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Such a conclusion was reached by the participants of the Eurasian Economic Commission side-event “Green or Grim Picture: Environmental Responsibility as a Tool to Achieve SDGs 8 and 17” organized on the margins of the VIII UN ESCAP Asia-Pacific Forum on Sustainable Development on March 25, 2021. The event was held with the support of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs.

In the opening remark, the moderator of the session, Andrey Panteleev, head of Economic Policy Strategies Section at the Eurasian Economic Commission Macroeconomic Policy Department, highlighted that the public awareness of the importance of transition towards green development has recently been gaining momentum – as globally, so in the regions of Asia and the Pacific and the EAEU. In line with the urgent trends, the Strategic Directions for Developing the Eurasian Economic Integration until 2025 have identified the transfer towards a “green” economy as one of the major priorities of regional economic integration development in the post-pandemic period. Either have the green growth priorities been embedded on the EAEU Member-States development strategies. He noted two conceptual ways to accelerate the transformation processes: «Firstly, to change standard consumption patterns we need to improve public understanding of the importance of ecological factor. This aim entails the incorporation of the environmental responsibility issues and the UN 2030 Agenda targets in the plans of national, supranational and inter-regional socioeconomic development strategies and cooperation plans. Secondly, the green transformation requires economic stimuli. The implementation of the “green” principles at each stage of production and trade processes should become profitable. So, we need to develop new models for establishing and managing the international value chains, rebuilding the people`s living environment in accordance with the SDG No 8».

Nikolay Pomoschnikov, Head of Subregional Office for North and Central Asia, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific described the progress in transition towards a green economy in the region of North and Central Asia. The goals experiencing the greatest regress in the countries of North and Central Asia include the SDGs 11 (sustainable cities and communities), 13 (climate action) and 14 (live below water), all of which represent the aspects of green development. Ensuring green recovery and green growth requires combining in a balanced manner the three areas of work: COVID-19 response actions, the address of the needs of poor people and climate change mitigation and adaptation. “It is required to invest USD 1 trillion in green energy annually to create 9 million jobs while reducing carbon emissions by 15%,” – he added.

The presentation of Igor Paunovic, Chief of the Office of the Director of the Division on Globalization and Development Strategies at the UN Conference on Trade and Development reminded that already in 2019, the UNCTAD urged the world’s state on the necessity to join forces to reach the Global Green New Deal, thus, “turning vicious into virtuous circles”. The measures proposed by the UNCTAD to implement this goal included, inter alia, the end to austerity and extended fiscal policy space and coordinated international policy effort. Not only have these propositions saved the urgency today, provided the COVID-19 pandemic; indeed, they have become even more important. “As demonstrated in 2020 UNCTAD Trade and Development report, it is possible to combine higher economic growth and greening of the economy,” – he concluded.

Michael Zimonyi, Policy and External Affairs Director at the Climate Disclosure Standards Board provided insight into the role of the private sector in sustainable development. The ecological factor represents a particular category of risks for sustainable development. He noted that it is crucial to ensure that not only do the companies develop the instruments to account for and mitigate these risks, but also transfer signal on their sustainability to investors and market. Aimed at addressing this goal, the guidance on sustainable reporting elaborated by the Climate Disclosure Standards Board acts as a means of redirecting the finance to the most resilient and sustainable sectors.

The comprehensive analysis of the public policy aimed at spurring the green growth was in focus of Leela Raina’s presentation, Environmental and Climate Change Economist at the World Bank. According to the World Bank approach, it is important to adopt all the necessary measures and investment to reproach from a green recovery, i.e. a short-term perspective, to a green transition, i.e. a medium-term perspective, implying the balanced foundations of information and data analysis, institutional and fiscal reform and investment. Discussing the prospects of green development in the region of the EAEU, Ms. Raina presented the World Bank system of natural capital accounts allowing to assess the economic impact of natural resource degradation, on the one hand, and the policies promoting environmental responsibility, on the other hand and has exemplified the results for the Russian Federation.

