The coming revolution - world economic and social situation 2011

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Nothing short of a technological revolution on the scale of the first industrial revolution will be required to meet the challenge of sustainable development.  That's the conclusion of latest annual - World Economic and Social Survey released this week by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA).

While many reports and studies by various United Nations bodies have called for similar accelerations of clean energy technology development, this report places this need in the context of pressing long-term social and economic development issues, and discusses the positive and negative impact of corresponding policies.

It notes that Enormous improvements in human welfare have taken place over the past two centuries, but these have been unevenly distributed and have come at a lasting cost of degradation of our natural environment.

At the same time, it adds, we cannot stop the engines of growth, because much more economic progress is still needed in order for people in developing countries to have a decent living.   But using the traditional environmentally irresponsible development paths is no longer defensible, says the report.   

To meet both the objectives of conquering poverty and protecting the environment, the World Economic and Social Survey 2011 calls for a complete transformation of technology on which human economic activity is based.   

The 'great green technological transformation' that the Survey champions will have to be completed in the next 30 to 40 years, that is, twice as fast as it took to accomplish previous major technological transitions.  

The report calls for $1.9 trillion per year over the next 40 years for incremental investments in green technologies. At least $1.1 trillion of that will need to be made in developing countries to meet increasing food and energy demands.

'This report shows how important technological progress will be for ensuring a future that benefits everyone while protecting our planet,' said Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General of UN-DESA and Secretary-General of the UN Conference on Sustainable Development - the   Rio+20 Conference that will take place in June 2012 in Rio de Janeiro.

Because of the limited time frame, Governments will need to play a much more active and stimulating role to accelerate the green energy transformation.

The Survey details new policy directions and major investments in developing and scaling up clean energy technologies, sustainable farming and forestry techniques, climate-proofing of infrastructure and reducing non-bio-degradable waste production.

To meet this challenge, a revitalization of industrial development efforts, especially in the developing countries, is needed.   Because the needed advanced technologies have to be diffused as quickly as possible at reasonable cost, the report calls for a new international technology sharing regime, including reforms in intellectual property approaches.

'Business as usual is not an option,' said Rob Vos, lead author of the report. 'Even if we stop the global engines of growth now, resource depletion and pollution of our natural environment would continue because of existing production methods and consumption habits.

Without drastic improvements in and diffusion of green technologies, we will not reverse the ongoing ecological destruction and secure a decent livelihood for all of humankind, now and in the future.'

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