The global land and ocean surface temperature for January 2020 was the highest since records began 141 years ago, with a temperature  1.14°C (2.05°F) above the 20th-century average. Within the last few years, terms such as ‘green growth’ and ‘green economy’ have begun to arise more in the discussion surrounding the climate crisis.The terms have even been adopted by the likes of the UNand are mentioned throughout the Sustainable Development Goals. With increasing concerns regarding rising temperatures yet a steady increase in human growth, we look at whether growth and environmental consciousness can coexist without sacrifices being made.

The situation right now

The 2030 sustainable development goals (SDGs) include tackling climate change – SDG 13 specifically states its aims to “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”. But are we on target to reach these goals by 2030? The global average temperature in January of this year has shown that attempts to subvert the affects of climate change are insufficient. In addition to this, the MET office has predicted 2020 will be one of the hottest years on record, with an expected average temperate of 1.1°C above the pre-industrial average.

What’s worse is that scientists predict that if there is a 1.5°C global temperature increase, humans will face unprecedented climate-related risks and weather events. We are currently on track for a 3-4°C increase. These predictions were given by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is the United Nations body to assess science relating to climate change. Read the report here.

Carbon dioxide accounts for about 76% of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions per year, most of which (62% of all emissions) comes from burning fossil fuels. This is why there is such a push today to replace fossil fuels with clean renewable energy. Though fossil fuels account for 62% of all emissions, it’s important to place just as much focus on the other 38%, which comes from sources such as agriculture, deforestation, bush fires and more. It is for this reason that many of the world’s greatest scientists emphasise the importance of tackling the climate crisis today and not tomorrow. This difficult situation is why green growth has begun emerging more and more within the climate crisis discussion. Green growth has the support of many who are in favour of implementing its targets. Many of those who critique it, claim it  is idealistic and overlooks the complexities of economics and human development.

What is green growth?

According to the sustainable development goals knowledge platform, many different significant players in the battle against climate change give different definitions for green growth. However these differences only slightly vary from one another, with some going into more  detail than others. The general concept is that it is a form of economic growth which utilises natural and renewable resources in a sustainable manner as an alternative to typical industrial growth. Green growth looks at incorporating sustainability into economic growth, marrying together environmental responsibilities and the usage of resources needed to sustain human population growth and its economical and material demands. Read more about green growth here.

Is it green growth or economic growth?

Our current rate of growth and consumption is not sustainable and so in theory, as a form of economic growth that balances human needs with the capacity of the planet, green growth is the ideal solution. But the situation is not so simple and there are many factors to take into consideration or we risk disadvantaging certain groups of the population. Though the rate of global human population growth per year is decreasing, the population as a whole is still growing. A research study found that the impact population growth has on sustainable development depends on the level of development in that country. The population growth rate in developing countries affects sustainable development negatively whereas the population growth rate in developed countries affects sustainable development positively. Population growth in itself a major obstacle to green growth. In order to secure the future of our planet, we must reduce our emissions drastically yet meet the increasing demands of an increasing global population, and with more population, there is more expenditure of wealth, more usage of natural resources and thus more emissions.

In December 2019, global emissions were predicted to hit 36.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO₂), setting an all-time record, meaning emissions have grown 62% since the international climate negotiations began in 1990. These figures were published by the Global Carbon Project. You can read the highlights of the 2019 report here.

A lot of emphases is put on an individual’s role in climate change – switch to paper straws, ditch single-use plastic and more. But the biggest difference would be changes made by organisations, firms and industry. Ann Harrison, renowned economist and dean of the Haas School of Business, answers the question of when do firms go green.

“Firms go green for, I would say for three reasons. One, they’re asked to go green by regulators or the government, or two, there are social movements where… communities are complaining about emissions or pollution or other things. And then third reason would be if it’s in their actual interest… Usually on their own, they won’t go green and that’s why it’s so important to have the right policy in place and the right incentives in place…”

The debate about green growth and its economical sacrifices raises another important question; will green growth only be obtainable for OECD countries? How about developing countries with concerns of eradicating poverty? China remains the largest emitter of CO2 in the world, accounting for 27.5% of the world’s emissions in 2018 according to the Global Carbon Atlas.

An increase in the economic growth of countries means increased usage of coal and other fossil fuels. It’s for reasons such as this that many criticise the concept of green growth, calling it idealistic or unachievable. Research journals have concluded that there is no solid evidence that decoupling from the usage of resources is achievable on a global scale while maintaining the current rate of economic growth. The research also asserts that reaching a point in which we emit zero carbon emissions cannot be achieved at rate quick enough to prevent global temperature rises of 1.5°C or higher. The European Environmental Bureau released a study debunking green growth by addressing the validity and feasibility of the theory. The study concluded that green growth is not a viable solution, suggesting that that we need to rethink green growth policies.

So what’s the way forward?

The future of the planet and our approach to lowering emissions and reducing the global temperate is unclear.  However, one thing is clear; that our current approaches aren’t sufficient enough to tackle the crisis and new solutions are needed. Governments and policy-makers need to enforce stronger laws and legislations in order to help lower the global temperature and reduce the negative impacts humanity has on the globe to create a more stable, sustainable environment for future generations.


Written by Hannan Almasyabi

Marketing Support Officer