Can emissions shrink while the economy grows? | Science Matters | David Suzuki Foundation
What does climate change have to do with economic growth? Canada’s prime minister and premiers signed a deal in December to “grow our economy, reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and build resilience to the impacts of a changing climate.” The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change outlines plans for carbon pricing, energy-efficient building codes, electric vehicle charging stations, methane emission regulations and more.
Is the framework correct in assuming we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and grow the economy? If not, which should be given precedence?
These questions come at a pivotal moment in Canadian climate action. The Pan-Canadian Framework marks the first time Canada’s first ministers have endorsed a national plan to tackle climate change. It opens the door to a game-changing carbon price that will make reducing greenhouse gas emissions the smart, cost-saving choice for businesses and individuals.
However, a recent Nature Climate Change article claims, “No major advanced industrialized country is on track to meet its pledges to control the greenhouse-gas emissions that cause climate change.” Canada pushed for ambitious targets during the 2015 Paris climate negotiations, but even the framework won’t put us on track to meet our pledged reductions.
Rather than being an outcome of climate action, economic growth may prevent us from reaching climate targets. A July 2017 study in Nature Climate Changeconcluded that the world only has a five per cent chance of keeping global average temperature from increasing beyond 2 C. On a positive note, the authors found economies worldwide will likely become more energy-efficient, and low-carbon sources like wind and solar will make up a growing share of the mix.
But economic growth will likely cancel out these advances. For every megatonne of emissions reduced through efficiency and clean energy, another megatonne will be produced because of economic expansion. Our economies will get bigger almost as fast as they get cleaner and emissions will not drop quickly enough to stave off catastrophic climate change.
Economic growth has been the primary goal of every Canadian government, provincial and federal, for decades. Leaders’ speeches are peppered with references to it. Election campaigns are filled with promises of economic expansion. Pity the politician who presides over an economic downturn.