As part of a series leading up to COP28, we’re looking at the ways individual countries are showing leadership in green growth.
Not long ago, most countries just focused on the bottom line: Gross Domestic Product (GDP). A positive GDP meant a growing economy. But there is a new factor in play these days. Countries need economic development, but more and more people are demanding not just growth, but green growth. Countries, and their leaders in particular, are looking for ways to grow while having less impact on the environment. But what does green growth actually mean? And how do you measure it?
It’s important to consider that for something to be green, it must be sustainable, as able to be sustained over a long period of time, and ultimately beneficial. No country can afford to invest in green energy if it leads to a weakened economy or national security. Sustainable green growth must thread the needle of improving a country’s economy, environment, and national security. One without the other is not sustainable.
Many countries are succeeding at threading that needle. The solutions will look different from country to country, region to region, and continent to continent. Still, the best way to encourage green growth is by allowing people to live and work in economic freedom.
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A country’s commitment to economic freedom results in more wealth and human progress, which increases the available resources and technologies to invest in environmental protection. Free economies are clean economies where people and the planet alike can flourish. This is true at the macro level, as our Free Economies Are Clean Economies report shows in great detail.
At the micro level, however, economic freedom manifests in different ways. Later this month, world leaders will gather at the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP28. As with most economic policy questions, this topic is being driven forward by the United States.
The U.S. has slipped a bit in recent years on the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom. It still earns a rating of “Mostly Free.” It is an “advanced mixed economy,” with an annual GDP growth rate of more than 2%. It is also putting into place plans that can contribute to a cleaner global future.
For example in the agriculture sector, where it is doing more with less. “By investing in new technologies, inventing new techniques, and identifying cost savings, farmers and ranchers have dramatically improved efficiency, producing more crops with fewer inputs.” After food leaves the farm, “reducing food waste and developing alternative sources of protein will also save money, minimize environmental impacts, and provide consumers with more choices.” Agriculture policies that encourage innovation and experimentation are leading to better ways to grow, ship and store food.
In the energy sector, the U.S. is a leader in nuclear technology, with 94 reactors in 28 states that generate approximately 20 percent of the country’s electricity. “Nuclear power has significant potential to meet the world’s energy needs and climate goals. Innovative companies are paving the way for the next generation of nuclear power plants that are designed to pose even fewer public safety or proliferation risks than the ones that are currently operating.”
At the same time, the U.S. is tapping more of our domestic oil and gas supplies, and that is a good thing. More drilling, here in the U.S., will mean lower emissions worldwide because the U.S. produces oil with fewer emissions than other countries. That can help buy time as new sources of low-emission energy come online. Right now, companies, governments and individuals are finding ways to deploy more solar power, tap into wind energy (and deliver it to markets where it can be used), and expand battery storage. All of those steps can provide energy today while reducing emissions tomorrow.
The U.S. still has plenty of opportunities to increase its application of economic freedom. In the transportation sector, “reforming government-imposed barriers for infrastructure projects will give taxpayers more bang for the buck, inject more private capital into projects, and deliver cleaner, more resilient infrastructure.” Also, “Congress and the administration should eliminate energy subsidies, including preferential treatment for fossil fuels. A next-best strategy should be to make existing subsidies more economically and environmentally efficient while not adding more to the federal debt.”
In every sector, deploying economic freedom will be key. The way to unlock the power of society and the private sector is by giving people the freedom to innovate. Strict federal mandates, such as those for electric vehicles, are a path to failure.
COP 28 begins November 30 in the United Arab Emirates. As we have in recent years, the Conservative Coalition for Climate Solutions, or C3 Solutions, will be there to host events that promote the importance of economic freedom. Ours is a message of hope that balances the reality of the need for green growth that is truly sustainable. For the sake of people and the planet, let’s hope that leaders listen.++