Citizen Action Monitor

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions should take precedence over economic growth,” says David Suzuki

Despite adoption of energy-efficient, low carbon sources, economic growth will likely cancel out these advances.

No 2052 Posted by fw, September 14, 2017

David Suzuki

“The Pan-Canadian Framework marks the first time Canada’s first ministers have endorsed a national plan to tackle climate change. It opens the door to a game-changing carbon price that will make reducing greenhouse gas emissions the smart, cost-saving choice for businesses and individuals. However, a recent Nature Climate Change article claims, ‘No major advanced industrialized country is on track to meet its pledges to control the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change.’ Canada pushed for ambitious targets during the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, but even the framework won’t put us on track to meet our pledged reductions.”David Suzuki, DeSmog Canada

As far as it goes, Dr. Suzuki’s article is a wake-up call to Canadians — despite what PM Trudeau says, we can’t have our cake – grow the economy — and eat it too – eat carbon emissions.

The problem is Dr. Suzuki’s article does not go far enough: it fails to sound the alarm of the deadly connection between continuing global economic growth and ecological devastation — We’re talking existential crisis here.

As Tim Jackson, a British ecological economist and professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey, puts it:

“But why do we fail to see the connection between economic growth and planet degradation? Simple: a growing economy is all we know. … How can a continually growing economic system fit within the confines of a finite ecological system?”

Below is a repost of Dr. Suzuki’s article with my added subheadings. Or read it on DeSmog Canada’s website be clicking on the following linked title.

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Can Emissions Actually Shrink While the Economy Grows? by David Suzuki, DeSmog Canada, September 13, 2917

Trudeau signed a deal with premiers to “grow our economy, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions” and more

What does climate change have to do with economic growth? Canada’s prime minister and premiers signed a deal in December [2016] to “grow our economy, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and build resilience to the impacts of a changing climate.” The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change outlines plans for carbon pricing, energy-efficient building codes, electric vehicle charging stations, methane emission regulations and more.

Is the framework correct in assuming we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow the economy? If not, which should be given precedence?

Will the Pan-Canadian framework be a gamechanger in tackling climate change? Maybe not!

These questions come at a pivotal moment in Canadian climate action. The Pan-Canadian Framework marks the first time Canada’s first ministers have endorsed a national plan to tackle climate change. It opens the door to a game-changing carbon price that will make reducing greenhouse gas emissions the smart, cost-saving choice for businesses and individuals.

The Framework will not put Canada on track to meet our pledged GHG reductions

However, a recent Nature Climate Change article claims, “No major advanced industrialized country is on track to meet its pledges to control the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change.” Canada pushed for ambitious targets during the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, but even the framework won’t put us on track to meet our pledged reductions.

Canada’s burst of economic growth may prevent us from reaching our climate targets

Rather than being an outcome of climate action, economic growth may prevent us from reaching climate targets. A July 2017 study in Nature Climate Change concluded that the world only has a five per cent chance of keeping global average temperature from increasing beyond 2 C. On a positive note, the authors found economies worldwide will likely become more energy-efficient, and low-carbon sources like wind and solar will make up a growing share of the mix.

Despite adoption of energy-efficient, low carbon sources, economic growth will likely cancel out these gains

But economic growth will likely cancel out these advances. For every megatonne of emissions reduced through efficiency and clean energy, another megatonne will be produced because of economic expansion. Our economies will get bigger almost as fast as they get cleaner and emissions will not drop quickly enough to stave off catastrophic climate change.

Governments always pitch GDP-driven economic growth as a sure path to prosperity

Economic growth has been the primary goal of every Canadian government, provincial and federal, for decades. Leaders’ speeches are peppered with references to it. Election campaigns are filled with promises of economic expansion. Pity the politician who presides over an economic downturn.

But GDP is a poor indicator of overall well-being

Rarely do we stop to ask what economic growth means. In short, it’s a year-to-year increase in production, distribution and consumption, as expressed by gross domestic product.

If GDP strikes you as a poor indicator of well-being, you’re not alone. The late U.S. politician Robert F. Kennedy once remarked that GDP “measures everything, except that which makes life worth living.” It’s a flawed indicator of progress.

Pan-Canadian Framework’s oxymoronic promise of “green growth” offers something for everybody

The Pan-Canadian Framework expresses optimism that we can reduce emissions while expanding the economy. This promise of “green growth” is popular because it offers something for everybody. It maintains a commitment to economic growth while claiming greenhouse gas emissions will drop. But, as the Nature Climate Change study asserts, “green growth” is likely an oxymoron.

Opposing voices propose a planned slowdown of the economy

Degrowth” advocates argue that tackling climate change requires shrinking the economy. A planned slowdown of the economy would be achieved by implementing shorter workweeks and more holidays and encouraging low-consumption lifestyles.

Agrowth” advocates such as environmental economist Jeroen van den Bergh argue that we should ignore GDP altogether, and instead evaluate progress using indicators such as literacy, employment, rates of diabetes and heart disease, water and air quality and climate stability. If GDP happens to go up while these indicators improve, so be it. If GDP goes down while other measures of well-being increase, what have we truly lost?

There will be low-carbon winners and fossil fuel losers when the Framework is implemented

When the Pan-Canadian Framework is implemented, some economic sectors will likely grow. Companies that offer low-carbon energy sources, energy-efficient products and opportunities to offset or store greenhouse gas emissions will prosper. Other sectors, like coal mining for power production, will shrink. We may or may not have “clean growth,” but we will have a cleaner economy and a better shot at preventing or mitigating climate change’s most harrowing effects.

“Reducing greenhouse gas emissions should take precedence over economic growth”

If moving beyond the Pan-Canadian Framework is at odds with growing the economy, let’s make sure our elected officials have their priorities straight. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions should take precedence over economic growth.

David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Research Fellow Brett Dolter, co-editor of the recently released Handbook on Growth and Sustainability.

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