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Paper: critique of ‘green growth’

This discussion paper questions the idea that ‘greener’ economic growth can achieve the reductions in GHG emissions that are necessary – a point that was also powerfully made by Tim Jackson in his 2009  book Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a finite planet.

This paper highlights the important role that transformations in agricultural production can play in mitigating emissions and adapting to changing conditions, but does not go so far as to articulate what an alternative paradigm for development might look like.



Many economists and policy makers advocate a fundamental shift towards “green growth” as the new, qualitatively-different growth paradigm, based on enhanced material/resource/energy efficiency and drastic changes in the energy mix. “Green growth” may work well in creating new growth impulses with reduced environmental load and facilitating related technological and structural change. But can it also mitigate climate change at the required scale (i.e. significant, absolute and permanent decline of GHG emissions at global level) and pace? This paper argues that growth, technological, population-expansion and governance constraints as well as some key systemic issues cast a very long shadow on the “green growth” hopes. One should not deceive oneself into believing that such evolutionary (and often reductionist) approach will be sufficient to cope with the complexities of climate change. It may rather give much false hope and excuses to do nothing really fundamental that can bring about a U-turn of global GHG emissions. The proponents of a resource efficiency revolution and a drastic change in the energy mix need to scrutinize the historical evidence, in particular the arithmetic of economic and population growth. Furthermore, they need to realize that the required transformation goes beyond innovation and structural changes to include democratization of the economy and cultural change. Climate change calls into question the global equality of opportunity for prosperity (i.e. ecological justice and development space) and is thus a huge developmental challenge for the South and a question of life and death for some developing countries (who increasingly resist the framing of climate protection versus equity).



Hoffmann U (2011).  Some Reflections on Climate Change, Green Growth Illusions and Development Space , UNCTAD Discussion Paper No. 205, UNCTAD/OSG/DP/2011/5

You can download the paper here.

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25 Mar 2012
Research trails