Climate Change

Missing green growth: 11 rich countries like Germany, UK will need 2 centuries to meet Paris goals

Emission reductions highly insufficient for Canada, Australia and 9 European countries; calling it ‘green growth’ is misleading and greenwashing, says study

By Rohini Krishnamurthy
Published: Wednesday 06 September 2023
Green growth appears out of reach for Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom, the study found. Photo: iStock_

It could take 11 high-income countries over 200 years to reduce their 2022 greenhouse gas emissions by 95 per cent, according to a new analysis. 

If current trends continue, these countries would emit 27 times their fair share of the 1.5 degrees Celsius carbon budget, the study published in journal The Lancet Planetary Health stated. Fair share in carbon budgets are the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) that can still be emitted for a 50 per cent chance of warming staying below 1.5°C.

These 11 high-income countries are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Read more: Report urges sustainable infrastructure development to fight climate change

“Green growth is, therefore, not occurring and appears out of reach for high-income countries. Our findings suggest that the continued pursuit of economic growth in high-income countries is at odds with the climate and equity commitments of the Paris Agreement,” researchers from the University of Leeds and the University of Barcelona wrote in their paper. 

The Paris Agreement is a treaty signed by 196 countries to limit “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels” and pursue efforts “to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

Scientists have warned that green growth can only occur if decoupling is fast enough to reduce emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement. Decoupling, according to the study, is a decrease in CO2 emissions per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). 

“There is nothing green about economic growth in high-income countries”, the lead author of the study, Jefim Vogel, from the University of Leeds, said in a statement.

He added that it was a recipe for climate breakdown and further climate injustice. “Calling such highly insufficient emission reductions ‘green growth’ is misleading, it is essentially greenwashing,” he noted.

Read more: Health cost of air pollution in India assessed at 3 per cent of its GDP

The researchers first identified 11 counties that achieved “absolute decoupling”, which means those that decreased their CO2 emissions alongside increasing GDP between 2013 and 2019. To do this, they collected GDP data from the World Bank and CO2 emissions data from the Global Carbon Project.

They compared each country’s ‘business-as-usual’ emission cut rates in the future to the “Paris-compliant” rates needed to comply with their “fair share” of the respective global carbon budget.

The analysis suggested that none of the 11 high-income countries that have “decoupled” emissions from growth have achieved emission reductions that are consistent with the Paris Agreement goals.

Further, these 11 countries are likely to take between 73 years and 369 years (223 years, on average) to reduce their respective 2022 emissions by 95 per cent. They would use up to five times and 162 times (on average, 27 times) of their respective remaining post-2022 fair shares of the 1·5°C global carbon budget.

These developed countries achieved emission reductions of an average of 1.6 per cent per year between 2013 and 2019, against a required reduction rate of 30 per cent per year by 2025 to not overshoot their fair share of the 1.5°C global carbon budget.

The researchers recommend that rich countries follow a “post-growth” approach to meet their climate targets and fairness principles of the Paris Agreement.

Read more: Benefits of climate adaptation far outweigh costs

Post-growth means equitably reducing carbon or energy-intensive and less-necessary forms of production and consumption, improving provisioning systems and shifting to low-carbon, low-energy alternatives for necessary goods and services, according to the researchers.

“Moving away from economic growth towards post-growth is fundamentally different from a recession, it does not entail hardship or loss of livelihoods,” Vogel explained.

Post-growth, he added, can secure and improve livelihoods and well-being without economic growth through policies such as a public job guarantee, worktime reduction, living wages, a minimum income guarantee, and universal access to affordable housing and quality public services.

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