Citizen Action Monitor

Green growth is not the solution to the climate crisis – So how come world leaders keep promoting it?

Leaders embrace IPCC’s 2018 proposed techno-fixes that promise to cut emissions even as economies grow.

No 2505 Posted by fw, August 14, 2019

Christine Corlet Walker

“You may have missed it, but a recent report [Decoupling Debunked] declared that the main strategy of world leaders for tackling climate change won’t work. It’s called green growth, and it’s favoured by some of the largest and most influential organisations in the world, including the United Nations and the World Bank. Green growth is a vague term with many definitions, but broadly speaking, it’s the idea that society can reduce its environmental impacts and slash its emissions, even while the economy continues to grow and the quantity of stuff that’s produced and consumed increases. This would be achieved by improving the efficiency of production and manufacturing processes, transitioning to cleaner energy sources and developing new technologies to deal with the pollution that economic activity creates. Better yet, it’s argued, all of this could be done fast enough to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming to below 1.5ᵒC.”Christine Corlet Walker, The Conversation

Think PM Trudeau when you read this article – He was notorious for repeating his bogus spielabout how the environment and the economy go together.”

As a PhD Candidate at the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity, Christine’s current research focuses on the question of how we can maintain a high quality of life whilst remaining within the limits of the planet.

In the concluding sentence to her article, Christine Walker declares that “Our goal in the 21st century should be creating economies that allow people to flourish, even when they don’t grow.”

Below is my abridged repost of Christine’s article, including my added subheadings, text-highlighting and, at the bottom, two added see also links. Alternatively, read Walker’s complete article on The Conversation’s website by clicking on the following linked title.

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Green growth is trusted to fix climate change – here’s the problem with that by Christine Corlet Walker, The Conversation, August 5, 2019

Recent report declares green growth won’t work

You may have missed it, but a recent report [Decoupling Debunked] declared that the main strategy of world leaders for tackling climate change won’t work. It’s called green growth, and it’s favoured by some of the largest and most influential organisations in the world, including the United Nations and the World Bank.

Green growth argues that economic growth is compatible with cutting CO2 emissions

Green growth is a vague term with many definitions, but broadly speaking, it’s the idea that society can reduce its environmental impacts and slash its emissions, even while the economy continues to grow and the quantity of stuff that’s produced and consumed increases.

Green growth promises to meet 1.5ᵒC with improved efficiency, transition to clean energy, CO2 cuts

This would be achieved by improving the efficiency of production and manufacturing processes, transitioning to cleaner energy sources and developing new technologies to deal with the pollution that economic activity creates. Better yet, it’s argued, all of this could be done fast enough to meet the Paris Agreement target of keeping global warming to below 1.5ᵒC.

Decoupling Debunked report confirms there is no evidence that decoupling works

Fixing the climate crisis without having to compromise on economic growth sounds appealing. But the Decoupling Debunked report echoes work by prominent academics in finding that there is no evidence that societies have ever managed to decouple economic growth from emissions at this scale in the past, and little evidence they have the capacity to achieve it in the future.

Production processes will continue to generate pollution, carbon emissions, and waste

It’s no surprise that, historically, global carbon emissions have gone up as economies have grown. The processes that produce the goods and services we all consume use raw materials as inputs and generate pollution, carbon emissions and waste.

Despite production process improvements, emissions will rise because the economy keeps growing

Making these processes more efficient and swapping fossil fuels for renewables can, and has, reduced the average emissions that come with each additional dollar of economic growth. This is known as “relative decoupling”, because each dollar of new economic growth has fewer emissions attached to it, relative to each dollar of past growth. But, emissions still rise in absolute terms because the economy is still growing.

The challenge is to cut emissions even as the economy grows – And so far that hasn’t been done

Since it is the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere that matters in the race against climate change, we need to contrast this idea of “relative decoupling” with the stronger concept of “absolute decoupling”. Absolute decoupling means that even as the economy grows, total carbon emissions fall year-on-year.

With this distinction in mind, the question becomes: is absolute decoupling of economic growth from carbon emissions possible? And can it be done fast enough to prevent catastrophic climate change?

The scale of the challenge

IPCC’s 2018 recommended “negative emissions technology solution” is completely untested at large scales

The IPCC’s Special Report, released in October 2018, gives 90 scenarios that would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C, while also continuing with economic growth. So far, so good. But almost every single one of these scenarios relies on a negative emissions technology called Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) that’s completely untested at large scales.

Chances that negative emissions technology can meet 1.5ᵒC target are highly unlikely

No one can say that these feats are categorically impossible. But the evidence suggests that the chances of meeting the 1.5ᵒC warming target alongside continued economic growth are, at best, highly unlikely. Can we really take this risk — relying on unproven technologies to rescue us from the threat of climate change? Given the consequences of getting the gamble wrong, surely the answer is no.

Negative emission technologies don’t exist at the scale they’re needed – and could do more ecological harm than good. 

Where does this leave us?

Relying on technology to solve climate crisis reflects political decision-makers’ drive to keep economies growing

Proposals for green growth that rely solely on technology to solve the climate crisis are based on a flawed idea. This is, that the limits to the world’s physical systems are flexible, but the structure of its economies are not. This seems entirely backwards and more a reflection of the importance of politics and power in determining what solutions are deemed viable, than any reflection of reality.

So society should ask, are these global institutions promoting green growth because they believe it’s the most promising way of avoiding climate breakdown? Or is it because they believe it’s simply not politically feasible to talk about the alternatives?

Our goal in the 21st century should be to create economies without growth, that allow people to flourish

If we can be optimistic about humanity’s ability to develop fantastical new technologies to bend and overcome the limits of nature, can’t we lend that same optimism to developing new economic structures? Our goal in the 21st century should be creating economies that allow people to flourish, even when they don’t grow.

SEE RELATED

VIDEO — Why It’s So Hard to Capture CO2 From the Air, by Julian Huguet, Seeker, You Tube, October 26, 2018 (4 minutes) — Studies show carbon emissions are not slowing down fast enough to prevent 1.5 ℃  of warming. Could negative emission technologies be the solution?

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