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There is nothing green about economic growth in rich countries: Lancet study

 Despite high-income countries claiming that they have achieved green growth and reduced carbon emissions, a new Lancet study has challenged their claims, saying emission reductions in 11 rich nations fall drastically short of meeting the climate goals and fairness requirements of the Paris Agreement.

If current trends continue, the 11 high-income countries that have “decoupled” carbon emissions from GDP growth would, on average, take over 200 years to get their emissions close to zero, and would emit more than 27 times their fair share of the “global carbon budget” that must not be exceeded if we are to avert catastrophic global warming beyond 1.5 degree Celsius, according to a paper published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal.

The authors argued that the pursuit of economic growth in high-income countries is at odds with internationally agreed climate targets, and call for transformative “post-growth” climate policy centred around sufficiency, fairness, and wellbeing.

Politicians and media have been celebrating recent decoupling achievements of high-income countries as “green growth” – claiming this could reconcile economic growth with climate targets.

To investigate this claim, the new study compared carbon emission reductions in these countries with the reductions required under the Paris Agreement.

“There is nothing green about economic growth in high-income countries. It is a recipe for climate breakdown and further climate injustice. Calling such highly insufficient emission reductions ‘green growth’ is misleading, it is essentially greenwashing,” said lead author Jefim Vogel from the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, UK.

For growth to be legitimately considered ‘green’, it must be consistent with the climate targets and fairness principles of the Paris Agreement – but high-income countries have not achieved anything close to this, and are highly unlikely to achieve it in the future.

“Continued economic growth in high-income countries is at odds with the twin goal of averting catastrophic climate breakdown and upholding fairness principles that protect development prospects in lower-income countries. In other words, further economic growth in high-income countries is harmful, dangerous, and unjust,” Vogel lamented.

The 11 high-income countries are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK. None of the high-income countries who have “decoupled” emissions from growth have achieved emission reductions anywhere near fast enough to be Paris-compliant.

The scale of the gap between achieved and Paris-compliant emission reductions is dramatic.

Among the 11 high-income countries examined, emission reductions between 2013 and 2019 were on average just 1.6 per cent per year. By contrast, reduction rates of 30 per cent per year are needed by 2025 for countries to comply with their fair-shares of the global carbon budget for 1.5 degree Celsius, the study noted.

In light of their findings, the authors said that attempts to pursue “green growth” in high-income countries will not deliver the emission reductions required to meet the climate targets and fairness principles of the Paris Agreement, and argue that a “post-growth” approach is needed instead.

“If high-income countries are to meet their Paris obligations, they should scale down energy-intensive and less-necessary forms of production, reduce the consumption of the rich, shift from private cars to public transit,” said Professor Jason Hickel from the Institute for Environmental Science and Technology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) in Spain.

They also need to accelerate renewable energy deployment and efficiency improvements with public financing, he suggested. Unlike high-income countries, the authors note that lower-income nations have lower emissions per capita, making it more achievable for them to stay within their carbon budget fair-shares, even while increasing their production and consumption for human development objectives, the authors noted.

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