Why “Green Growth” Is an Illusion

By Enno Schröder, Economist and Servaas Storm, Senior Lecturer of Economics, Delft University of Technology. Originally published at the Institute for New Economic Thinking website

Sounding the Alarm on Global Warming

If the Paris climate agreement of December 2015—the so-called COP21 —provided cause for optimism that, after years of fruitless diplomatic squabbling, coordinated global action to avoid dangerous climate change and ensure manageable warming of less than 2° Celsius, would finally happen, recent publications by climate scientists are loudly sounding the alarm bells. Specifically, Earth systems scientists (Steffen et al. 2018) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2018) warn that even if global emissions are drastically reduced in line with the 66% below 2°C goal of COP21, a series of self-reinforcing bio-geophysical feedbacks and tipping cascades—from melting sea ice to deforestation—could still lock the planet into a cycle of continued warming and a pathway to final destination: “Hothouse Earth.”

Allowing warming to reach 2°C would create risks that any reasonable person—if not, perhaps, Donald Trump—would regard as deeply dangerous. To avoid those risks and keep warming below 1.5°C, humanity will have to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) to net zero by 2050. The early optimism about the Paris agreement is giving way to widespread pessimism that COP21 will not be working soon enough. Climate scientists and Earth systems scientists attempt to counter the growing pessimism by showing that limiting the global mean temperature increase to 1.5°C is neither a geophysical impossibility, nor a technical fantasy. The engineering solutions to bring about deep de-carbonization—including quick fixes and negative-emissions

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