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Choose Between Prosperity and Sustainability: Both?


By Li Yong

We all know that the world must urgently deal with climate change. This is a very real and growing threat to all of us: a global problem that calls for a global solution. Can we solve this problem, while at the same time securing the inalienable right of millions of people for the sustained and inclusive economic growth that is needed to lift them out of poverty? Can we improve their living standards while minimizing the negative consequences for the environment?

The answer to these questions is yes -- because smart policies and technological solutions demonstrate that, by greening economic growth, we can create prosperity and wealth, while also safeguarding our environment and our climate.

Today, industry accounts for more than a third of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and will continue to drive growth of global energy demand over the coming decades, particularly in developing and emerging economies. At the same time, structural change through industrialization will remain the main driver of poverty reduction and wealth creation in the post-2015 world.

Thus, the main challenge remains to make economic growth and development more inclusive and sustainable.

Throughout our history, industrialization has been the primary driver of economic growth and development whether we look at the development processes in Europe, the United States, Japan, or in the many fast-growing economies in Asia, Africa and Latin America that achieved rapid growth in more recent times. It was industrial development in these countries that generated wealth and shaped their success. In my view, industry provides greater opportunities for value addition, productivity, capital accumulation, economies of scale and technological progress than any other economic sector.

However, we need to remember that any progress on poverty eradication will be short-lived if we do not succeed in achieving economic growth within an environmentally sustainable framework. We cannot deny that our industries leave a significant global environmental footprint. Indeed, there is no country in the world that is not struggling with the issues of waste management, water purification and greenhouse gas emissions reduction – it remains a major learning and moral process for all of us.

We therefore need to realize that we have no alternative but to rapidly reform our industrial processes toward sustainability. We must promote energy efficiency and renewable sources of energy more effectively. We must reduce our carbon footprints. We need to also work on the constructive inclusion of women and youth – through their economic empowerment and entrepreneurship development -- in order to address inequalities and unlock the full potential of countries and societies to innovate and motivate for solutions. We must use our scarce resources more efficiently and effectively. And lastly, we must also advance our cleaner production abilities.

But let me reassure you, we do not need to choose between prosperity and sustainability. With the right choice of policies, practices, technologies, business models, innovation and partnerships, both can go hand-in-hand. This is the rationale behind our pursuit of sustainable development with lasting prosperity for all, and this is why in, just a few weeks’ time, the United Nations will adopt the goal of inclusive and sustainable industrial development as one of the Sustainable Development Goals to be achieved by the year 2030.

Image credits: 1) Flickr/Vinoth Chandar 2) Li Yong, United Nations International Development Organization

Li Yong is Director General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the specialized agency of the United Nations that promotes industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalization and environmental sustainability. He has had an extensive career as a senior economic and financial policymaker. As Vice-Minister of Finance of the People’s Republic of China and member of the Monetary Policy Committee of the Central Bank for a decade, Li was involved in setting and harmonizing fiscal, monetary and industrial policies, and in supporting sound economic growth in China.

3p Contributor

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