Knowledge for a sustainable world

Newly appointed Reader in Economics for Sustainability at the Natural Resources Institute (NRI), Dr Şerban Scrieciu, has recently published a paper which argues for greater diversity in the discipline of economics, particularly in its response to climate change and the need for "green growth".

The article entitled "On the economic foundations of green growth discourses: the case of climate change mitigation and macroeconomic dynamics in economic modelling", in the prestigious Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Energy and Environment, can be accessed here (subscription required).

Concerned with economic models applied to the issue of climate change mitigation, the paper observes that the language of 'greening' economic growth is increasingly replacing the catchword phrase of 'sustainable development' within national and international policy circles.

Such language assumes that the economic growth of nations need not be achieved at the expense of the environment, but on the contrary that we can simultaneously achieve both an increase in economic production and a better stewardship of our natural resources. But how well are these claims scientifically grounded or supported by economic theory, evidence and applied modelling?

Şerban and co-authors Armon Rezai and Reinhard Mechler (both with the Vienna University of Business and Economics in Austria) provide a succinct critical review of the literature exploring the relationship between economic growth and the environment, with a focus on the economic modelling of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon-intensive energy use.

They find that orthodox economic analysis offers little evidence for, and insufficiently meaningful interpretations of, claims around green growth. However, several strands of exciting new economic thinking are fast emerging in response to the critical limitations of traditional economics, and they have the scientific potential to offer alternative analyses and understanding that are more relevant to the objectives of "green growth" discourses.

Encouraging the development of diverse theories, methods and models to rival or complement each other is essential for fostering progress within the discipline of economics and for providing economic advice to more effectively support governance for sustainable development.

Ultimately, the quality of economic growth is at least as important as growth processes per se, and economics needs to be revised to better cater for the increasingly complex and multi-dimensional realities of our modern world. 

Photo: Wind versus oil, by Serban Scrieciu