Is economic growth compatible with ecological sustainability? A new report shows that efforts to decouple economic growth from environmental harm, known as ‘green growth’, have not succeeded and are unlikely to succeed in their aim. ‘Decoupling debunked – Evidence and arguments against green growth as a sole strategy for sustainability’ will be released on 9 July 2019.
In recent decades, economic growth rose to become the leading measure of changes in prosperity and wellbeing. For that reason, governments have sought to maximise the growth of their gross domestic product (GDP), which tends to involve greater resource use and more pollution.
As the climate crisis and environmental degradation worsened, policy-makers sought to square the circle of maintaining prosperity while reducing the environmental impact of economic activity by decoupling resource use from economic growth. This policy choice has become known as ‘green growth’.
Assessing green growth
Although decoupling is useful and necessary, and has occurred at certain times and places, ‘green growth’ cannot reduce resource use on anywhere near the scale required to deal with global environmental breakdown and to keep global warming below the target of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the threshold established as part of the Paris Agreement.
This is the conclusion of ‘Decoupling debunked: Evidence and arguments against green growth as a sole strategy for sustainability’. Published by the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), the report reviews the empirical evidence and theoretical literature to assess the validity of the decoupling hypothesis.
The report, whose lead author is Timothée Parrique of the Centre for Studies and Research in International Development (CERDI), finds that there is no empirical evidence supporting the existence of an absolute, permanent, global, substantial and sufficiently rapid decoupling of economic growth from environmental pressures. Absolute decoupling is also highly unlikely to happen in the future, the report concludes.
‘Decoupling debunked’ highlights the need for the rethinking of green growth policies and the urgent necessity to identify alternative approaches that can safeguard prosperity and wellbeing while protecting the environment.