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Degrowth is a planned reduction of energy and resource use designed to bring the economy back into balance with the living world in a way that reduces inequality and improves human well-being. Over the past few years, the idea has attracted significant attention among academics and social movements, but for people new to the idea it raises a number of questions. Here I set out to clarify three specific issues: (1) I specify what degrowth means, and argue that the framing of degrowth is an asset, not a liability; (2) I explain how degrowth differs fundamentally from a recession; and (3) I affirm that degrowth is primarily focused on high-income nations, and explore the implications of degrowth for the global South.
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What does degrowth mean? A few points of
Jason Hickel
To cite this article: Jason Hickel (2020): What does degrowth mean? A few points of clarification,
Globalizations, DOI: 10.1080/14747731.2020.1812222
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Published online: 04 Sep 2020.
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What does degrowth mean? A few points of clarication
Jason Hickel
Department of Anthropology, Goldsmiths, University of London, London, UK
Degrowth is a planned reduction of energy and resource use designed to bring
the economy back into balance with the living world in a way that reduces
inequality and improves human well-being. Over the past few years, the idea
has attracted signicant attention among academics and social movements,
but for people new to the idea it raises a number of questions. Here I set out
to clarify three specic issues: (1) I specify what degrowth means, and argue
that the framing of degrowth is an asset, not a liability; (2) I explain how
degrowth diers fundamentally from a recession; and (3) I arm that
degrowth is primarily focused on high-income nations, and explore the
implications of degrowth for the global South.
Degrowth; COVID-19;
recession; global South
Human civilization is presently overshooting a number of critical planetary boundaries and faces a
multi-dimensional crisis of ecological breakdown, including dangerous climate change, ocean acid-
ication, deforestation and biodiversity collapse (Lenton et al., 2020; Rockström et al., 2009; Steen
et al., 2015; Steen et al., 2018). Contrary to the general narrative about the Anthropocene, this crisis
is not being caused by human beings as such, but by a particular economic system: a system that is
predicated on perpetual expansion, disproportionately to the benet of a small minority of rich
people (Moore, 2015).
The relationship between economic growth and ecological breakdown is now well demonstrated
in the empirical record. In mainstream economics, the dominant claim is that we must continue to
pursue perpetual growth (see Hickel, 2018a), and therefore must seek to decouple GDP from eco-
logical impacts and make growth green. Unfortunately, green growth hopes have little grounding.
There is no historical evidence of long-term absolute decoupling of GDP from resource use (as
measured by material footprint), and all extant models project that it cannot be achieved even
under optimistic conditions (Hickel & Kallis, 2020; Vadén, Lähde, Majava, Järvensivu, Toivanen,
& Eronen 2020; Vadén et al. 2020b). Absolute decoupling of GDP from emissions can be achieved
simply by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy; but this cannot be done quickly enough to
respect carbon budgets for 1.5°C and 2°C if the economy continues to grow at usual rates. More
growth means more energy demand, and more energy demand makes it all the more dicult to
cover it with renewables in the short time we have left (Hickel & Kallis, 2020; Raftery et al., 2017;
Schroder & Storm, 2020).
© 2020 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
CONTACT Jason Hickel
In light of this evidence, scientists and ecological economists are increasingly calling for a shift to
post-growthand degrowthstrategies. The 2018 special report of the IPCC indicates that, in the
absence of speculative negative-emissions technologies, the only feasible way to remain within
safe carbon budgets is for high-income nations to actively slow down the pace of material production
and consumption (Grubler et al., 2018; IPCC, 2018). Reducing material throughput reduces energy
demand, which makes it easier to accomplish a rapid transition to renewables. This approach is also
ecologically coherent: reducing material throughput not only helps us to address climate change, but
also removes pressure on other planetary boundaries.
This is known as degrowth. Degrowth is a planned reduction of energy and resource throughput
designed to bring the economy back into balance with the living world in a way that reduces inequal-
ity and improves human well-being (Kallis, 2018; Latouche, 2009). It is important to clarify that
degrowth is not about reducing GDP, but rather about reducing throughput. From an ecological per-
spective, that is what matters. Of course, it is important to accept that reducing throughput is likely
to lead to a reduction in the rate of GDP growth, or even a decline in GDP itself, and we have to be
prepared to manage that outcome in a safe and just way. This is what degrowth sets out to do.
