1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Dimensions of Sustainable Development

Green Economy or Green Society? Contestation and Policies for a Fair Transition


Green Economy or Green Society? Contestation and Policies for a Fair Transition
Based on research from the UNRISD inquiry into the social dimensions of green economy, this paper outlines a conceptual and policy approach to bring social concerns more centrally into green economy and sustainable development debates.

The paper first examines a wide range of social problems and other issues associated with green economy, reasserting that any development transformation must be both green and fair—leading to a "green society", not just a green economy. But different transition pathways exist, each with different configurations of state, market and society relations, as well as social and developmental implications.

The remainder of the paper addresses the key role of social policy, agency and participation in crafting transition paths that are green and fair. The paper argues that comprehensive or transformative social policy, which goes beyond social protection, human capital formation or green jobs by also focusing on redistribution and social reproduction, can play a key role in mitigating unfair consequences, influencing behaviour and transforming patterns of inequality. Achieving a shift towards such policies will depend crucially on addressing the politics of governance itself; specifically, the ways different actors—particularly social movements and those most disadvantaged—contest ideas and policies, participate in governance (that is, in project design and implementation, public policy making and "civil regulation"), and organize and mobilize to resist and influence change. Such arenas of policy and action are crucial both from the perspective of distributional and procedural justice, and for driving deeper structural transformations.

The paper concludes by highlighting issues of fragmentation associated with knowledge, institutional arrangements and social agency, and suggests the need for "joined-up analysis, policy and action".

Sarah Cook is Director of the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) in Geneva, Switzerland. At the time of writing, Kiah Smith was Research Analyst at UNRISD. Peter Utting is Deputy Director of UNRISD.

This UNRISD Occasional Paper series, produced in collaboration with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) for Rio+20, aims to stimulate debate around the social dimensions of green economy and sustainable development.

For a list of the papers in this series, go to the project page.
  • Publication and ordering details
  • Pub. Date: 29 Nov 2012
    Pub. Place: Geneva
    ISBN: 978-9-29-085091-5
    From: UNRISD