Page 10

makingit_16_pp6-13_globalforum_print 22/07/2014 10:58 Page 10

GLOBAL FORUM

HOT TOPIC

Green growth or post-growth? Assessing responses to the challenges that lie ahead, André Reichel believes it is time for plan P – a post-growth strategy. In discussions of the future of economic growth, ‘business as usual’ is not an option. The alternative, say many, is ‘green growth’: growth that is resource-efficient, low-carbon and socially inclusive. In this line of thinking, green growth is the key to managing climate change, bringing ecofriendly development to emerging economies, renewing economic structures in industrialized nations, and creating more jobs to employ a rising population. Unfortunately, green growth is a myth, or at least an inadequate response to the challenges that lie ahead, because it ignores the social, political and personal dimensions of sustainability. It can never cut deep enough into the structures of self and society to secure a solution to the crises that we face. In some shape or form, green growth is already happening. In Germany, for example, both energy intensity and energy consumption have declined slightly over ANDRÉ REICHEL is a research fellow at the European Centre for Sustainability Research at Zeppelin University in Germany. More information about his work can be found at www.andrereichel.de

10 MakingIt

the past 20 years, while GDP has steadily increased. But Germany has achieved this largely by doing away with lots of its own energy-intensive industries, and outsourcing this part of the supply chain to other parts of the planet – most notably to China. The same is true for the UK economy. And that’s the key issue: what happens to green growth when there’s nowhere left to outsource the most important causes of your problems? The central concept of green growth is ‘decoupling’: in other words, how to increase the efficiency of the economy by detaching production from its current heavy use of finite resources. The idea is that the ‘greener you shop’, the ‘more the earth is saved.’ So, for example, new technologies mean that the air coming out of a car at its rear end can be cleaner than at the front, while fuel is actually saved in the process of driving. Examples of ‘relative’ decoupling abound, as in the German and UK economies above. However, there’s no evidence that green growth leads to any ‘absolute’ decoupling or permanent reduction in ecological impact, whether through lower carbon dioxide emissions, reduced extraction of raw materials, or less biodiversity loss. Fuel consumption per miles travelled may be declining in these

economies, but total consumption is growing; refrigerators may use less electricity, but there are far more of them in use and their combined ecological footprint is increasing. Growth is still growth, even if it is more energy-efficient. In this sense, decoupling is also a myth. The social and human consequences of absolute decoupling are profound, and that provides a clue to the continued popularity of green growth, even though it can’t deliver on its promises. After all, it’s

Profile for UNIDO

Partnerships and financing. Issue 16  

It is clear that the world must devise and adopt a sustainable development model and quickly transition to a low-carbon economy. But how are...

Partnerships and financing. Issue 16  

It is clear that the world must devise and adopt a sustainable development model and quickly transition to a low-carbon economy. But how are...

Profile for makingit
Advertisement