“Degrowth is not an option for poor or rich countries in the face of climate change”

JSo far, economic growth has fueled global warming. The mechanics of this disturbing truth are simple: increased economic activity usually goes hand in hand with increased use of energy and natural resources. Fossil fuels still represent 80% of the global energy mix, so energy consumption remains closely linked to greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, to climate change.

In principle, to achieve the significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed to tackle the climate crisis, the world has two options: decouple global emissions from economic growth or abandon economic growth altogether.

Decoupling is clearly the most desirable solution, because developed countries, like developing countries, want to grow. Economic growth is indeed of paramount importance for well-being as well as for issues such as social security, pensions and debt sustainability. But decoupling is difficult: current projections for the size of the world’s population and GDP per capita imply that the world must reduce the rate of CO emissions.2 per unit of real GDP of about 9% per year on average to reach “net zero emissions” by mid-century. By comparison, between 1990 and 2016, global emissions per unit of real GDP declined by only 1.8% per year.

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Faced with this sobering reality, economists do not agree on whether humanity can realistically decouple growth and CO emissions.2.

Supporters of “green growth” are optimistic: they believe that the right policies and technologies will reduce CO emissions2 at sustainable levels while ensuring the continuation or even acceleration of economic growth. This point of view is shared by several governments and institutions. For example, the European Commission defines its Green Deal as “Europe’s new growth strategy”.

The “decreasing” reject this idea. They say the global economy must be slowed down to reduce CO emissions2 and that systemic change and redistribution of wealth are needed to achieve this in a socially sustainable manner. They want to tackle “Fairy tales of eternal economic growth”, as environmental activist Greta Thunberg told world leaders in 2019.

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