While degrowth theory is attracting increasing attention among academics and social movements,
for people new to the idea it raises a number of questions. Here I address questions about language
and terminology, questions about economic recession, and questions about international political
economy and the NorthSouth divide.
The language of degrowth
Many of the objections to degrowth have to do with the term itself. Some people worry that degrowth
introduces confusion because it is not, in fact, the opposite of growth. When people say growththey
normally mean growth in GDP, so one might reasonably assume that degrowth is likewise focused
on reducing GDP. Proponents of degrowth are therefore condemned to perpetually clarify that
degrowth is not about reducing GDP, but rather about reducing material and energy throughput.
It would seem that this creates unnecessary problems.
But, in fact, the problem here arises from the word growth, not degrowth. In reality, people pursue
growth not in order to increase an abstract number (GDP), but because they want to consume or do
more, which of course requires using more materials and energy. So when economists and politicians
talk about growth they really mean an increase in materials and energy (and specically an increase in
commodied materials and energy), even though this is not stated outright. The preoccupation with
GDP is a fetish that obscures this fact; it makes it seem as though growth is immaterial when in reality
it is not. If GDP growth did not come along with an increase in material consumption, people would not
pursue it (whats the point of having a higher income if it doesnt enable you to expand military spending,
focus on reducing material and energy use (and reducing patterns of commodication), is in fact an
appropriate opposite to growth, and indeed claries what growth itself is actually about.
Now, one might ask, why use the term degrowth at all, when you could just say we want to reduce
energy and material throughputand avoid the confusion? There are a few reasons for this. First, most
economists would agree that reducing energy and material throughput is important, but they assume
this can be accomplished while continuing to pursue economic growth at the same time (indeed, they
may even believe that more growth will eventually lead to a reduction in throughput). We need some
way of distinguishing the degrowth position from this standard green growthassumption. If we accept
the empirical evidence that green growth is unlikely to be achieved, then we have to accept that
reducing throughput will impact on GDP itself, and we must focus on how to restructure the economy
so that this can be managed in a safe and just way. For this, degrowthis a simple, handy term that
allows us to clarify what is at stake, and concentrates the mind on what is required.
Proponents of degrowth often argue that the word degrowth is useful as a missileword. For an
increasing number of people, it is obvious that perpetual growth is a problem; for them, degrowth
seems intuitively correct as a response to ecological crisis, and they can getonboardimmediately.
Other people have a negative initial reaction to the word, but it is nonetheless useful in such cases to
the extent that it challenges and disrupts peoples assumptions about how the economy should work,
by questioning something that is generally taken for granted as natural and good. In many cases, negative
initial reactions give way to contemplation (do high-income countries really need more growth?), and
then curiosity (perhaps we can actually ourish with less throughput,andevenlessoutput?),and
then investigation (what is the relevant empirical evidence?) that eventually leads people to change
their views. This kind of intellectual transformation is enabled, not inhibited, by using a provocative
term. Trying to avoid provocation, or trying to be agnostic about growth, creates a milieu where proble-
matic assumptions remain unidentied and unexamined in favour of polite conversation and agreement.
This is not an eective way to advance knowledge, especially when the stakes are so high.
Some people worry about using degrowth because it is a negativeterm, rather than positive. But
it is only negative if we start from the assumption that more growth is good and desirable. If we want
to challenge that assumption, and argue the opposite (that more growth is unnecessary and dama-
ging, and that it would be better if we slowed down), then degrowth is a positive term. Take the
words colonization and decolonization, for example. We know that those who engaged in coloniza-
tion felt it was a good thing. From their perspective which was the dominant perspective in Europe
for most of the past 500 years decolonization would therefore seem negative. But the point is pre-
cisely to challenge the dominant perspective, because the dominant perspective is wrong. Indeed,
today we can agree that this stance a stance against colonization is correct and valuable: we
stand against colonization, and believe that the world would be better without it. That is not a nega-
tive vision, but positive; one thats worth rallying around. Similarly, we can and should aspire to an
economy without growth just as we aspire to a world without colonization.
We can take this observation one step further. It is important to recognize that the word growthhas
become a kind of propaganda term. In reality, what is going on is a process of elite accumulation, the
commodication of commons, and the appropriation of human labour and natural resources a process
that is quite often colonial in character. This process, which is generally destructive to human commu-
nities and to ecology, is glossed as growth. Growth sounds natural and positive (who could possibly be
against growth?) so people are easily persuaded to buy into it, and to back policies that will generate more
of it, when otherwise they might not. Growth is the ideology of capitalism, in the Gramscian sense. It is
thecoretenetofcapitalisms cultural hegemony. The word degrowth is powerful and eective because it
identies this trick, and rejects it. Degrowth calls for the reversal of the processes that lie behind growth: it
calls for disaccumulation, decommodication, and decolonization.
Degrowth vs recession
Another common question about degrowth has to do with recessions. Indeed, when the COVID-19
recession hit, some detractors of degrowth pointed to it as an example of why degrowth would be a
disaster. For the most part, this is not a good-faith argument but rather an intentional attempt to
mislead, for it is impossible to make this mistake with even a cursory reading of the actual literature
on degrowth. In fact, degrowth is in every way the opposite of a recession. We have dierent words
for them because they are dierent things. Here are six key dierences worth noting:
(1) Degrowth is a planned, coherent policy to reduce ecological impact, reduce inequality, and
improve well-being. Recessions are not planned, and do not target any of these outcomes.
They are not intended to reduce ecological impact (even though this might in some cases be
an unintended outcome), and they are certainly not intended to reduce inequality and improve
well-being indeed, they do the opposite.
(2) Degrowth has a discriminating approach to reducing economic activity. It seeks to scale down
ecologically destructive and socially less necessary production (i.e. the production of SUVs,
arms, beef, private transportation, advertising and planned obsolescence), while expanding
socially important sectors like healthcare, education, care and conviviality. Recessions, by con-
trast, do not discriminate so wisely. Indeed, they quite often destroy socially important sectors
while empowering socially less necessary sectors. In the present COVID crisis, for instance,
schools, recreational facilities and public transportation are negatively aected, while Amazon
is expanding and stocks are rallying.
(3) Degrowth introduces policies to prevent unemployment, and indeed even to improve employ-
ment, such as by shortening the working week, introducing a job guarantee with a living wage,
and rolling out retraining programmes to shift people out of sunset sectors. Degrowth is expli-
citly focused on maintaining and improving peoples livelihoods despite a reduction in aggregate
economic activity. Recessions, by contrast, result in mass unemployment and everyday people
suer loss of livelihood.
(4) Degrowth seeks to reduce inequality and share national and global income more fairly, such as
with progressive taxation and living wage policies. Recessions, by contrast, tend to make
inequality worse. Again, the COVID crisis presents an example of this, where the response
packages (QE, corporate bailouts, etc.) have made the rich richer (specically to the benetof
asset owners), and billionaires have added billions to their wealth, while virtually everybody
else has lost, with the poorest 50% of humanity losing $4.4 billion per day (Sumner et al., 2020).
(5) Degrowth seeks to expand universal public goods and services, such as health, education, trans-
portation and housing, in order to decommodify the foundational goods that people need in
order to lead ourishing lives. Recessions, by contrast, generally entail austerity measures that
cut spending on public services.
(6) Degrowth is part of a plan to achieve a rapid transition to renewable energy, restore soils and
biodiversity, and reverse ecological breakdown. During recessions, by contrast, governments
typically abandon such objectives in order to instead focus everything on getting growth
going again, whatever the ecological cost might be.
We have dierent words for recession and degrowth because they are dierent things. Recessions happen
when growth-dependent economies stop growing: it is a disaster that ruins peoples lives and exacerbates
injustices. Degrowth calls for a dierent kind of economy altogether: an economy that does not require growth
in the rst place, and which can deliver justice and well-being even while throughput declines.
Degrowth and the global South
Some people worry that proponents of degrowth want to see degrowth universally applied, in all
countries. This would be problematic, because clearly many poor countries in fact need to increase
resource and energy use in order to meet human needs. In reality, proponents of degrowth are clear
that it is specically high-income countries that need to degrow (or, more specically, countries that
exceed per capita fair-shares of planetary boundaries by a signicant margin; see Hickel, 2019), not
the rest of the world. Again, because degrowth is focused on reducing excess resource and energy use,
it does not apply to economies that are not characterized by excess resource and energy use.
