Green growth maintains that economic growth can be clean. That, if done sustainably, we can continue growing the economy, producing goods and services, and not have a harmful impact on the environment. However, when faced with the evidence, the promise of green growth does not appear to be realistically achievable.
The idea that you can have green growth but you can decouple that growth from CO2 emissions is problematic because CO2 emissions and GDP growth have historically gone hand in hand. Proponents of green growth claim that these can be decoupled because energy can be used more efficient. However this has not happened because, though we achieve energy efficiency, we use these gains to produce and consume more. There are no absolute reductions in fossil fuel use.
Another argument is that we can transition to renewable energies. This transition however is bound to the carbon budget: we only have so much carbon we can burn until we reach 1.5 degrees of global warming. Transitioning towards renewables while continuing to grow the economy and staying below 1.5 degrees of warming is simply not possible.
The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has acknowledged this problem, but policy-makers, business leaders and politicians have not. Technological solutions have therefore taken the centre stage as ways out of this dilemma. In particular one called Bioenergy Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) which consists in planting huge plantation of trees (the land required amounts to twice the size of India), burning them to generate electricity while capturing the carbon emitted from that burning and burying deep under the ground.
Though the vast majority of IPCC scenarios for keeping global warming to below 1.5 degrees relies on BECCS, this is a technology which has yet to be developed and has huge implications not only for biodiversity loss and displacement of peoples, but also for the high risks inherent to choosing this pathway: it essentially means that we can continue business as usual, we can continue pumping CO2 into the atmosphere because, decades into the future, we will have the technology available that can suck that CO2 out of the atmosphere.
However, if BECCS doesn’t work out, we will already be stuck into a high-emissions pathway we will then have no way out of. These are the fairytales being bandied about by politicians and policy-makers; a risky game that is hedging all its bets on technologies that do not even exist, to the detriment of future generations.