The post-COVID-19 reconstruction phase should be centred around the green economy, the concept of which enables economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness. A key aspect of the green economy is that it reduces water-energy-food nexus pressures.
The traditional economic model of employing various types of capital, including human, technological, and natural, to produce goods and services has brought about many benefits including higher living standards and improved human well-being. At the same time, economic growth has resulted in environmental degradation. In addition, the global economic model is confronted by a wide array of trends including rapid population growth, urbanisation, increasing poverty, and inequality as well as climate change resulting in resource scarcity and social challenges. In response, many multi-lateral organisations have called for the development of a green economy that improves human well-being and social equity and reduces environmental degradation.
The green economy
The green economy as one that results in ‘improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. In its simplest form, a green economy is low carbon, resource-efficient, and socially inclusive. In this type of economy, growth in income and employment are driven by both public and private investments that reduce carbon emissions, enhance resource efficiency, and prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services. A key component of this economy is that economic development views natural capital as a key economic asset and as a source of public benefit. The overall aim of a transition towards a green economy is to enable economic growth and investment while increasing environmental quality and social inclusiveness.
In the green economy, green growth is about fostering economic growth and development while ensuring that natural assets continue to provide the resources and environmental services on which our well-being relies. There are a variety of characteristics attributed to green growth including more effective use of natural resources in economic growth, valuing ecosystems, inter-generational economic policies, increased use of renewable sources of energy, protection of vital assets from climate-related disasters, and reduced waste of resources.
Objectives of the green economy
The main overall objectives of the green economy and green growth include:
- Improving resource-use efficiency: a green economy is one that is efficient in its use of energy, water, and other material inputs
- Ensuring ecosystem resilience: it also protects the natural environment, its ecosystems, and ecosystem flows
- Enhancing social equity: it promotes human well-being and a fair burden-sharing across societies
The water-energy-food Nexus
With rising demand for water, energy, and food, managing the water-energy-food nexus is a key aspect of developing the green economy as the nexus approach recognises the need to use resources more efficiently while seeking policy coherence across the nexus sectors in support of green growth.
Case 1: Singapore co-digesting the future
Singapore has recently trialled a project to co-digest food waste and used water sludge with results indicating the process can triple biogas yield, compared to the treatment of used water sludge alone. Over a 2-year period, Singapore’s Public Utilities Board and the National Environment Agency explored the viability of collecting and transporting source-segregated food waste from various premises to the demonstration facility at the Ulu Pandan Water Reclamation Plant for co-digestion with used water sludge. As part of the trial, up to 40 tons of used water sludge and food waste from 23 premises were treated daily at the facility. Results showed that the synergistic effects in the co-digestion of used water sludge and food waste can increase biogas production by up to 40% compared to the separate digestion of the two inputs.
Case 2: Anglian Water’s solar future
Anglian Water is installing solar energy at one of its key operational sites in Huntingdonshire as part of the company’s goal of becoming net carbon zero by 2030. Graham Water, which uses around 45 million kilowatt-hours of energy per year to supply clean water for hundreds of thousands of customers, will have 42,000 solar modules installed on operational land at the site to generate over 26 percent of the energy used by the works. The renewable energy generated will save around 3,500 tons of carbon annually. This is in addition to Anglian Water having 10 existing sludge treatment centers and Combined Heat and Power engines to power on-site operations with any excess exported to local electricity networks. Through the company’s bio-resources strategy, Anglian Water aims to maximise its bio-resources potential with the company working with the agricultural sector to recycle these nutrients on land.
The green economy in the post-COVID-19 world is driven by new technologies that reduce water-energy-food nexus pressures.