Admitting the heterogeneity of the stakeholders of the green transition, Michael Babenko, Director of “Green Economy” Program in Russian Federation at the World Wild Fund, expressed the perspective on the interconnection between the society, state and business. As opposed to the Millennium Goals, in the implementation of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, this is the corporate sector that occupies the leading role. However, the entrepreneurs appear to underestimate their role, generally limiting it to the green office. Making a conclusion, Michael highlighted that the businesses have already started considering green development as an opportunity to get profit: “Therefore, we have no choice to fail”.

The evidence from China was provided by Hong Lan, Deputy Director of Eco-finance Research Center at Renmin University of China. Once considered the world’s major pollutant, China is now planning to turn into the driving force of green transformation. The new development pattern introduced by PCR President Xi Jinping presumes the primacy of green consumption and the establishment of new infrastructure in the spheres of green energy, transportation, building, recycling, etc. With an expected direct investment of CNY 10-17.5 trillion, the initiative has already led to the first results: by the end of 2020, China has been among the world’s highest ranked states in terms of green loan balance and green bonds stock.

The representatives of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs: Marina Ozeryanskaya, Director of corporate responsibility at Department of sustainability, corporate responsibility and social entrepreneurship and Sergey Mikhnevich, Managing director at Department of the International Multilateral Cooperation and Integration identified the sustainable development as one of the key priorities on the Russian entrepreneurship strategic agenda. RSPP and the companies-members have been actively engaged in the cooperative work with the global institutions, such as B-20 and “Business in OECD” aimed at ensuring that the voice of Russian business is reflected in the policy papers. Besides, in cooperation with the Moscow Exchange, the RSPP has formed sustainable indices guiding the investors on the opportunity to choose initiatives that correspond to sustainability criterion. It is important to ensure that the new technologies and initiatives spurring sustainable development do not result in escalated green protectionism or unilateral preferences, the speakers urged.

Following the speakers’ presentations, the side-event continuing with questions and answers session.

The discussion commenced with an issue of the probable diversion of finance from prospectively more profitable initiatives in favour of green projects, which might turn out especially dolorous for the poorer countries and emerging economies. The panelists reached a conclusion that despite this risk, the postponement of the green agenda implementation is still inadmissible. According to Nikolay Pomoschnikov, to avoid the aggravation of poverty problem, the stakeholders, in opposite, need to join forces as soon as possible.  Supporting the same thesis, Hong Lan confirmed that China would soon become a taste-maker for green development, but on the condition of ensuring multilateral partnership involving the EAEU, USA, EU etc.

Continuing the dialogue on the possible negative implications of the green reproach, the discussants have focused on the inequality between and within countries. Whereas the greener products might be more expensive and, thus, not universally available, the popularization of green technologies is not expected to lead to aggravated consumption gap. As Leela Raina explained, we have to consider the alternative cost, i.e. take into account the dynamics in inequality provided business-as-usual scenario: “All in all, we might see a reduction rather than increase in inequality”, – she concluded.

Further, the panelists have investigated the role of corporate sector. Discussing the issue of opaque advantages from adopting sustainable reporting standards for small and medium enterprises, Michael Babenko has argued: “Sustainability is not about losses, it’s about managing your risks today”. This idea has been supported by Michael Zimonyi: “Of course, the reproach to new practices is costly. But the alternatives are much more expensive as they lead to distorted risk management”. Elaborating on the issue of the adoption of mandatory sustainable reporting standards, Marina Ozeryanskaya has highlighted that such a practice could be in the interest of as investors, so companies. “Being transparent is profitable,” – she added.

Concluding the side event, the moderator proposed the speakers to express their opinion on whether the green growth indeed is the most efficient and expedient development pattern. “So far, the evidence is clearly saying that our generation is contributing the most to the climate change trend. If we want to preserve our civilization, we have to be the ones who contribute the most to preventing this outcome”, – started Igor Paunovic. Subscribing to this perspective, all the experts have been anonymous on the point there is no alternative to the green development pathway.