“The main challenge is how humans will reduce their energy consumption by 2050”

Tribune. It is because it is becoming evident that global warming is accelerating and that countries are really going to have to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that the question of the consequences of this reduction on economic growth is starting to enter the picture. public debate. In France, the subject will undoubtedly occupy part of the presidential campaign, even if the designated environmental candidate wishes to put forward a “realistic” ecology and thus seems to want to avoid taking the subject head-on.

It is accepted in economic theory, since the publication of the article “A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth”, The Quarterly Journal of Economics, n ° 1/70, in 1956, by Robert M. Solow, that production (the famous gross domestic product – GDP) can be described as a function which combines three factors: capital, labor and a third factor, defined mathematically by default, referred to as “total factor productivity”.

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This third factor actually explains, over the last 150 years, most of the economic growth (on average 80%, with variations depending on the country). This total factor productivity reflects the capacity that economies have to produce ever more value from stocks of capital and labor, which are admittedly rising, but rising moderately in relation to that of production.

“Fusion” relationship between productivity and energy

The question today is whether it will be possible to ensure the decrease in GHG emissions without altering the growth potential of the economy: this is the concept of “absolute decoupling”, as it stands. used in various United Nations reports since 2011. This notion is central because, if the drop in GHG emissions were to result in a drop in economic activity, the climate transition would be difficult to achieve and would potentially encounter reluctance insurmountable populations.

If we consider that total factor productivity explains a large part of growth, the question therefore comes down to questioning the possibility of maintaining a satisfactory rate of increase in this total factor productivity when it will be necessary, at the same time , drastically reduce the use of carbon energies. However, the past shows us that, since the beginning of the industrial revolution, there has been a “fusional” relationship between the growth of total factor productivity and the growth of energy consumption.

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