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Interview Philip Monaghan: societies need desirability and deliverability for a green economy

He has over 17 years of international experience as a strategist and change manager in the fields of economic development and environmental sustainability. He is Founder & CEO of Infrangilis. His new book ´How local resilience creates sustainable societies: Hard to Make, Hard to Break´ will be released beginning 2012. EMI asked Philip Monaghan some questions about this new book and what advice he would give cities when it comes to stimulating a green economy.

Monaghan:´The new book contains applied research about how local communities can still benefit despite the financial crisis by focussing on better stewardship of resource flows - energy, food, finance etc. In that way the crisis is a chance to do things differently in order to overcome the barriers to change as the emphasis is on ‘doing more with less’. The book helps regional leaders to prevent the high cost of social and environmental failure arising from the current failing economic model. This means bad practices, like a GDP increase when there is an oil spill. This has to change. The book has a particular focus on the interface between the green economy and sustainable urban development, with case learning from Amsterdam, Brighton and Vaxjo, amongst other cities.´

What is it that cities do wrong when it comes to stimulation of a green economy?

Monaghan: ´The 2 important things are desirability and deliverability. Ordinary people living and working in cities will not truly desire a green economy if it is not closely related to things they cherish – jobs, wellbeing, security. Generally, citizens are not willing to make sacrifices, because it is too far from their beds. Politicians increasingly talk about a green economy because it sounds more positive compared to climate change, and as result it may become more manageable to deliver for city leaders – smart grids, rapid surface transport.  Therefore desirability and deliverability are important things to focus on.´

How can cities stimulate the desirability and deliverability of a green economy?

Monaghan: ´ The city must have  a strong facilitating role in the stimulation of a green economy.  I advise cities  to appoint a chief resiliency officer that has the overview of the complex system and can connect different disciplines – economists, environmentalists, planners, accountants - to make the best interventions. Cities need to make action plans for the short, mid and long term. But I do also want to stress that some cities are already giving this a high priority. To stimulate for example the rise of low carbon industry (like solar energy and wind/tidal clusters in Baoding (China) and Liverpool (UK)) it works when there is an area within the city borders designated to this type of green industry. Why do cities not often use local pension funds to invest in local low carbon enterprise zones? Because people involved are not always aware of these possibilities. They think it is too complicated and will cost more money and that´s why they simply don´t do it. In fact the opposite may be true.´

Could you give an example of an interesting city that stimulates a green economy in an effective way?

Monaghan: ´The city Brighton is a good example of a city in which a green economy is stimulated by not only focusing on economic benefits, but especially on the quality of life. The city is aiming to convince people and organisations to ’do their bit’ as part of a new biosphere reserve to encourage eco tourism.´

You are also CEO of the organisation ´Infrangilis´. What is it that they do?

Monaghan: ´Infrangilis is part a think-thank, part a consultancy. In Latin it means ‘unbreakable’. We believe that empowering people to identify and utilise key leverage points in complex systems – economic, social and environmental – is the primary route to a resilient planet. A resilient planet that can withstand shocks and surprises such as climate chaos and over population, learn and transform as needed, and which can ultimately be built to win.´