Urgent Need to Re-think Global Economic Policies to Avoid Climate Crisis

August 5, 2021

Vienna, August 5, 2021 – Research into global climate models by leading international academics shows that current worldwide economic policies are in danger of leading nations away from emission and global warming targets.

Existing growth-driven economic scenarios rely heavily on increased energy use in the future, and the use of carbon capture and storage technologies, which are as-yet untested on a commercial scale.

A recently published article in Nature Energy calls instead for diversification in these existing models. Under the leadership of Jason Hickel, the 8 co-authors from 5 countries, representing a diversity of disciplines, highlight the need to consider alternative post-growth scenarios in order to meet climate and emissions obligations set by the Paris Agreement.

Co-author of the article Diana Urge-Vorsatz from CEU’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy highlighted the importance of the article: “Unlimited growth of consumption is not possible on a finite planet with finite resources. In order to avert the increasingly serious risks of climate change and other environmental crises, policy-makers also need to start paying closer attention to scholarship evaluating post-growth development alternatives. Because models of the future that rely on the traditional growth paradigm face major challenges in meeting our climate goals, post-growth scenarios need to also be included among the ensemble of options for future developments considered by policy-makers.”

Growth-driven economic scenarios assume that nations must continue to raise their gross domestic product (GDP) by increasing the production of goods and services in order to progress economically and socially. Subsequently, this creates an increase in the demand for energy and an inevitable rise in carbon emissions. These increases will need to be offset if the goal of the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial levels, is to be achieved.

To reconcile growth in energy demand and emissions, nations rely on models using speculative future technologies with unproven outcomes. For example, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) is one method that will be used more in the coming decades to remove excess carbon from the atmosphere. However, this requires massive amounts of agricultural land and water to produce the biofuels needed, which will be taken away from food production.

Other strategies – such as direct air carbon capture and storage – consume massive amounts of electricity, creating difficulties in decarbonizing energy supply. New research shows that alternative scenarios need to be considered in order to deliver on existing targets.

There is now a growing call for high-income nations to pursue post-growth economic models instead, which take away the focus on increasing GDP and look to prioritize human needs and an improved standard of living. Post-growth policies maintain a stable economy and support the social and societal needs of the population without further economic growth. (For example, Spain outperforms the USA in certain key social indicators such as life expectancy despite having 55% less GDP per capita.)

Policy interventions are needed in areas such as transportation, industry, agriculture, construction and city planning. These include extending product warranties, rights to repair, minimizing food waste, reducing reliance on industrial farming methods, promoting retrofits over new construction and improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings. Recent modelling of post-growth scenarios shows that policy interventions could bring annual global final energy demand to as low as 150 Exajoules (EJ). This is compared 245 EJ as modelled in the low energy demand de-carbonization scenario highlighted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Professor Urge-Vorsatz also highlighted that flying is one of the areas where serious rethinking is needed in order to be able to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. As there is no technological alternative to oil-based aviation in the timeframe the world needs to become climate neutral, policies are needed to slow, or reverse the dynamic growth in flying. Reducing air travel in a fair and just way involves removing subsidies for aviation, equalizing or increasing taxing of aviation fuels compared with those of land transport.

# # #

Contact for interviews:

Diana Urge-Vorsatz

Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Central European University (CEU), Vienna, Austria vorsatzd@ceu.edu

Notes for editors:

Co-authors & institutions

· Jason Hickel (International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics, London, UK / ICTA, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain)

· Paul Brockway (School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)

· Giorgos Kallis (ICREA and ICTA, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain)

· Lorenz Keyßer (Institute for Environmental Decisions, D-USYS, ETH Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland)

· Manfred Lenzen (ISA, School of Physics, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia)

· Aljosa Slamersak (ICTA, Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain)

· Julia Steinberger (Institute of Geography and Sustainability, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland)

· Diana Urge-Vorsatz (Department of Environmental Sciences and Policy, Central European University, Budapest, Hungary)