Институт Устойчивых Инноваций

Research on ecological modernisation and the transition to a “green” economy within a socio-cultural context

Research on ecological modernisation and the transition to a “green” economy within a socio-cultural context

Modernisation processes are characterised in one way or another by society and, above all, by time. A current understanding of modernisation as a macro-process of a transition from a traditional to a contemporary society, to a society of modernity, is to a large extent linked to profound changes to human civilisation during the 18th century that affected every area of life (economy, society, politics, culture, environment and people’s behaviour) and which spread to both advanced and backward countries alike. There is now a quite clearly defined global technological mainstream that focuses on an interconnected and systematic development of four core technologies, i.e., info-, bio-, nano-, and eco-. Consequently, effective technology has been developed for the extraction of shale gas and coal; costs for shipping liquefied natural gas have come down and there have been the beginnings of an industrial-scale cultivation of genetically modified biomass for processing into fuel, as well as converting wood into cheap cellulose. All this is now starting to have a real impact on the structure of energy markets and on the costs of raw materials. The growth of a new technological order is having a profound influence on economic and social processes.

In the meantime, rapid growth in environmental and other major risks as a result of climate change, increasing economic globalisation, world polarisation, its socio-cultural localisation and the rise in the number of ethnic conflicts means it is not enough to study modernisation purely in terms of a transition from a traditional to a modern society. In the latter, modernisation processes acquire previously unnoticed characteristics, in particular the growth in the number of approaches being developed for addressing issues relating to ecological modernisation and the “green” economy.

It was as far back as 1990 that ecological modernisation was officially recognised as a State environmental strategy in the Netherlands. So far, eco-modernisation as a scientific theory and eco-political strategy has come to the fore in Japan, Brazil and New Zealand and is also widely used in discussions on eco-policies in Germany and Great Britain. General trends in the development of socio-environmental relationships in other advanced Western countries also have an eco-modernisation dimension. The term “green” economy is not exactly new given it was first used in a study entitled “Blueprint for a green economy” [1].

One of the nine Joint Crisis Initiatives put forward by the UN Secretary-General and Chief Executives’ Coordinating Board in 2008 in response to the global financial crisis (i.e., The Green Economy Initiative (GEI) UN)) provided the beginnings of a category-based framework (and associated provisions) as a means of securing real growth. In addition, there has been a general proliferation of terms that are often used interchangeably, e.g., “green” growth or “greening the economy”. The transition to a “green” economy can already be seen in the world’s most economically advanced countries. The international business community (or at least a section of it) is increasingly taking this initiative on board, stimulating changes in national legislation and international agreements, as well as including environmental elements within their own activities, and signing up to relevant voluntary commitments.

In analysing the world situation, it should be said that, despite all the difficulties since 2008, investment in clean technology has been steadily increasing. According to OECD estimates, the total amount being invested in this sector up until 2020 is $4.5 trillion. The area of clean technology is now one of the most dynamic and innovation-intensive markets in the world. Perceptions of waste management are changing with it now being seen as a valuable anthropogenic resource [2]. According to the Russian Federation’s President, Vladimir Putin, “green” growth is important in reducing the volume of discharges, promoting the sustainable reuse of waste, including energy production, and can now regarded as an important issue on the world’s agenda [3]. Putin has also stressed the need to create the necessary conditions where industrial concerns can treat their waste in a sustainable and effective manner, as well as moving towards more self-contained and waste free technologies: “Making use of recycled waste is a difficult but very progressive form of business activity. We must create the necessary conditions to enable investors, as well as small and medium-sized businesses, to be part of this process”.

Modernisation processes and the transition to the principles of a “green” economy open up a range of serious issues as growth in new core technologies involves changes in the institutional environment. Moreover, many of these changes are incompatible with outdated mechanisms and fixed assets as seen through the eyes of industrial institutions. For the next stage of modernisation, the nature of which is still not entirely clear, an important issue has emerged namely a clear trend in increased price volatility in relation to natural resources and ecosystem services, together with an inevitable drop in prices for many types of raw materials (including natural gas) in the medium term as a result of the growth in new technologies. This has already been accompanied by changes in the spatial dimensions of socio-economic growth and is a departure from the usual stereotypes of what has previously been seen as effective decision-making. There is a growing redivision of the global raw materials market, as well as a changing geo-political attitude of countries and peoples. The contrast within the economic environment has become more marked with emerging new sources of growth being accompanied by deepening poverty in many formerly prosperous areas. This invariably results in the emergence of new, and the intensification of old, socio-economic disagreements and conflicts of interest. This is borne out by many unsuccessful attempts made during the second half of the 20th century to implement the theory of advocates for modernisation whereby the effect that best serves the interests of the most advanced countries on social processes in the developing countries can only be achieved by increasing the level of economic “assistance” through a transfer of modern technologies and State investment to “Third World” countries. Reality has borne out the failure of these “assistance” programmes which have been beset by increased internal social disagreements and inequalities that have, in turn, led to a decrease, rather than an increase, in the pace of economic growth, together with a rise in unemployment and poverty, resulting in an increase in social tension and intensification of socio-cultural conflicts.

Results from an analysis undertaken of the many errors currently being made at expert level have revealed a general consensus that modernisation is an extremely complex and multi-faceted process which ultimately comes down to technical innovation. As industrialisation is accompanied by rationalisation, bureaucratisation and secularisation, so post-industrialisation leads to the creation of self-discipline and self-expression values [4]. It is no accident that the issue of the Human Measurement of Global Change and timely action to meet the challenges of necessary institutional and organisational change at all managerial levels, including local, has now come to the forefront (e.g., the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP) [5].

Baseline research on eco-modernisation and its transition to a “green” economy being undertaken by Cadaster Institute is guided by the following basic principles. Firstly, the feasibility of partial delegation of the limited subjectivity of Nature according to the principles of an ecological ethic [6]. According to H. Jonas, a new ethic must in time become an “ethic focused on the future” (Zukunftsethik). What is needed today are “long-term prognoses, the extension of assumed responsibility (to the future of humankind) and profound thinking (the whole future essence of humans) and… complete mastery through the power of technology” [7]. Secondly, on the importance of taking existing eco-modernisation institutional systems into account which reflect the individual socio-cultural features of countries and peoples.

From a methodological perspective, this informs our research on the influence of regional socio-cultural features on modernisation processes as a transcendental fact, and from a theoretical standpoint as a system of methodological constraints that can be applied to scientific research and in analysing practices for organising environmental activity and sustainable natural resource use. As part of Cadaster Institute’s research in this area, we have given particular attention to the following main aspects:

  • An assessment of socio-cultural modernisation, sustainable development and the socio-cultural impact on competitiveness in relation to sustainable natural resource use and environmental protection;
  • Socio-cultural aspects involved in determining priority aims, measurement and performance indicators for modernisation strategies, and programmes/action plans in the environmental sector;
  • The development of an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of environmental management through the prism of a cultural modernisation theory;
  • Studies of socio-cultural principles of institutional environmental change, identifying institutional opportunities for encouraging innovation in the environmental sector, together with regional coordination of natural resource use activities as a means of reducing ecological risks.

Although there is no “founding father” of eco-modernisation, there is no doubt that Joseph Huber (Germany) is seen as its ideological pioneer. A great many sociologists and economists have or are now working to create such a theory. There are differing views on the subject of eco-modernisation, e.g. those who see it as a key influence in securing changes in industrial technologies [8] and those who think the opposite [9], viewing the theory as a basis for macro-economic restructuring. Some authors [10] believe new environmental policy to be the basis for eco-modernisation. M. Hajer and G. Dryzek regarded eco-modernisation as a cultural policy [11], whilst others considered it to be a restructured and institutional reflection [12]. These views are discussed in various works on the theory of risks in a modern society [13].

