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United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs Sustainable Development

Green economy


Sustainable development has been the overarching goal of the international community since the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992. Amongst numerous commitments, the Conference called upon governments to develop national strategies for sustainable development, incorporating policy measures outlined in the Rio Declaration and Agenda 21. Despite the efforts of many governments around the world to implement such strategies as well as international cooperation to support national governments, there are continuing concerns over global economic and environmental developments in many countries. These have been intensified by recent prolonged global energy, food and financial crises, and underscored by continued warnings from global scientists that society is transgressing a number of planetary boundaries or ecological limits.

With governments today seeking effective ways to lead their nations out of these related crises whilst also taking into account these planetary boundaries, green economy (in its various forms) has been proposed as a means for catalysing renewed national policy development and international cooperation and support for sustainable development. The concept has received significant international attention over the past few years as a tool to address the 2008 financial crisis as well as one of two themes for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20). This has resulted in a rapidly expanding literature including new publications on green economy from a variety of influential international organisations, national governments, think tanks, experts, non-government organisations and others.

Governments agreed at Rio+20 to frame the green economy as an important tool for sustainable development; one that is inclusive and can drive economic growth, employment, and poverty eradication, whilst maintaining the healthy functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems. Importantly, the outcome document also recognises that capacity building, information exchange and experience sharing will be critical for implementing green economy policies.

Recent initiatives on green economy or green growth by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP) the Green Economy Coalition, Stakeholder Forum, the Green Growth Leaders and many others have begun to address these knowledge gaps and demystify these concepts.

Importantly, there is also emerging practice in the design and implementation of national green economy strategies by both developed and developing countries across most regions, including Africa, Latin America, the Asia-Pacific and Europe. This emerging practice can help to provide some important insights and much-needed clarity regarding the types of green economy policy measures, their scope with regard to various sectors and national priorities, and their institutional barriers, risks and implementation costs. This international experience ( may serve to alleviate concerns regarding the effective integration of green economy policies with national economic and social priorities and objectives, that a transition to a greener and more inclusive economy offers for advancing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals SDGs.


  • Member States acknowledge, in the Future We Want, the different approaches, visions, models and tools available to each country, in accordance with their national circumstances and priorities, to achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions. Green economy is considered as one of the important tools available for achieving sustainable development.
  • January 1992 Agenda 21
    "As main outcome of the UN Earth Summit held in Rio in 1992, Agenda 21 calls for a global partnership able to address the problems of the present and prepare the International Community for the challenges of the upcoming century. Bearing in mind the perpetuation of disparities laying between and within nations, the worsening of poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy, and the continuing deterioration of the ecosystems on which humanity depends for their well-being, Agenda 21 identifies integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them as leading factors for the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems."