Could A ‘Green GDP’ Transform The Middle East?

green-gdp-economy-environment-middle-east-egyptEnvironmentalists have been telling us for years that we need to stop focusing on the economy and consider nature. Will a ‘Green GDP’ help us do just that in the Middle East?

GDP is probably one of the very few widely recognised abbreviated economic terms in the world. It stands for Gross Domestic Product and basically denotes the economic growth of a country. This measure is widely used to record (and compare countries on) everything from economic success, standard of living to the size of a nation’s carbon footprint. However, environmentalists have noted for years that this unhealthy focus on economic growth means that the cost to the planet is consistently overlooked.

Egypt and Its GDP Obsession

Hala Abu Ali, professor of Economic and Political Science at Cairo University told Al Masry AlYoum that Egypt is a classic case of a country obsessed with its GDP growth figures. “Weighing and measuring Egypt’s environmental losses – and accordingly responding with the required environmental measures – remains at the bottom of the government’s priority list,” she explains. “We are still locked into a vicious cycle whereby economic growth is prioritized over environmental protection, even if environmental problems stand to obstruct the potential to grow economically.”

However, Abu Ali insists that the application of a concept such as the ‘Green GDP’ or its successor the ‘GDP quality index’ would be useful for furthering an environmental agenda in the country. Rather than waiting for government action, independent research on the country’s ‘Green GDP’ could then be used to pressure government into pursuing greener policies. She adds, “We missed the agricultural and industrial revolutions and I am not sure where we will be if we miss out on the coming green revolution as well.”

‘Green GDP’: What It Means & Who Came Up With It

The concept of a ‘Green GDP’ was fully explored in China in the mid-2000’s. In 2006, China even published its own ‘Green GDP’ for 2004 which took into consideration the environmental cost of air and water pollution and their implications on the cost of healthcare. Criticism that the calculation excluded the cost of resource depletion and contamination (as well pressure from provincial leaders that their GDP achievements would be tarred by their environmental costs) meant that the project was prematurely killed off.

Chinese senior economist and government advisor Niu Wenyuan who was behind the ‘Green GDP’, however, returned undaunted in 2011 with the ‘GDP Quality Index’. Although more ambitious (as it also looks at quality of life, management of resources and social equality amongst other), he states it is simplier as it relies on government statistics alone.

Moving On From Economy-focused Policies

With Arab economists and engineers meeting up last week in Cairo ahead of the Rio+20 summit to talk about sustainable development strategies, there seems no better time to question the rule and dominance of the GDP in the region. Clearly the concept of a ‘Green GDP’ has its downfalls but anything which challenges our focus on economic growth and reminds us of the environmental impacts is surely a good thing.

:: Al Masry Al Youm and Guardian.

: Image via phillipeput/flickr.

For more on green economy issues see:

Yerukin Forms A New Green Economy With Green Money

Islamic Banking & Why It’s (Theoretically) Good For The Environment

US Study: Toxins In Kids Costing The Economy Billions

West Bank and Gaza’s Economic Growth Isn’t Sustainable

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