This brings us to an important implication of degrowth policy. The vast majority of ecological
breakdown is being driven by excess consumption in the global North, and yet has consequences
that disproportionately damage the South. We can see this in terms of both emissions and material
extraction. (1) The North is responsible for 92% of global CO2 emissions in excess of the safe pla-
netary boundary (Hickel, 2020a), and yet the South suers the vast majority of climate change-
related damages (in terms of both monetary costs as well as loss of life). (2) High-income countries
rely on a large net appropriation of resources from the rest of the world (equivalent to 50% of their
total consumption). In other words, resource consumption in the North has an ecological impact
that registers largely in the South (Dorninger et al., 2020).
In terms of both emissions and resource use, then, excess consumption in the North relies on pat-
terns of colonization: the appropriation of the Souths fair share of atmospheric commons, and the
plunder of Southern ecosystems. From this perspective, degrowth in the North represents a process
of decolonization in the South, to the extent that it releases communities in the South from the press-
ures of atmospheric colonization and material extractivism.
Still, some worry that degrowth in the North might have a negative impact on economies in the
South. After all, many global South economies rely heavily on exports of raw materials and light
manufactures to the North. If Northern demand declines, where will they get their revenues? This
might seem like a reasonable question on the face of it, but it rests on a problematic logic, namely,
that excess consumption in the North must continue to rise, even if it causes ecological breakdown
that disproportionately harms the South, because it is necessary for the Southsdevelopmentandis ulti-
mately for the Souths own good. This argument echoes arguments that were regularly made under colo-
nialism, namely, that extraction and exploitation by the colonizer is ultimately good for the colonized. For
instance, Nicholas Kristof, in a New York Times column titled Three cheers for sweatshopshas argued
that sweatshops are the best way to get people out of poverty, so we need more of them: if we care about
the poor, we should not boycott sweatshop products but rather consume more of them.
The fallacy in this argument shouldnt need to be pointed out. Obviously, the best way to reduce
poverty isnt more exploitation, but more economic justice: the South should receive fair prices for
the labour and resources they render to the global economy. No one would ever suggest that an
American company paying American workers $2 a day is a good way to reduce poverty in America;
we would insist that reducing poverty requires paying a living wage. But for some reason this logic is
not applied to workers in the South, likely because it would reduce the rate of surplus accumulation
among Northern companies and countries that rely on Southern labour and resources. In other
words, justice for the South (fair wages for labour and fair prices for resources) would entail
degrowth in the North. We should embrace this outcome. In fact, abandoning the pursuit of growth
in the North would be salutary inasmuch as it would remove the constant pressure applied by North-
ern governments and companies to depress the costs of labour and resources in the South.
This brings us to another, related point. Degrowth in the North creates space for Southern econ-
omies to shift away from their enforced role as exporters of cheap labour and raw materials, and to
focus instead on developmentalist reforms: building economies focused on sovereignty, self-
suciency, and human well-being. This was the approach pursued by most global South govern-
ments in the immediate post-colonial decades, during the 1960s and 1970s, before the imposition
of neoliberal structural adjustment from the 1980s onward (Hickel, 2018b). Structural adjustment
sought to dismantle developmentalist reforms across the South in order to create new frontiers
for Northern accumulation. In a degrowth scenario the pressure for this xwould be ameliorated,
and Southern governments would nd themselves freer to pursue a more human-centered econ-
omics (Hickel, 2020b; Nirmal & Rocheleau, 2019). Here too, it becomes clear that degrowth in
the North represents decolonization in the South.
Of course, the global South need not and should not wait for decolonization; they can cast othe
chains themselves. Here I have in mind Samir Amins notion of delinking: the refusal to submit
national development policy to the imperatives of Northern capital. For instance, global South gov-
ernments could organize collectively to increase the prices of their labour and resources, and could
mobilize to demand fairer terms of trade and nance, and more democratic representation in global
governance (as they did with the New International Economic Order in the early 1970s). These ideas
are today represented in the discourse of post-development. In addition to rejecting the tenets of
neoliberal globalization, post-development thought also rejects the notion (introduced by colonizers
and international nancial institutions) that GDP growth should be pursued for its own sake, pre-
ferring instead a focus on human well-being (Escobar, 2015; Kothari et al., 2019).
