Green Growth Policy Lacks Empirical Support, Finds New Study

A new study looks at green growth policies as expressed in chief reports by the World Bank, the OECD, and the UN Environment Program, and tests the theory against existing empirical evidence and models of the link between GDP and both CO2 emissions and material footprint.

The paper “Is Green Growth Possible?” is co-authored by Dr Jason Hickel (Goldsmiths, University of London) and Prof Giorgos Kallis from ICTA-UAB, and has been reported in the journal New Political Economy.

For material footprint, the question relates to whether absolute decoupling of GDP can be achieved from resource use. Their findings demonstrate that empirical projections do not exhibit absolute decoupling at a global scale, even under highly positive situations. Furthermore, they suggest that although some models demonstrate that it may be obtained in high-income nations under highly optimistic (and indeed unrealistic) conditions, this cannot be continued in the long term with restrictions to efficiency enhancements.

These outcomes presume existing levels of GDP growth to be around 2%–3% per year. They consider that it may be possible to obtain absolute reductions in resource use with GDP rising at less than 1% per year. However, quickly realizing reductions to get down to safe thresholds will need degrowth approaches.

For CO2 emissions, the question relates to whether the emissions can be decreased quick enough to stay within the carbon budgets for 1.5 C or 2 C, as per the Paris Agreement. Scientists state that emission reductions in agreement with 2 C are only feasible if global GDP growth rate reduces to less than 0.5%. Similarly, they show that reductions for 1.5 C are only feasible in a degrowth scenario. These outcomes hold even under idealist policy conditions, with high taxes on carbon and rapid rates of technological advance.

Simply put, although all the government policy interventions and technological advance that can be acquired are needed, any successful effort to obtain adequate emissions reductions will need that the aggregate energy demand is scaled down.

Considering these results, it can be concluded that green growth policy is in need of empirical support. Certainly, the evidence proposes questions about the legitimacy of World Bank and OECD attempts to endorse green growth as a way out of ecological emergency. Any policy programs that depend on green growth assumptions—such as the Sustainable Development Goals—must immediately be revisited.

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