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Green Growth sounds nice, but can it deliver?

A new UNCTAD Discussion Paper (No. 205) reviews the fallacies of green growth in coping with climate change and the implications for development prospects in the South. 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 and pace (i.e. significant, absolute and permanent decline of GHG emissions at global level)?   

The UNCTAD Discussion 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. The focus on green growth is largely a re-packing of the 25 years old sustainable development, of which we heard a lot but seen very little. It may rather give excuses to do nothing really fundamental that can bring about a U-turn of global GHG emissions. The proponents of a resource efficiency revolution (called eco-efficiency, factor 4 or factor 10 or lately simply green growth) need to scrutinize the historical macro- (not micro-) economic evidence, in particular the combined effects 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, and a question of global solidarity for the others. Against this background, the Paper points to serious constraints for development opportunities  in the South and recommends a focus on climate change adaptation.

The paper is available at: www.unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/osgdp2011d5_en.pdf
Source: Ulrich Hoffmann, Head of Sustainable Development at United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)