Patrick CriquiEmeritus Research Director at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Grenoble Applied Economics Lab (GAEL)
"Although it’s always a good thing to rely on local resources, that doesn’t mean that global trade, innovation and new technology are all bad."
What Is Meant by Degrowth?
Numerous debates have sprung up in France and around the world about the role of economic growth in our societies and whether or not it should be reduced in order to preserve the planet and mitigate climate change. Patrick Criqui, a modeling and scenario planning expert, explains the challenges.
In the debate on degrowth, we need to be clear about what we’re talking about. If the idea is to transition away from activities that consume large amounts of natural resources and energy sources that produce vast quantities of greenhouse gas (ghg) Gas with physical properties that cause the Earth's atmosphere to warm up. There are a number of naturally occurring greenhouse gases... , then yes, degrowth is absolutely necessary to keep a lid on global warmingGlobal warming, also called planetary warming or climate change... . Reducing these activities is therefore critical, there’s no way of getting around it.
The debate, however, usually centers on degrowth in gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is an economic indicator that measures the value of all goods and services produced within a country in a given year. During the last several decades, the most advanced industrial nations have registered weak or sluggish growth. Whereas today a growth rate of 2% is considered satisfactory, in the 1960s it would have signaled a serious crisis. Emerging markets are growing faster, but as they develop and catch up with “advanced” economies, the rate of growth tends to slow, as it did in China.
Growth critics claim that governments are obsessed with annual GDP and are ready to sacrifice environmental concerns for economic growth. But there is another consideration that government leaders take, or should take, into account and that is providing enough suitable employment opportunities to ensure the well-being and social stability of their countries.
The problem is that providing decent jobs is more difficult during an economic slowdown. Unemployment rises, job quality drops. In a scenario of zero or negative growth, it’s hard to see how social stability could be maintained. For degrowth proponents, the answer is to redistribute wealth. Although this is theoretically possible, in practice it’s much more difficult and could lead to serious conflict.
How do we reconcile the twin objectives of providing enough decent jobs and protecting the environment? There are a few ways of going about it:
- Align GDP goals with both environmental and employment needs. To do so, it will be necessary to create a new macroeconomic balance: less consumption of polluting products (i.e., that emit CO2See Carbon Dioxid ) and more investment in sustainable innovations, carbon-neutral products, circular economy processes, etc. Why invest more? Simply because doing things “cleanly” is harder than doing them in a way that causes damage to natural resources and the environment.
- Develop new technologies that make these sustainable transitions possible, without killing skilled jobs in the services sector. Too many discussions on this topic are focused on the following theme: “Do we tackle environmental problems through technological innovation or through behavior change?” What poses a problem here is the word “OR”? The challenges are such that both are necessary. We need behavior change AND technological innovation.
- Ensure effective policy coordination at all levels of governance. In other words, everyone is responsible. Action is required at different levels – international, geographical bloc (Europe), country and region – including at the decentralized level of companies and citizens.
Lastly, although globalization has had certain negative impacts, it can’t be ignored that one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty over the past 30 years. Many environmental groups blame globalization and world trade for ecological imbalances. Their demands include deglobalization, industrial repatriation and a renewed focus on regions. Although it’s always a good thing to rely on local resources, that doesn’t mean that global trade, innovation and new technology are all bad. To the contrary, these things, along with global cooperation, are vital to the transition to environmental sustainabilitySustainability indicates a state that is sustainable or reasonably manageable over the long term. .
Patrick Criqui is Emeritus Research Director at the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) and the Grenoble Applied Economics Lab (GAEL). His work focuses on sustainable innovation and consumption, especially in the energy and agro-industrial sectors. He was a member of the working group on mitigation at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)Body established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988... , and he is currently a member of the Economic Council for Sustainable DevelopmentThis term was first defined in the Brundtland Report, published in 1987, as “development that meets the needs of the present without... at the French Ministry for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition.