Green Growth: The What, Why and How (Paul Ekins)

Paul Ekins / Gresham College Lecture / December 2012

Update: Read Paul Ekins article on Green Economy: the what, why and how published in September 2013

Professor Paul Ekins (University College London) presents his ideas on the green economy and green growth.

Why green growth?

  • The world population is 6 billion and will reach 9 billion by 2050.
  • Developing countries want to attain developed country standards of living and now have the capacity to do this e.g. China and India
  • We already use enormous amounts of natural resources and the science says environmental degradation is already beyond safe limits.
  • Brown growth is unsustainable because climate change is impacting on GDP e.g. forest fires in Russia and drought in United States.

What is a green economy? For Ekins it would:

  • Have very low levels of greenhouse gas emissions and of pollution (land, freshwater, oceans).
  • High levels of resource productivity.
  • Total human activity would be within planetary limits so that it did not cause climate change and degrade the environment

What is green growth?

  • Increases in GDP that either keep the economy within the safe operating space or move it back towards this space.
  • This type of growth requires decoupling GDP growth from resource use and environmental impact.
  • It is optional whether this type of growth will also increase human well-being.

Policy approaches for green growth:

  • Resource efficiency/productivity
  • Renewable energy
  • Circular economy: reduce, reuse, recycle
  • Instruments include: 1) Market-based; 2) Regulatory (resource and environmental taxation, recycling and efficiency targets); 3) Voluntary agreements; 4) Information (consumer labelling)

The overall benefit will be resource productivity due to:

  • Innovation and investment: new technology, economic activity and exports
  • Increased resource security/reduced vulnerability: food, energy, water, rare materials
  • Healthier environment

Ekins covers debates about GDP and growth. He acknowledges that many things are not included in GDP which only measures monetary exchanges of goods and services in the economy

He believes it is important to identify where economic growth comes from. He differentiates between:

  • Physical growth: The amount of energy and matter used. This type of growth cannot continue forever on a finite planet.
  • Economic growth: Growth in money flows/incomes/values. In theory there is no limit to this type of growth.

He says that a green economy may not necessarily have economic growth (GDP). If it does he defines this as ‘green growth’.

In a reference to nogrowth and degrowth movements Ekins raises the question of whether governments would actually be able to reduce economic growth even if they tried.


This summary was prepared by Why Green Economy?. The views expressed have been paraphrased. See the original source for more information.

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