Either way, decolonization in the South along these lines would likely cause degrowth in the
North. This is true in a very concrete sense. Right now, high-income nations maintain high levels
of income and consumption through an ongoing process of net appropriation (of land, labour,
resources and energy) from the South, through unequal exchange: in other words, they seek to depress
the prices of labour and resources to below the global average price (Dorninger et al., 2020). This is a
continuation of the basic tenets of the colonial relationship,although (in most cases) without the occu-
pation. Ending this exploitative relationship would mean either ending the pattern of net appropriation
or ending unequal exchange, both of which would likely result in a reduction in the rate of surplus
accumulation by economic elites, and a reduction in the growth driven by this accumulation in the
North, but to the benet of communities and ecologies in the global South.
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author(s).
Notes on contributor
Jason Hickel is an economic anthropologist whose research focuses on global inequality, political economy,
and ecological economics. He is the author of a number of books, most recently Less is more: How degrowth
will save the world (Penguin Random House, 2020) and The divide: A brief guide to global inequality and its
solutions (Penguin Random House, 2018). In addition to his academic work, he writes for The Guardian,
Foreign Policy and Al Jazeera, serves as an advisor for the Green New Deal for Europe, and sits on the Har-
vard-Lancet Commission on Reparations and Redistributive Justice. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
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This report develops four policy avenues for attaining climate neutrality in the European Union. Policy avenues are mixes of policy instruments, sequenced over time, and the institutional arrangements to deliver them. Departing from current EU climate policy, they sketch different pathways that the EU could follow to align its climate policy with the goal of climate neutrality by 2050. The policy avenues elaborated in this report were developed collaboratively with expert stakeholders in a series of interactive workshops (the policy lab) and elaborated by the research team. The present report describes the process of developing the policy avenues, describes the four different policy avenues in detail, identifies core instruments across the policy avenues, and discusses some general implications for transformative EU climate policy that were identified.
... In this approach, the ecological transition is made "inclusive" through a policy focus on the promotion of employment, especially "green jobs" (e.g., UNEP 2011;European Commission 2014;ILO 2018). An alternative potential trajectory of social change-mainly theorized by heterodox academics-relies on a "social-ecological transformation" based on conceptions of well-being opposing consumerism, productivism, and economic growth (e.g., Latouche 2010; Asara et al. 2015;Kallis et al. 2018;Rosa and Henning 2018;Brand, G€ org, and Wissen 2020;Koch and Buch-Hansen 2021;Soper 2020;Hickel 2021). This more radical perspective is not a coherent and homogenous approach and includes different interpretations. ...
... In order to emphasize the deepening of this process, scholars usually refer to the concept of "transformation" as opposed to "transition" (Goetz et al. 2020, 338). Referencing notions such as "post-growth" and "degrowth," a social-ecological transformation aims to build a just society that guarantees human-flourishing opportunities for all while respecting environmental demands through the reduction of material production and consumption in the global North (Latouche 2010;Asara et al. 2015;Kallis et al. 2018;Rosa and Henning 2018;Brand, G€ org, and Wissen 2020;Koch and Buch-Hansen 2021;Soper 2020;Hickel 2021). Thus, while the green-growth agenda aims to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, the goal of the social-ecological transformation is to decouple social progress -the promotion of values such as human well-being, social justice, and democracy-from economic growth (which is considered incompatible not only with environmental protection but also with these other values). ...
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This article discusses a dilemma of welfare states in the ecological transition. While the principle of “sustainability” is increasingly accepted, there are very different concrete declinations of it. I identify two broad interpretations of sustainability and corresponding paths of social change. The dominant approach, promoted by governments, businesses, and international organizations focuses on inclusive green growth. It aims to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation and seeks to make the transition to a green economy as socially inclusive as possible. In this context, “enabling” social policies mainly focus on employment promotion. The second approach, mostly embraced by heterodox academics and social movements, involves a deeper social-ecological transformation which attempts to lower the priority of economic growth and employment. Accordingly, the role of capacitating welfare states is to enable all individuals to flourish in a post-productivist society. I argue that while the second approach is normatively superior to the first one, it is also more difficult to realize, generating a dilemma for future-oriented politics.
