Is Green Growth Viable?


Is Green Growth Feasible?

Living on a finite planet means having finite resources of which humans have not a complete understanding of their thresholds and limits. On the other hand, it is possible to determine and demonstrate clearly that the human impact on the planet is affecting negatively its environment, degrading ecosystems and decreasing biodiversity and impacting the wellbeing of its inhabitants. It is possible to find the cause of such climate crisis in the process that has been driven by a growth based economy that the current economic model is pursuing. However, such eternal growth based economy cannot operate with finite resources, which will ultimately perish (Heinrich-Boll-Stiftung, 2016).

The green growth strategy, nonetheless, suggests the idea that society can decrease its ecological effects and cut its emissions, while the economy grows and productivity increases. Green growth proponents advocate for an elimination of CO2 emissions from developed countries with no impact on the growing economies by 2030, with an exclusive appeal to technology. What green growth supporters and many economists appeal to is the logic of decoupling between growth and emissions with its environmental impacts and technological efficiency (Jackson and Victor, 2019).

Decoupling the value side of economic activities from the material basis would be a sustainable application, by for example substituting fossil fuels with renewable energy. This would mean delivering more economic value for less the environmental impact. However, the feasibility of decoupling and the concept of green growth depend on how fast human society can achieve a clever enough technology that allows an economy of expansion while reducing or offsetting emissions.

In fact, the more growth, the more complicated it is to decouple it from its material effects. This does not imply that decoupling is impossible, conversely absolute decoupling from material production and wellbeing is essential for the prosperity of the planet and the people (Walker, 2019; Jackson and Victor, 2019).

On one hand, a relative decoupling, would mean a decline in resource intensities by an application of efficiency through technological advancements. On the other hand, absolute decoupling would mean an absolute fall in consumption or emissions (OECD, n.d.).

However, relative decoupling does not indicate that emissions are declining. For this, absolute decoupling in indispensable, where emissions fall even as economic growth rises. In order to achieve absolute decoupling, it is crucial that emissions decline as fast as economic output rises. Unfortunately, for global pollutants such as carbon there is no evidence of absolute decoupling. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2018) estimated that to have a 66 per cent likelihood of remaining in the 1.5° C temperature increase target, a maximum of 420 Gt of CO2 should be available, that at the current rate would be drained in less than twenty years. An adequate absolute decoupling that prevents an environmental collapse, would necessitate an average fall in carbon intensity of global economic production of 14 per cent every year for the next thirty years (Jackson, 2017). Statistics show that currently this figure is of 1 per cent, suggesting that a decrease of 14 per cent seems not feasible (Jackson and Victor, 2019).

The ‘Decoupling debunked – Evidence and arguments against green growth as a sole strategy for sustainability’ report (Parrique et al ., 2019), declares that the green growth strategy will not work. Scholars demonstrated that there is no evidence that societies have ever managed to achieve absolute decoupling and there is little evidence of the capacity of achieving it in the future. As economies grow, emissions grow in unison. But even with more efficient processes, that would be achieved with relative decoupling, every dollar of economic growth has fewer emissions but yet has embedded emissions. Emissions still rise in absolute terms because the economy still grows. However it has been argued that even with the development of new technologies and improved efficiency in manufacturing, the Paris Agreement target would not be met (Ping-Yu et al .,2016).

The IPCC Special Report (2018) suggests scenarios based on negative emissions technologies that refer to Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) that has not been tested at large scales. BECCS encompasses the growing of large tree plantations that would draw carbon from the atmosphere, then harvesting and burning to generate energy. The technology would need to absorb 2,000 times more tonnes of carbon than is currently capable of doing. This strategy would imply the plantation of trees on an area as large as India, which in terms of land use and biodiversity concerns does not appear to be feasible and efficient (Smith, Davis and Yongsung, 2015).

Suggestions for green growth that exclusively rely on the technology salvation to solve the climate crises are based on the improper idea that the “limits of the physical world can be flexed” (Walker, 2019), but the structure of the economy cannot. However, this solutions seem to avoid a political debate on other possible alternatives that involve the paradigm of not growing. There is great optimism of the human ability to develop new technologies to overcome the physical limits of nature, this optimism should be transferred in the development of new economic structures that would allow prosperity even when they do not grow. The reality is that in the past humans have not achieved great results in the growth-based economy and are still currently degrading resources, causing climate breakdowns, pollution and waste. A change in structures and economy as well as society would present a better scenario for eliminating emissions (Jackson, 2018; Walker, 2019).

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Great post and wonderful collation of analysis on the subject :slight_smile:

My two pennies worth is that transitioning to a low carbon economy is expensive especially in installing energy efficiency measures in homes, building renewable energy, and transitioning vehicles to electric. In making this transition massive investment is required, resulting in the growth of the economy, but once these measures are all in place and we also transition our lifestyles, growth is simply not feasible as we will live on less.

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