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OPPORTUNITY: CDKN seeks your views on green growth – final part

In the final part of CDKN’s exclusive discussion series on green growth, Simon Maxwell, CDKN’s Executive Chairman, presents the last two of his Ten observations on climate change and growth.  He invites your comments on what green growth will mean for developing countries.  Read the paper in full or view last week’s discussion here.  For a summary of the debates surrounding this issue, visit our green growth overview page here.

Last week, Simon Maxwell suggested that developing countries need to link climate policies to growth, and considered the need to leverage private finance for green growth strategies.

This week, Simon considers how governments can take action to escape ‘Giddens’ paradox’, and establish continuity and credibility in climate compatible policy making. He addresses the question of whether growth itself is a sustainable policy – and whether we need to recalibrate our measures of wellbeing.

9.       Invest in the politics of climate compatible development

The penultimate challenge is how to secure a strong and credible policy framework. The problem is that climate policy needs to provide long-term stability and predictability, in a political environment in which policy choices are contested and political systems provide for regular changes of Government.

A challenge to climate policy-makers is that dealing with climate change needs short-term action to avoid long-term consequences. Anthony Giddens has formulated this as a paradox. ‘Gidden’s paradox states that since the dangers posed by global warming aren’t tangible, immediate or visible . . . many will sit on their hands and do nothing . . . yet waiting until they become visible and acute . . . will, by definition, be too late.’

As noted, climate change and climate policy create winners and losers on a large scale. Another paradox, which, to match Giddens might be called ‘Maxwell’s paradox’, is that the scale of change and the sheer numbers of winners and losers make it most difficult to create consensus on exactly those climate-related topics where long-term consensus is most needed.

Various authors have explored the potential for consensus-building. Giddens, for example, argues for a consensus-based “radicalism of the centre” involving a suspension of hostilities between rival parties, and for a “concordat” on climate. Colin Challen, argues that “to break out of this padded cell requires courage. It may, indeed probably will, mean abandoning tribal loyalties, and risking the approbation of one’s political kin…”

Concretely, Giddens and Challen between them offer a series of options:

  • Use all-party parliamentary groups to foster discussion and consensus-building.
  • Aim for consensus on long-term objectives, without focusing at all on detail – as in Britain’s Climate Change Act (2008), which mandates cuts in overall carbon-emissions without specifying how they are to be achieved.
  • Set up independent bodies – such as the Committee on Climate Change, created by the Climate Change Act – to monitor progress in achieving targets and to advise on (but not yet mandate) the measures.
  • Require such bodies to help build consensus, for example by consulting all political parties.
  • Seek ways to increase the costs of “defection” from the consensus.
  • Encourage mass movements and civil society action groups to agitate for change.

Others provide additional ideas. For example, think-tanks play a role in promoting the development of “epistemic communities” or “communities of practice” to help shape debate.

In recent work, Stef Raubenheimer has described the role of scenario planning in South Africa as an exercise in building consensus. The South African exercise was known as the LTMS, standing for Long Term Mitigation Scenarios. It was a three-year exercise, involving stakeholders from many different sectors and a great deal of analysis of alternatives ranging from’ business-as-usual’ to ‘required-by-science’. It generated radical options for transformation of the South African economy, approved by the South African Cabinet, an outcome which seemed highly unlikely at the beginning of the process. The approach is now being rolled out in various countries in Latin America.

10.   Grow – and be happy!

Finally, it is necessary to address the argument that even low carbon growth is unsustainable – and that neither happiness nor well-being depend on growth. This is an argument associated with Tim Jackson, whose book ‘Prosperity Without Growth’ makes the case for the impossibility of long-term growth, but also argues that ever-higher incomes are not an appropriate measure of progress. He specifically exempts developing countries from the argument, for the kinds of reasons laid out earlier in this note, but does emphasise the relentless impact on natural resources of growing material consumption, even with greater energy and resource-use efficiency, aimed at de-coupling growth from raw materials. Lester Brown takes a similar view in his latest book, though again has poverty reduction and human development as one of the key legs of his plan to save the planet.

At first sight, global growth does present a very large challenge. As the Global Footprint Network has shown, based on a range of biocapacity indicators, and not just carbon-related, it currently takes the earth 1.5 years to regenerate what is used in one year. By 2030, it will take two earths to sustain consumption. Rapid change is therefore necessary, starting with the countries that currently consume most.

If developing countries are excluded from the charge of biophysical excess, then the growth they need to achieve minimum standards of human development  – and ‘happiness’ – is certainly ‘permitted’.  The problem is with convergence, and the level of income at which it will take place.

To take a simple example, the average GNI per capita of low income countries in 2008 was $US 1,407 in PPP adjusted terms, and the average GNI of high income countries was $US 37,141. If the growth of per capita income in the poorer group were 4% p.a., and in the richer group 2% p.a., they would eventually converge – in 2180, by which time the per capita income in both groups would be approx $US 1.2m (in 2008 prices). Clearly, continued consumption growth at compound rates leads to very high numbers indeed, with implied unsustainable impacts on the demand for resources. The income figure at which happiness is supposed to level off is about $US 20,000, so this is 60 times the income apparently needed.

There is a conundrum here which needs to be solved, principally by developed countries, but with unavoidable impacts for developing countries. The question is whether developing countries need to act immediately on some or other set of assumptions about the stabilisation and reduction of over-consumption in the richer countries. It is probably dereliction of analytical duty to paraphrase St Augustine, and say ‘yes, but not yet’, but the position has the virtue of being pragmatic. For the time being, poor countries should both grow and be happy.

Picture: El Salvador 2010 – Finca San Jorge – Erik Torner, IM

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