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The six industries that are crucial to sustainable economic development



The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) recently picked out six sectors, and the ‘greening’ of which can ensure long-term prosperity for developing countries: agriculture, fisheries, forests, manufacturing, renewable energy and tourism.

UNEP said nations that rely on natural resources need to learn how to manage their trade sustainably. They have to “green their economy”.

However, ‘going green’ may not be enough. It is important to remember the global context in which economies operate in the 21st century, and the issues that these sectors might attract. A move towards sustainability in these six areas is more than welcome, but there might be a few obstacles along the way.


About the first, agriculture, the UNEP report says, “The global market for organic food and beverages is projected to grow to $105 billion by 2015, compared to $62.9 billion in 2011.”

However, agriculture is a large contributor to climate change, accounting for around 10-12% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Growing crops to feed cattle to feed developed countries has led to massive deforestation in South America, among other places, together with a significant loss of biodiversity.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said, “Agricultural [greenhouse gas] mitigation options are found to be cost competitive with non-agricultural options (energy, transportation, forestry) in achieving long-term climate objectives.”

The organic market is certainly growing, but so is the global population. It will not be easy to meet everyone’s needs, especially if levels of consumption and waste of food and resources remain on their current path.


The second sector analysed is fisheries and aquaculture. The report says that revenues from sustainably certified seafood are forecasted to increase to $1.25 billion by 2015.

A sustainable fishery is a one that is exploited at a slower pace to avoid species decline. Unfortunately, the current situation of our oceans is very delicate.

Industrial fisheries still own the largest share of the market and unsustainable practices have led to severe problems such as habitat changes and ocean pollution.

The possible EU ban on fish discarding – when unsuitable fish are thrown back into the sea by commercial fishing operations, often dead or dying – would be a welcome first step in eradicating this problem.


Forestry is another sector that needs to be managed responsibly in order to avoid deforestation activities. Forests play a crucial role in ensuring social and economic development, as well as literally keeping the planet alive.


Manufacturing is not an industry entirely safe from illegal practices or unethical business. Strong regulation that makes sure tragedies like the one in Bangladesh last month don’t happen again is vital.

In this industry, though, consumer power is arguably the biggest driver of change of all. If you stop buying products from the worst offenders, they’re going to have to change their ways.

Renewable energy

While investment in clean energy is growing almost everywhere in the developed world, poorer nations have also started to realise that this can be a great opportunity for them as well – not only in promoting a local and more sustainable energy system, but also in tackling climate change.

A clear example of this is the growing interest among investors and start-ups to provide solar lights to African countries and elsewhere. These decrease the reliance on toxic kerosene lamps  and give locals affordable and sustainable devices to use for lighting.

Read more: The Guide to Limitless Clean Energy 2013


Finally, tourism. The report states, “The fastest growing sub-sector in sustainable tourism is ecotourism, which focuses on nature-based activities.

“Many developing countries have a comparative advantage in ecotourism due to their natural environments, cultural heritage and possibilities for adventure holidays.”

We have often questioned whether flying is contradictory to having a sustainable holiday. Is it really an ‘eco-holiday’ if you’re adding tons of CO2 into the atmosphere or negatively affecting local communities?

Read more: The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2013

The UNEP report highlights many important points, and it is imperative to make the whole world, not just a few countries, greener and more sustainable.

Fighting unsustainable economic practices and addressing climate issues needs widespread effort, but particularly from the developed world. Our consumption habits and investment choices can make the difference and can help other countries to find a sustainable path to create a more equal and cleaner planet.

Greening business and trade is undoubtedly the right first step. But a sustainable economy for the future doesn’t just need to be green; it needs to ensure it’s responsible, too.

Further reading:

‘Greening’ global trade holds significant opportunities, says UN

UN: global crime conflicts with sustainable development

Healthy forests ‘crucial for economic development’


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