Is green growth happening? An empirical analysis of achieved versus Paris-compliant CO2–GDP decoupling

| September 30, 2023 | Leave a Comment

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Date of Publication: September

Year of Publication: 2023

Publication City: London, UK

Author(s): Jefim Vogel, Jason Hickel

Journal: The Lancet Planetary Health

Volume: 7

Pages: e759–69


BackgroundScientists have raised concerns about whether high-income countries, with their high per-capita CO2 emissions, can decarbonise fast enough to meet their obligations under the Paris Agreement if they continue to pursue aggregate economic growth. Over the past decade, some countries have reduced their CO2 emissions while increasing their gross domestic product (absolute decoupling). Politicians and media have hailed this as green growth. In this empirical study, we aimed to assess whether these achievements are consistent with the Paris Agreement, and whether Paris-compliant decoupling is within reach. 

MethodsWe developed and implemented a novel approach to assess whether decoupling achievements in high-income countries are consistent with the Paris climate and equity goals. We identified 11 high-income countries that achieved absolute decoupling between 2013 and 2019. We assessed the achieved consumption-based CO2 emission reductions and decoupling rates of these countries against Paris-compliant rates, defined here as rates consistent with national fair-shares of the remaining global carbon budgets for a 50% chance of limiting global warming to 1·5°C or 1·7°C (representing the lower [1·5°C] and upper [well below 2°C] bounds of the Paris target). 

FindingsThe emission reductions that high-income countries achieved through absolute decoupling fall far short of Paris-compliant rates. At the achieved rates, these countries would on average take more than 220 years to reduce their emissions by 95%, emitting 27 times their remaining 1·5°C fair-shares in the process. To meet their 1·5°C fair-shares alongside continued economic growth, decoupling rates would on average need to increase by a factor of ten by 2025. 

Interpretation–The decoupling rates achieved in high-income countries are inadequate for meeting the climate and equity commitments of the Paris Agreement and cannot legitimately be considered green. If green is to be consistent with the Paris Agreement, then high-income countries have not achieved green growth, and are very unlikely to be able to achieve it in the future. To achieve Paris-compliant emission reductions, high-income countries will need to pursue post-growth demand-reduction strategies, reorienting the economy towards sufficiency, equity, and human wellbeing, while also accelerating technological change and efficiency improvements. 

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