Economic degrowth policies will be effective in fighting climate change

A team of researchers from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) has identified that degrowth policies would be effective in fighting against climate breakdown and biodiversity loss, as well as securing human needs and well-being.

The team, which includes Jason Hickel and Giorgis Kallis from UAB’s Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, has recommended a series of degrowth policies that will enable governments to stabilise the economy in a post-growth transition – including universal public services such as health, education, and housing – as well as a job guarantees, working time reductions, and a fairer distribution of income. They also identify five ways in which researchers can help develop science and policy to ensure a just transition to post-growth economies.

The article, titled ‘Degrowth can work – here’s how science can help,’ sets out a strategic policy framework to enable wealthy countries to reduce materials and energy in the fight against climate change, whilst also improving social outcomes.

How economic growth is contributing to the climate emergency

The ecological crisis is being driven in large part by the pursuit of economic growth, through increasing levels of industrial production. High-income economies, and the affluent classes and corporations that dominate them, are overwhelmingly responsible for this problem, as their use of energy and materials far exceeds sustainable levels. Degrowth policies are the only way to keep levels to a minimum.

Hickel, Professor at UAB and lead author of the study, stated: “In our existing economy, production is organised around the interests of capital accumulation rather than around human wellbeing.

“The result is a system that overuses resources and yet still fails to meet many basic human needs. It is failing both people and the planet.”

How can post-growth economies address these problems?

The scientists argue that degrowth policies would be effective in halting climate change. They propose that high-income nations should abandon aggregate growth as an objective and instead focus on securing human needs and well-being.

Furthermore, they should reduce less necessary forms of production and the excess purchasing power of the rich. These degrowth policies can enable rapid decarbonisation and stop other forms of ecological breakdown.

Hickel said: “The dominant assumption in economics today is that every sector of the economy must grow, regardless of whether we actually need it. In the middle of an ecological emergency, this is dangerous and irrational.

“Instead, we should focus on producing what we know is necessary to achieve social and ecological goals in areas such as universal healthcare, affordable housing, public transport, and renewable energy. We should reduce destructive industries like SUVs, fast fashion, and mass-produced beef.”

There is solid evidence that these types of degrowth policies can help countries move towards a post-growth economy. However, there are still grey areas regarding the ways in which systems and institutions are dependent on growth for their stability. This new research can help in identifying such dependencies and how they can be overcome.

Julia Steinberger, Professor at Lausanne University and a co-author of the study, explained: “The growth-dependence of current economies is a danger to all of us, for both social and ecological reasons. Research into degrowth policies thus constitutes a vital lifeline and a robust way to consider radical alternatives for humanity to make it through the 21st century.”

Overall, the researchers concluded that degrowth is a purposeful strategy to stabilise economies and achieve social and ecological goals. It is an environmentally friendly alternative to a recession, which is a chaotic and socially destabilising event that occurs when growth-dependent economies fail.

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