... As such, Degrowth calls for the reversal of the processes that lie behind growth: it calls for disaccumulation, decommodification, and decolonisation. 14 If human and environmental health is to be safeguarded today, and in the future, we cannot afford to continue to use the same extractive economic model that brought societies to these globally interrelated social and ecological crises in the first place. If we want to transition towards planetary health objectives, we require a radically different approach to organising our economies and societies, including their health systems. ...
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This think piece explains why many health systems in Europe are intrinsically unsustainable. This phenomenon is known as ‘uneconomic growth’, it occurs when increases in production come at the expense of resources and well-being that is worth more than the items made. In health care this becomes visible as the social and environmental costs of expansion of the health system actually outweigh its benefits. 50 years after the launch of the Limits to Growth report of the Club of Rome, time is not on our side – nor are growth-defending political and corporate interests that continue to manifest themselves as deeply entrenched within health systems. A care-centred post-growth transformation of the German and other European health systems as part of a larger-scale economic transformation would allow us to overcome the deadly social and ecological impasse we find ourselves in. A clear vision for a wellbeing economy within planetary boundaries that considers international solidarity and social justice will have to guide the development of future health systems.
Cities in low- and middle-income countries have experienced deindustrialisation as localised agglomerations that historically served domestic and regional markets have become exposed to highly productive global value chains as capital has been (re)allocated to primary sectors. State, corporate and social actors have responded to economic decline by embracing a range of coping and adaptation strategies, some of which are consistent with degrowth, but they are often combined with business-as-usual initiatives in pursuit of economic growth. We refer to this as subordinate degrowth because localised responses are conditioned by the subordinate position of countries and cities in the global economy. While we acknowledge its divergence from ‘pure’ ideal-type degrowth, we do not dismiss the transformative potential of incremental change. Indeed, we argue that any realistic strategy to spatialise degrowth within cities must recognise the indeterminacy and messiness of urban politics. We employ subordinate degrowth as an analytic to interpret responses to deindustrialisation and economic decline in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Our analysis attends to three meso-level blind spots that characterise much degrowth scholarship, between (1) particular and universal, (2) advanced-industrial and agrarian ideal-types and (3) past/current socio-technical regimes and ‘pure’ degrowth.
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La existencia de éxitos técnicos en el siglo XX permite avizorar que la perspectiva tecnológica de reducir los coeficientes técnicos ofrece menores límites y resistencias que el conflicto social que desataría una agenda ambiental con decrecimiento. Desde los años noventa, a partir de la llamada identidad de Kaya, se ha venido desarrollando la posibilidad de entender al vínculo de la contaminación del ambiente por emisión de GEI (gases de efecto invernadero) como un producto de factores que se pueden subdividir en dos grupos: dos factores corres-ponden al análisis de la economía política y otros dos al desarrollo y los avances técnicos de diversas ciencias naturales. Los resultados de esta configuración se plasman en la idea de que es posible ir desacoplando en términos absolutos y relativos la producción económica de la emisión de GEI y el uso de insumos basados en recursos naturales. Sin embargo, en la agenda ambiental se han generalizado las visiones que recomiendan el decrecimiento ante la insuficiencia de dichos logros. Se argumentará que este decrecimiento es antagónico con los hechos estilizados de la economía mundial, en tanto el crecimiento del producto se correlaciona positivamente con la productividad de la economía (efecto Kaldor-Verdoorn) y, por lo tanto, mejora y no empeora su eficiencia en el uso ahorrador de tierras, bosques y humedales con límites dados por el crecimiento de la población y el PIB per cápita. Asi-mismo, se analizará un esquema que pone de manifiesto la falta de generalidad en algunos razonamientos económicos basados en el degrowth de raíz marginalista.
Why, despite all we know about the causes and harms of global heating, has so little effective action been taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and what we can do to change that? This book explains the mechanisms and impacts of the climate crisis, traces the history and reasons behind the lack of serious effort to combat it, describes some people's ongoing scepticism and how to shift it, and motivates an urgent program of action. It argues that the pathway to stopping dangerous global heating will require a much larger mobilization of advocacy and activism to impel decision makers to abandon fossil fuels, and transition to renewable energy and electrification embedded in a political and social framework guided by justice principles. It is an excellent resource for students and researchers on the climate crisis, the need for a renewable energy transition, and the current blocks to progress.
