Can we square the circle of “green growth”?

Kate Raworth

Blog post by Kate Raworth

Oxfam Great Britain, Senior Researcher
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If you like trying to fit square pegs in round holes, you’ll love this little challenge.

Can we (that’s humanity I’m talking about) figure out how to use Earth’s resources sustainably while ending poverty and extreme inequality at the same time – and achieve both of these in a world with a growing global population and an ever-growing global economy?

Here’s that four-fold challenge, set out in a snappy 5 minute video (many thanks to Ian McClelland).

 What’s it look like in words and stats?

1. Achieving environmental sustainability. Today we are using Earth’s resources as if we had one and a half planets to depend upon. So to be sustainable, we need to cut our total natural resource use back by 30% by 2050.

2. Ending poverty and extreme inequality. Today the poorest 20% of people have less than 2% of the world’s income. And the richest 10%? They’ve got 57% of the world’s income in their pockets. No wonder so many millions of people still can’t afford the food, water, land and energy they need to get out of poverty. By 2050 we need to achieve a far more equal distribution of global income, and of the world’s natural resource use.

3. Global population growth. Today’s population of 7 billion is expected to rise to around 9 billion by 2050 – that’s a 30% increase – then plateau at 10 billion by 2100. So the world’s resources not only need to be shared far more equally, but also with many more people too.

Think that’s a big enough triple challenge? Then add this for topping.

4. Global economic growth. The global economy has quadrupled in size since 1970. And, on mainstream forecasts, it’s set to quadruple again by 2050, reaching $300 trillion. In contrast to the coming peak and plateau of population growth, every country aims to keep on growing its GDP, no matter how well off it already is today.

So can we achieve environmental sustainability and an end to poverty and extreme inequality, with a growing global population and ambitions for unlimited economic growth?

If you think we can do it all, how?

If you think not, what’s gotta give?

Answers on a square peg, please…

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