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Green Policies Can Have Big Economic Spinoffs: UN

Alister Doyle

Achim Steiner, the executive director of the U.N. Environment Program, speaks during a conference at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) World Conservation Congress in Barcelona, October 6, 2008. (REUTERS/Albert Gea)

BARCELONA, Spain - The credit crunch is distracting from a
shift to green policies that have big but often overlooked economic
benefits, the head of the U.N. Environment Programme said on Monday.

Achim Steiner called on governments to do more to set higher value
on the natural world, ranging from wetlands that purify water to forest
parks that store billions of tons of greenhouse gases in their

"The credit crisis
is a very real but regrettable distraction" from efforts to protect the
planet from threats such as climate change, he told Reuters during an
October 5-14 International Union for Conservation of Nature congress.

He said governments should push ahead with a shift to a greener
economy, including in the energy sector to break dependence on fossil
fuels that U.N. Climate Panel says are culprits for most global warming.

"An energy transition is occurring for many different reasons. We should not allow ourselves to be distracted," he said.

"You are not talking about niches, pilot projects any more," he said
of green technologies such as solar or wind power. "There is real money

"Germany has more jobs in the clean technology sector than in the
automotive sector. There are more people working worldwide in
renewables than the oil and gas sector," he said.

"We also see opportunities arising, green jobs. This is investing in
economic development and more benign growth," he said. Governments
should ask themselves: "can you bring forward a technology pathway we
are clearly going to go down by a decade?"


He said he recently visited Mexico, where annual exports of solar voltaic technology now totaled $2.3 billion.

And one study on Monday showed that 15 percent -- or 312 billion
tons -- of greenhouse gases locked in vegetation and soils were within
the world's parks. Plants soak up carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse
gas, as they grow.

"This is like the national savings bank. This is the best protected
carbon storage we have," he said of carbon in parks. He said it
illustrated that protected areas had value beyond traditional roles
including as refuges for endangered species.

And he said that the environmental movement had to become "economically more literate."

U.N.-backed studies have estimated that intact natural systems are
far more valuable than if converted to farmland or fish farms. A coral
reef by a Caribbean beach resort, for instance, can be worth up to
$10,000 per hectare per year as a tourist draw and as a nursery for

Many economists dismiss such numbers as too speculative. But Steiner
said it was "even less rational" that oil could cost $20 a barrel and a
few years later $140 a barrel.

"We need to tackle this established wisdom that the current
valuation of markets is any more rational than talking about the
benefits of a wetlands ecosystem," he said.

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