Structural economic reform is needed on an unprecedented scale and at an unprecedented rate to avert the worst impacts of climate change. Drawing on the lessons learned from Roosevelt’s New Deal, the paper analyses the extent to which green deal proposals and recovery plans put forth this century can deliver climate-resilient development according to a green growth (ecomodernisation) perspective. The paper concludes that while some greening of laws and post-crisis stimulus packages has been observed, it cannot be unequivocally concluded that pro-growth green deals can deliver a just net-zero and just transition.
Resources are a core concept in debates about socio-ecological transformations and post-growth societies, but as a concept they are rarely problematised. Drawing on a resourcification approach in which resources are understood as outcomes of various social processes, this study analyses how resources are conceptualised and understood in degrowth scholarship. Our study shows that resources are seen in two interlinked ways, first as a critique of the environmental and social costs of current resourcification practices (the becoming of resources), and second as a combination of transformative proposals calling for de-resourcification practices (the unbecoming of resources). By approaching degrowth in terms of a dynamics of resourcification and de-resourcification that we call resource shifting, we contribute to a problematisation of the concept of resource that opens new socio-ecological pathways to post-growth societies.
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Background: This analysis proposes a novel method for quantifying national responsibility for damages related to climate change by looking at national contributions to cumulative CO2 emissions in excess of the planetary boundary of 350 ppm atmospheric CO2 concentration. This approach is rooted in the principle of equal per capita access to atmospheric commons. Methods: For this analysis, national fair shares of a safe global carbon budget consistent with the planetary boundary of 350 ppm were derived. These fair shares were then subtracted from countries' actual historical emissions (territorial emissions from 1850 to 1969, and consumption-based emissions from 1970 to 2015) to determine the extent to which each country has overshot or undershot its fair share. Through this approach, each country's share of responsibility for global emissions in excess of the planetary boundary was calculated. Findings: As of 2015, the USA was responsible for 40% of excess global CO2 emissions. The European Union (EU-28) was responsible for 29%. The G8 nations (the USA, EU-28, Russia, Japan, and Canada) were together responsible for 85%. Countries classified by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change as Annex I nations (ie, most industrialised countries) were responsible for 90% of excess emissions. The Global North was responsible for 92%. By contrast, most countries in the Global South were within their boundary fair shares, including India and China (although China will overshoot soon). Interpretation: These figures indicate that high-income countries have a greater degree of responsibility for climate damages than previous methods have implied. These results offer a just framework for attributing national responsibility for excess emissions, and a guide for determining national liability for damages related to climate change, consistent with the principles of planetary boundaries and equal access to atmospheric commons. Funding: None.
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Ecologically unequal exchange theory posits asymmetric net flows of biophysical resources from poorer to richer countries. To date, empirical evidence to support this theoretical notion as a systemic aspect of the global economy is largely lacking. Through environmentally-extended multi-regional input-output modelling, we provide empirical evidence for ecologically unequal exchange as a persistent feature of the global economy from 1990 to 2015. We identify the regions of origin and final consumption for four resource groups: materials, energy, land, and labor. By comparing the monetary exchange value of resources embodied in trade, we find significant international disparities in how resource provision is compensated. Value added per ton of raw material embodied in exports is 11 times higher in high-income countries than in those with the lowest income, and 28 times higher per unit of embodied labor. With the exception of embodied land for China and India, all other world regions serve as net exporters of all types of embodied resources to high-income countries across the 1990-2015 time period. On aggregate, ecologically unequal exchange allows high-income countries to simultaneously appropriate resources and to generate a monetary surplus through international trade. This has far-reaching implications for global sustainability and for the economic growth prospects of nations.
