young people – get involved?
Public support is important and people can get involved in many ways – through political engagement, local organizations and local community development. Young people are the climate innovators of tomorrow and will play a crucial role in taking the green economy to the next level.
What can we expect to see next in terms of worldwide progress toward a green economy model?
I think the transportation sector will look completely different 10 to 15 years from now.
In Norway, about half of all new cars sold are either electric or hybrid. The first electric buses are now operating in Oslo, and our old diesel ferries are being replaced by electric ferries. By 2025, the national target is that all new cars should be zero emission. In addition to Norway, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the Netherlands, India and China have set targets for phasing out fossil-fueled vehicles. Many countries have official targets for electric car sales – Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Portugal, Korea and Spain – driving those markets in the same direction. The development of driver-less vehicles – also being tested in Norway – is another major driver of change.
The Nordic Green Economy: Exploring Innovative Policy Approaches to Sustainability will be held at 2 p.m. on Friday in GC 355. The event is part of the Ruth K. and Shepard Broad Distinguished Lecture Series and is co-sponsored by the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy, the European and Eurasian Studies Program, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce Florida Chapter.