Growth Is Bad for the Environment

Prosperity means more greenhouse gases. In a perverse way, the global recession was good for the environment, because emissions actually fell in 2009. But as the world economy begins to grow again, they are rising again. In fact, according the International Energy Agency (IEA), they have reached a new high.


The IEA found that in 2010 world emissions were up to 30.6 gigatons, 5% more than in the previous record year of 2008. The recent increase in emissions has been particularly driven by growth in rapidly developing countries like China and India, although the developed countries still emit substantially more per person even as they outsource some of their emissions to the developing world.

The agency also estimates that 80% of the projected emissions for the year 2020 are already “locked in” in the sense that they will come from power plants that already in place or are currently under construction. That’s going to make it very difficult to limit the global temperature increase to the 2° C target set in Cancun in 2010. In order to keep the temperature from rising more than 2° C, the long-term concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will have to be kept below 450 parts per million. And in order for that to happen, greenhouse gas emissions would have to grow less over the next decade than they did last year alone.

If climate change just meant we would need a little more air conditioning, it wouldn't be a problem. But as Joe Romm explains, it will also mean droughts, rising sea levels, and acidifying oceans—as well as political conflict as countries struggle to adapt to environmental catastrophe. The world economy is not likely to stop growing any time soon, nor would we want it to. So with climate change negotiations set to resume in Bonn next week, countries are going to have to find some way of making their economies more efficient and cleaner—and to do it soon.

Photo Credit: Mila Zinkova

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