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Green growth eludes even high-income countries, reveals study

Problem is that any amount of emissions reductions alongside economic growth is classified as absolute decoupling, says Jeflin Vogel, a research scholar

G.S. Mudur New Delhi Published 12.09.23, 06:26 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File photo

Eleven high-income countries that have already decoupled economic growth from Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions will take on average 200 years to lower emissions close to zero at their current pace, researchers said in a study.

The study has cautioned that the current rates of emissions reductions by even the best-performing among high-income countries fall short of the requirements to avert an average global temperature increase above 1.5°C, the target under the Paris climate pact.


Some of the 11 countries would need to reduce emissions five to 30 times faster than they did between 2013 and 2019 to meet the requirements, the study has estimated.

“The so-called green growth is not happening and is most likely out of reach … even in the best-performing high-income countries that have already achieved so-called absolute decoupling,” Jeflin Vogel, a research scholar at the University of Leeds, UK, and the study’s lead author.

The study examined emissions reductions by 11 high-income countries — Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK — whose gross domestic products (GDPs) have increased while their emissions have decreased.

“The problem is that any amount of emissions reductions alongside economic growth is classified as absolute decoupling,” Vogel told The Telegraph. “But any amount of emissions reductions is not enough to meet the requirements of the Paris agreement.”

Continued economic growth in high-income countries is at odds with the twin goal of averting catastrophic climate impacts and upholding fairness principles that protect ongoing development prospects in lower-income countries, he said, echoing views long expressed by Indian climate officials.

India is the world’s third-largest greenhouse gas emitter — after China and the US — but the Indian government has consistently argued that developed countries need to recognise their own historical emissions and reduce their emissions faster. India has also underlined its relatively low per capita emissions compared with those of high-income countries.

Vogel said high-income countries with high per capita emissions need to reduce their emissions very fast to meet their obligations under the Paris pact. “The emissions in high-income countries can be reduced much faster if they reduce emissions-intensive or energy-intensive and less necessary types of production and consumption,” Vogel said.

For economic growth to be “green,” Vogel said, it would need to be reconciled with emissions reductions fast enough to comply with the Paris agreement. “But no high-income country has achieved anything even close to those reductions under growth-oriented conditions — and they are unlikely
to achieve it in the near future.”

The study has suggested that the gap between the achieved emissions reductions under conditions of economic growth and emissions reductions required to be compliant with the Paris agreement is much too large and would require “extremely fast” decoupling unlikely under growth-oriented conditions.

Even the UK, the best-performing country, would need to reduce its emissions five times faster by 2025 from its 2013-2019 average, while Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Germany would need to reduce emissions more than 30 times faster than they did between 2013-2019.

Jason Hickel, the study’s co-author and a professor of environmental science at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, Spain, said the study’s results imply that the pursuit of economic growth in high-income countries makes it virtually impossible to achieve the required emissions reductions.

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