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Back | Programme Area: Social Policies for Inclusive and Sustainable Development

Social Dimensions of Green Economy (Research and Policy Brief)


Social Dimensions of Green Economy (Research and Policy Brief)
Economic, technological and institutional changes that currently form the basis of green economy strategies run the risk of reinforcing human insecurity and inequalities. A growing body of evidence points to diverse social consequences, and suggests key elements of alternative approaches that can promote the combined social, economic and environmental goals of sustainable development.
In the wake of the triple crises of recent years (food, energy and finance) and in lead up to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), the concept of green economy has taken centre stage in international development circles. Coined to draw attention to the lack of integration of environmental concerns in economic policy since the Earth Summit in 1992, both the concept itself, and strategies to promote a green economy, are highly contested. There is considerable consensus on the need to shift from high- to low-carbon systems and transform patterns of investment, production and consumption in ways that are conducive to sustainable development. But varying paths to green economy exist. Each implies different costs and benefits for different social groups, countries and regions, as well as different roles and responsibilities for state, market and community actors and institutions.

By explicitly coupling green economy with the goals of sustainable development and poverty eradication, the Rio+20 process has called attention to the importance of social dimensions of development. But the social dimensions of green economy, and how they can be addressed, remain unclear. Various United Nations studies have begun to consider such aspects. An UNRISD inquiry addressed the following:
  • how green economy initiatives and strategies impact different social groups and patterns of inequality;
  • how green economy transitions can contribute to achieving the social objectives inherent in the concept of sustainable development;
  • whose values, knowledge, priorities and interests are shaping the concept and policies of green economy;
  • the role of social policy, regulation, participation and collective action in promoting both green and fair economy; and
  • how to realize the potential of myriad local-level livelihood and production systems that address economic, social and environmental objectives of sustainable development.


UNRISD Research and Policy Briefs aim to improve the quality of development dialogue. They situate the Institute’s research within wider social development debates, synthesize its findings and draw out issues for consideration in decision-making processes. They provide this information in a concise format that should be of use to policy makers, scholars, activists, journalists and others.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 30 May 2012
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    From: UNRISD