Is Green Growth possible?

December 4th, 2012 by Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research

Economic growth not only leads to rising turnovers and incomes but also increases greenhouse-gas emissions.

Can “Green Growth” be a way out of this dilemma?

Is it “a fairytale or a strategy”?

Issues like this are being debated at the international climate summit in Doha.

British growth critic Professor Tim Jackson; and Ottmar Edenhofer, chief economist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and Professor at TU Berlin; explored solutions at the Climate Lecture at Technische Universität Berlin on 3 December 2012 in front of an audience of 1000 guests.

Professor Tim Jackson, from the University of Surrey, argued that prosperity is possible without growth.

In the long run growth even harms prosperity because it plunders its natural base.

Professor Jackson considers that decoupling economic growth from environmental damage is not practicable.

“The challenges would be enormous: in a world of nine billion people all striving for Western incomes, the global carbon intensity of economic performance in 2050 would have to be at least 130 times lower than today. This would be a technological tour de force of industrial societies way beyond everything that has been achieved so far,” Professor Jackson said.

“Ultimately, prosperity comprises more than material interests. It rests fundamentally on our capability of leading a good life as human beings within the ecological boundaries of a finite planet,” he said.

Professor Ottmar Edenhofer said “so far, decoupling emission growth from economic growth has not been successful.”

“But this is what’s essential for ambitious climate protection. To make this happen, global emissions would have to peak around 2020 and decline afterwards.”

“Until 2080, the world economy would have to be virtually carbon emission-free.”

This transformation is only feasible if technologies are employed, which carry both opportunities, and challenges like carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the ground, and the use of biomass on a large scale.

“Economic growth does involve risks,” he said.

Professor Edenhofer explained that economic shrinkage instead of growth would reduce possible courses of action rather than increasing them.

“The basic problem is that growth leads to an accumulation of private assets in the possession of a few, and investments in education or the preservation of natural resources are missed out.”

“The use of the atmosphere for example is free, therefore investment in low-emission infrastructure doesn’t pay,” Professor Edenhofer said.

“We invest too much in some areas while we do not invest enough in others.”

“It is high time to change course regrading growth. However, if you want to achieve this there is a need not only for the accelerator and the brake, but also for a steering wheel,” Professor Edenhofer said.

“If we know where we are headed we can still argue about the speed. At this point the direction we steer towards is the most important issue.”

The Climate Lecture has hosted globally renowned thinkers and scientists such as Lord Nicholas Stern from the London School of Economics, Elinor Ostrom, who received the Nobel Prize for her work on Commons, and Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment programme based in Nairobi.

Professor Tim Jackson, former advisor to the British government, is author of the bestselling book “Prosperity without growth“.

Professor Ottmar Edenhofer is advisor to the World Bank on questions of growth. He recently gave a speech to the Enquête Commission of the German parliament on growth, prosperity and life quality. He is also director of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change.


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