Response to European Commission repeats call for a post-growth Europe
Timothée Parrique, Kate Raworth and Vincent Liegey and the organisations European Environmental Bureau, Friends of the Earth Europe, Wellbeing Economy Alliance and European Youth Forum respond to the European Commission with a fresh case for a post-growth Europe to realise a dignified life for all within planetary boundaries.
The EU’s cure-all to ecological breakdown is “sustainable” or “green growth”: the belief that technological innovation would allow continued economic expansion to be compatible with our planet’s biocapacity. Yet scientific research clearly debunks this narrative, instead showing that further GDP growth in high-income countries both increases social inequalities, affects the quality of life and threatens life support systems. In other words, exchanging wellbeing for profit. The discrepancy between the EU’s claims to be on a good path and the scientific literature is striking: “These [high-income] countries would on average take more than 220 years to reduce their [CO₂] emissions by 95%, emitting 27 times their remaining 1·5°C fair-shares in the process.”
The number of actors uniting behind this science is rapidly increasing, including recent reports from the European Environmental Agency and the European Parliamentary Research Service, collectively inviting the Commission to reconsider its strategy if it is serious about a just transition tackling the environmental degradation that is quickly escalating across the world.
At the start of the European Parliament Beyond Growth Conference in May 2023, an open letter was sent to EU leaders, supported by over 150 civil society organisations and over 250 experts in the field of environmental sciences and economics. In August, senior representatives of the European Commission sent us a reply.
In their reply, the representatives of the Commission have proudly described the work done by the EU on environmental policy in the current legislative period but have overstated the potential of the current policies by putting forward socially unjust market-based solutions and highlighting business-centred circular economy policies but refusing to address systemic overconsumption. They continue to frame growth and competitiveness as desired outcomes of environmental policy and later also misrepresent the outcomes of the Beyond Growth Conference, stating “a number of speakers at the Conference (...) explained the conditions under which growth is sustainable.” As a matter of fact, the majority of speakers laid out rigorously why sustainable growth is a fairytale and focused on the way ahead while most of those speakers defending the status quo were representing the European Commission.
We, the authors of the letter, disagree and urge the European Union and its Member States to take their global responsibility, given its historic environmental impact, and its potential to lead new solutions today. We strongly believe that an EU framework with science-based, binding material footprint reduction targets can be effective in delivering a regenerative EU economy, as called for by scientists, NGOs, several EU Member States (in particular Austria) and the European Parliament.
The post-growth Europe we need and deserve has a flagship European Green Deal beyond growth, embedding the EU’s commitment to a systemic change approach to create a future where all of us thrive within planetary boundaries. Supported by more than 400 civil society organisations and academics, we reiterate our need for policies built on four essential pillars: respecting biocapacity, fairness, wellbeing for all, and active democracy. We need a new relationship with growth - one where we ask ourselves what needs to grow, why and for how long; one where any growth is in pursuit of enhanced human wellbeing or planetary health.
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