Balazs Horvath is poverty reduction advisor for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States, United Narions Development Programme(UNDP). Any opinions expressed are his own.
Ours is the world’s only region to see a large decline in carbon emissions since 1990, while experiencing the greatest increase in income inequality. This was largely the result of higher energy prices after the collapse of planned economies and the economic transition in the 1990s.
However, some of the world’s most carbon intensive economies are still in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Poverty and lack of opportunities for youth, minorities, women, people with disabilities and other vulnerable groups also remain at alarming levels.
Social, economic and environmental challenges must be addressed as one to set the region on the path to sustainable development.
Effective policies are needed to jump-start transformation toward sustainable development. This could lead to the emergence of more efficient investments, production and consumption patterns, and increased competitiveness.
The resulting new lifestyles could help lower the incidence of cardiovascular and respiratory disease.
For some low-income countries like Tajikistan and Moldova, there might be a way to bypass outdated brown development altogether on the way to a greener, high-tech future.
The key elements of the requisite policy mix include:
- Removing fossil fuel subsidies to send the right signal to businesses and households. Proper pricing of energy would encourage the development of energy-efficient technologies, make renewable energy more attractive and change consumption behaviour.
- Establishing social protection policies, in part to ensure the poorest are not hurt by the removal of fossil fuel subsidies. Universal access to health services is needed, together with active labor market policies to retrain people displaced by the green transition. The social protection floor can be financed from the discontinuation of harmful subsidies.
- Investing in green and decent job creation for women and men in renewables, recycling, energy efficient housing, and sustainable transport.
- Governments should consider sustainability in all major decisions at national and local levels. They should green public sector procurement, analyze the health impact of energy and environmental policies, and enable private sector investment in sustainable development.
- Raising awareness among producers, consumers, political parties, and scientific and cultural communities. Young people must be engaged because the quality of their whole life is at stake. Women can critically contribute since they have a major say over household consumption decisions. Civil society should call on governments to put in place sustainable development policies and resist industrial lobbies in resource-intensive sectors. They should also exercise their right to information as protected by the Aarhus Convention.
The report From Transition to Transformation: Sustainable and Inclusive Development in Europe and Central Asia, a contribution of governments, experts, researchers and development practitioners ahead of the Rio+20 conference, can be downloaded here.