The theory of eco-modernisation is most clearly expressed in the concept of the “green” economy (Green Economics) and has been the subject of much discussion on various expert international discussion fora. The “Green” Economy (GE) is an initiative that increases people’s wellbeing and promotes social justice, whilst at the same time, significantly reducing risks to the environment and its depletion [14]. The GE theory is based on three axioms that: it is impossible to expand forever into a finite space; it is impossible to take forever from a finite resource and that everything on Earth is interconnected. The emphasis is not only on the modernisation of industry and the reduction in resource intensity of products and energy saving, but also on safeguarding the goods that the public derives from ecosystems. Theoretical concepts for GE have been advanced by R. Costanza, J. L.R. Proops, J. van den Bergh, R. G. Bailey [15], as well as in the works of M. Bukchin, G. Jacobs, D. Pearce, A. Markandya, E.F. Schumacher, L. Margulis, D. Korten, B. Fuller, H. Daly, D. Midous, P. Hawkin et al. In Russia, this approach is being developed by N.N. Lukyanchikov, K.G. Gorman, T.S. Khachaturov, V.M. Sakharov, C.N. Bobilev, R.A. Perelet et al.

H. Chuantsi’s two stages of modernisation are key in understanding the issues of eco-modernisation and the “green” economy in the modern world, i.e., primary (“first modernisation”) and secondary (“second modernisation”). Each stage is linked to its corresponding era of the civilisation process: the first modernisation to the industrial age and the second to the era of information, or the age of knowledge. Each stage comprises four evolutionary phases, i.e. beginning, development, hey-day and transition to the next stage. Chuantsi has come up with a third element called integrated modernisation which is understood as being the coordinated development of primary and secondary modernisation. Moreover, the roles of religion and traditional cultural history do not disappear during the modernisation process and global cultures do not merge with one another since changes in culture do not occur in linear fashion; and cultural development often regresses. As Chuantsi quite rightly says “…on the one hand, seen from a humanist perspective, every form of culture is at the same level as the rest and has an equal chance of being safeguarded and developed given they are all part of human culture. On the other, as far as development and modernisation are concerned, various cultures have different levels of competitiveness, while different countries and peoples have contrasting levels of growth and different types of cultural life. One could also say that not all cultures are alike (as regards attitudes towards modernisation processes – author). If we combine the theories of anthropology and modernisation, every culture is faced with the challenge of safeguarding its identity and the need for modernisation. For the past 300 years, cultural, social, economic and political modernisation has changed the world and humanity.” [16] It should be mentioned here that conflicts between these various interests require the use of State regulation. Quantitative indicators are used to a large extent in the implementation of China’s cultural modernisation strategy, which includes 24 assessment indicators and 30 for cultural monitoring. Of particular interest are indicators such as indices of modernisation in cultural life, as well as levels of cultural competitiveness and influence [17].

Building on the sentiments described above in relation to eco-modernisation and establishing the principles of a “green” economy, Cadaster Institute is using a philosophical and methodological approach that is consistent with the tenets of the subject-object logic of Schelling’s natural philosophy. This provides an opportunity to study the interdependence of the modernisation process and environmental protection from a new perspective, i.e. as a transition of a single system of relationships between humans, nature, and the society in its entirety and inter-dependence to the new state at the next stage of modernisation. It is significant that the very recognition of the trinity within the modernisation of growth process cannot guarantee environmental security given it does not affect the desire of humanity to change the world for its own ends. However, it does emphasise the importance of a system-activity approach to the knowledge process. Viewed from this perspective, it is clear that the predominant attitudes from the industrial era that prevailed for a large part of the 20th century about overcoming nature have largely been responsible for the current ecological crisis.

In our opinion, many features of the present modernisation stage can be understood in terms of variations in major economic cycles where, according to N.D. Kondratiev, there is a change in the “reserve of important material goods”, i.e., those productive forces moving to a new higher level of growth [18]. Most experts tend to believe that the current crisis is not only financial but also linked to the transition to a new innovation cycle which has been borne out in recent decades by a growth in new, cutting-edge technologies.

The new stage of modernisation, whose distinctive feature acts as a catalyst for people’s reflection to the extension of the risk area, is being increasingly dominated by a sustainable development approach and by the dissemination and enhancing of our understanding of durability that characterise efforts being made to reduce vulnerability (resilience). As a result, attention shifts to transitional unstable conditions associated with the system of humans, nature, and the society.

