In a ground-breaking study published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal, experts have raised alarms over the supposed “green growth” achieved by high-income countries.
Contrary to political claims, the research reveals that these nations’ current growth-oriented strategies are drastically insufficient to meet the climate goals outlined in the Paris Agreement, ultimately jeopardizing global efforts to combat climate change.
The study indicates that even among the 11 high-income countries that have managed to “decouple” carbon emissions from GDP growth, progress in reducing emissions is falling woefully short.
Under the current trajectory, it “would take these nations over two centuries,” on average, to bring their emissions close to zero.
Shockingly, they would end up emitting more than 27 times their fair share of the global carbon budget, a critical threshold that must not be exceeded to avert catastrophic global warming beyond 1.5C.
These findings challenge the popular narrative of “green growth” celebrated by politicians and media outlets, which suggests that economic expansion can be harmonized with climate targets.
The study demonstrates that the pursuit of economic growth in high-income countries is fundamentally at odds with internationally agreed-upon climate objectives.
It calls for a paradigm shift towards a transformative “post-growth” climate policy framework rooted in sufficiency, fairness, and well-being.
According to the lead author of the study, Jefim Vogel, from the University of Leeds, “There is nothing green about economic growth in high-income countries.”
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The core argument put forth by Vogel is that continuing economic growth in high-income countries runs counter to the dual objectives of averting catastrophic climate breakdown and upholding fairness principles that safeguard the development prospects of lower-income nations.
“Calling such highly insufficient emission reductions ‘green growth’ is misleading, it is essentially greenwashing,” Vogel stated. “Continued economic growth in high-income countries is harmful, dangerous, and unjust.”
The study, which examined the emission reduction efforts of 11 high-income countries between 2013 and 2019, found that their average annual emission reductions during this period were a mere 1.6%.
However, to align with the Paris Agreement’s targets and stay within their fair share of the global carbon budget for 1.5C, these countries would need to achieve reduction rates of 30% per year by 2025.
The gap between achieved and Paris-compliant emission reductions is staggering, putting the world at risk of catastrophic climate change. Even the best-performing country among the 11, the UK, falls significantly short.
The UK would need to increase its emission reduction rate fivefold, from an average of 3.1% per year (2013-2019) to 16% per year by 2025, just to meet its obligations.
Other countries face even more daunting challenges.
Belgium, Australia, Austria, Canada, and Germany would need to accelerate their emission reductions by more than 30 times compared to their performance between 2013 and 2019 under the concept of “absolute decoupling.”