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De-carbonization to restrict future global warming to 1.5 °C is technically feasible but may impose a “limit” or “planetary boundary” to economic growth, depending on whether or not human society can decouple growth from emissions. In this paper, we assess the viability of decoupling. First, we develop a prognosis of climate-constrained global growth for 2014–2050 using the transparent Kaya identity. Second, we use the Carbon-Kuznets-Curve framework to assess the effect of economic growth on emissions using measures of territorial and consumption-based emissions. We run fixed-effects regressions using OECD data for 58 countries during 2007–2015 and source alternative emissions data starting in 1992 from two other databases. While there is weak evidence suggesting a decoupling of emissions and growth at high-income levels, the main estimation sample indicates that emissions are monotonically increasing with per-capita GDP. We draw out the implications for climate policy and binding emission reduction obligations.
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The notion of green growth has emerged as a dominant policy response to climate change and ecological breakdown. Green growth theory asserts that continued economic expansion is compatible with our planet’s ecology, as technological change and substitution will allow us to absolutely decouple GDP growth from resource use and carbon emissions. This claim is now assumed in national and international policy, including in the Sustainable Development Goals. But empirical evidence on resource use and carbon emissions does not support green growth theory. Examining relevant studies on historical trends and model-based projections, we find that: (1) there is no empirical evidence that absolute decoupling from resource use can be achieved on a global scale against a background of continued economic growth, and (2) absolute decoupling from carbon emissions is highly unlikely to be achieved at a rate rapid enough to prevent global warming over 1.5°C or 2°C, even under optimistic policy conditions. We conclude that green growth is likely to be a misguided objective, and that policymakers need to look toward alternative strategies.
The idea of decoupling “environmental bads” from “economic goods” has been proposed as a path towards sustainability by organizations such as the OECD and UN. Scientific consensus reports on environmental impacts (e.g., greenhouse gas emissions) and resource use give an indication of the kind of decoupling needed for ecological sustainability: global, absolute, fast-enough and long-enough. This goal gives grounds for a categorisation of the different kinds of decoupling, with regard to their relevance. We conducted a survey of recent (1990–2019) research on decoupling on Web of Science and reviewed the results in the research according to the categorisation. The reviewed 179 articles contain evidence of absolute impact decoupling, especially between CO2 (and SOX) emissions and evidence on geographically limited (national level) cases of absolute decoupling of land and blue water use from GDP, but not of economy-wide resource decoupling, neither on national nor international scales. Evidence of the needed absolute global fast-enough decoupling is missing.
Decoupling environmental ‘bads’ from economic ‘goods’ is a key part of policies such as green growth and circular economy that see economic growth as desirable or necessary, and also see that current use of natural resources and its environmental impacts is unsustainable. We estimate what a ‘successful decoupling’ (2% annual GDP growth and a decline in resource use by 2050 to a level that could be sustainable and compatible with a maximum 2°C global warming) would mean in terms of its type, timeline and size. Compared to 2017, ‘successful’ decoupling has to result in 2.6 times more GDP out of every ton of material use, including in-use material stocks. There are no realistic scenarios for such an increase in resource productivity.
The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions. The growing threat of abrupt and irreversible climate changes must compel political and economic action on emissions. A plane flying over a river of meltwater on glacier in Alaska
A growing coalition of degrowth scholar-activist(s) seeks to transform degrowth into an interdisciplinary and international field bridging a rising network of social and environmental justice movements. We offer constructive decolonial and feminist critiques to foster their productive alliances with multiple feminisms, Indigenous, post-development and pluriversal thought and design (Escobar, 2018), and people on the ground. Our suggested pathway of decolonial transition includes re-situating degrowth relative to the global south and to Indigenous and other resistance movements. We see this decolonial degrowth as a profoundly material strategy of recovery, renewal, and resistance (resurgence) through practices of re-rooting and re-commoning. To illustrate what we mean by resurgence we draw from two examples where people are engaged in ongoing struggles to protect their territories from the impacts of rampant growth—Zapatista and allied Indigenous groups in Mexico, and three Adivasi communities in the Attappady region of southern India. They are building economies and ecologies of resurgence and simultaneous resistance to growth by deterritorialization. We argue that a decolonized degrowth must be what the growth paradigm is not, and imagine what does not yet exist: our separate and collective socio-ecological futures of sufficiency and celebration in the multiple worlds of the pluriverse. Together, the two cases demonstrate pathways to autonomy, sufficiency, and resurgence of territories and worlds, through persistence, innovation, and mobilization of traditional and new knowledges. We offer these as teachers for the transition to decolonial degrowth.