In his address to the UN Summit on Sustainable Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012 (in which experts from Cadaster Institute took part), the last President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev, referred to sustainable development as the only real basis for reaching agreement on questions of growth and in avoiding conflict during Mankind’s transition to a new technological world order.

In our research, we have taken on board the views of H. Jonas [19] who believes that today’s world has never been more dangerous and calls for an unprecedented diligence, rigour and personal responsibility in upholding humanity’s ethical values. In our view, this involves “green” development taking place through; (1) Modernisation in the economy, engineering and technology that takes environmental factors into account; (2) Developing a business model (in the sense of the term used by S.N. Bulgakov [20]) based on the theory of sustainable development that relates to the co-evolution of humanity and Nature; (3) Humanisation of ecological values and target setting systems for business activities, together with the development of an ecological ethic that responds to the demands of time. The validity of these approaches has been endorsed by decisions taken at the UN Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro (Rio+20) in 2012 at which most countries, despite differences in geography, social conditions and cultural traditions, committed themselves to sustainable development principles [21].

A major part of Cadaster Institute’s research is concerned with the study of issues relating to the impact of environmental modernisation processes of reflexion on ecological risks. Special attention is also being given to identifying ways and means of encouraging (including the use of economic mechanisms) environmental innovation. We recognise that there is an opportunity to achieve economic growth alongside environmental protection due to the introduction of new technologies. Pollution prevention and waste reduction in production and consumption processes though savings in raw materials and energy that results in increased output make it possible for environmental limits to be established within the production mechanism. Moreover, these same constraints cease being regarded as such and become factors in achieving additional profit. The importance of eco-modernisation in today’s day and age is seen as being both environmental and economic as it generates significant economic profits through reducing resource consumption, together with increased energy efficiencies in the production process. This involves a degree of regulation and self-organisation, with the State playing an important regulatory role. The main principles that drive collaboration between all social groups are cooperation and partnership aimed at reducing environmental risks. It is clear that eco-modernisation under modern Russian conditions cannot be implemented quickly, although any delay could be detrimental to a country’s sustainable development in the medium term. A first step, in our view, should involve an emphasis on overhauling existing polluting industries, as well as stimulating the creation of new, high-tech production methods and innovative growth. It is important therefore to ensure the flow of investment into pollution prevention in the coming years.

Research undertaken by Cadaster Institute has shown that step-by-step implementation of a system for regulating environmental impacts based on best available technology (BAT) could be a useful tool for achieving this goal. Figures have shown that the costs of the 10-year (from the beginning of a project’s development, including its structure, up to the end of commissioning work and the start of production) investment cycle transition to BAT requires an annual investment of around 250-300 billion roubles (based on 2013 prices). Anticipated costs have been derived using best available statistical data [22], together with experience drawn from those East European and OECD countries that have been involved in such work for almost 15 years. This will provide real support for the development of the “green goods and services” sector, e.g. work to develop technologies and organise the production of thin water purifying filters for water use, and the production of new durable materials in order to reduce waste volume etc. We predict that the “green sector” will increase employment opportunities, particularly in the high-tech sector. An important social effect of modernising production is that it contributes to a reduction in environmental health risks.

Recent years have clearly shown the need for a new role of the governments in the environmental arena in terms of support for start-ups, together with funding innovative scientific and technical projects that have a practical application. It is precisely this kind of support that is so desperately needed in the Russian environmental goods and services sector, whose current assets, according to best available figures, amount to around $1.4 billion (or 0.2% of global levels). By contrast, the contribution of environmental businesses in the most economically advanced countries is 10%-24% of GDP. Development of new technologies for cleaner production, energy efficiency and alternative energy sources is growing at an ever increasing rate. In addition, in order to obtain a “dual benefit” in which resolving socio-economic problems is accompanied by a positive environmental effect, it is wise to focus attention on the greening of regional planning, as well as on a different approach to preparing strategic documents relating to regional development. [23]

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