Climate change and increasing income inequality have emerged as twin threats to contemporary standards of living, peace and democracy. These two problems are usually tackled separately in the policy agenda. A new breed of radical proposals have been advanced to manage a fair low-carbon transition. In this spirit, we develop a dynamic macrosimulation model to investigate the long-term effects of three scenarios: green growth, policies for social equity, and degrowth. The green growth scenario, based on technological progress and environmental policies, achieves a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions at the cost of increasing income inequality and unemployment. The policies for social equity scenario adds direct labour market interventions that result in an environmental performance similar to green growth while improving social conditions at the cost of increasing public deficit. The degrowth scenario further adds a reduction in consumption and exports, and achieves a greater reduction in emissions and inequality with higher public deficit, despite the introduction of a wealth tax. We argue that new radical social policies can combine social prosperity and low-carbon emissions and are economically and politically feasible.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $8.25 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
The EUROGREEN model was developed in Vensim DSS. The code for the model can be viewed at https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3624944.
Obama, B. The irreversible momentum of clean energy. Science 355, 126–129 (2017).
Towards Green Growth? Tracking Progress (OECD Publishing, 2015).
Towards Green Growth: a Summary for Policy Makers (OECD Publishing, 2011).
Jackson, T. & Victor, P. A. Unraveling the claims for (and against) green growth. Science 366, 950–951 (2019).
Wiedmann, T. O. et al. The material footprint of nations. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 112, 6271–6276 (2015).
O’Neill, D. W., Fanning, A. L., Lamb, W. F. & Steinberger, J. K. A good life for all within planetary boundaries. Nat. Sustain. 1, 88–95 (2018).
Rockström, J. et al. A safe operating space for humanity. Nature 461, 472–475 (2009).
Steffen, W. et al. Planetary boundaries: guiding human development on a changing planet. Science 347, 1259855 (2015).
Dakos, V. et al. Slowing down as an early warning signal for abrupt climate change. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 105, 14308–14312 (2008).
Scheffer, M. et al. Anticipating critical transitions. Science 338, 344–348 (2012).
Jaimovich, N. & Siu, H. E. Job Polarization and Jobless Recoveries Working Paper No. 18334 (National Bureau of Economic Research, 2018).
H.Res.109—Recognizing the Duty of the Federal Government to Create a Green New Deal (US Congress, 2019).
Pollin, R. De-growth vs a green new deal. New Left Rev. 112, 5–25 (2018).
Schor, J. B. & Jorgenson, A. K. Is it too late for growth? Rev. Rad. Pol. Econ. 51, 320–329 (2019).
Kallis, G. Degrowth (Columbia Univ. Press, 2018).
Hickel, J. & Kallis, G. Is green growth possible? New Pol. Econ. https://doi.org/10.1080/13563467.2019.1598964 (2019).
Jackson, T. Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (Routledge, 2009).
Jones, C. I. & Klenow, P. J. Beyond GDP? Welfare across countries and time. Am. Econ. Rev. 106, 2426–2457 (2016).
Scarrow, R. Work and degrowth. Nat. Sustain. 1, 159 (2018).
Hardt, L. & O’Neill, D. W. Ecological macroeconomic models: assessing current developments. Ecol. Econ. 134, 198–211 (2017).
Boyce, J. K. Inequality as a cause of environmental degradation. Ecol. Econ. 11, 169–178 (1994).
Ravallion, M., Heil, M. & Jalan, J. Carbon emissions and income inequality. Oxf. Econ. Pap. 52, 651–669 (2000).
Hallegatte, S. & Rozenberg, J. Climate change through a poverty lens. Nat. Clim. Change 7, 250–256 (2017).
Diffenbaugh, N. S. & Burke, M. Global warming has increased global economic inequality. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 116, 9808–9813 (2019).
Flanagan, K., Uyarra, E. & Laranja, M. Reconceptualising the policy mix for innovation. Res. Pol. 40, 702–713 (2011).
Fremstad, A. & Paul, M. The impact of a carbon tax on inequality. Ecol. Econ. 163, 88–97 (2019).
Jackson, T. & Victor, P. A. Productivity and work in the new economy—some theoretical reflections and empirical tests. Environ. Innov. Soc. Trans. 1, 101–108 (2011).
Godin, A. Guaranteed Green Jobs: Sustainable Full Employment Working Paper No. 722 (Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, 2012).
Garbinti, B., Goupille-Lebret, J. & Piketty, T. Income inequality in France, 1900–2014: evidence from Distributional National Accounts (DINA). J. Public Econ. 162, 63–77 (2018).
Green Paper—a 2030 Framework for Climate and Energy Policies. Communication from the Commission 169 (European Commission, 2013).
Spash, C. L. The future post-growth society. Dev. Change 46, 366–380 (2015).
Piketty, T. Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict WID.world Working Paper 7 (World Inequality Lab, 2018).
Caverzasi, E. & Godin, A. Post-Keynesian stock-flow-consistent modelling: a survey. Cambridge J. Econ. 39, 157–187 (2014).
Bovari, E., Giraud, G. & McIsaac, F. Coping with collapse: a stock-flow consistent monetary macrodynamics of global warming. Ecol. Econ. 147, 383–398 (2018).
Jackson, T. & Victor, P. A. Does credit create a growth imperative? A quasi-stationary economy with interest-bearing debt. Ecol. Econ. 120, 32–48 (2015).
Timmer, M. P., Dietzenbacher, E., Los, B., Stehrer, R. & de Vries, G. J. An illustrated user guide to the World Input-Output Database: the Case of Global Automotive Production. Rev. Int. Econ. 23, 575–605 (2015).
Lavoie, M. Post-Keynesian Economics: New Foundations (Edward Elgar Publishing, 2014).
Satchell, P. Innovation and Automation (Routledge, 2018).
Goos, M., Manning, A. & Salomons, A. Explaining job polarization: routine-biased technological change and offshoring. Am. Econ. Rev. 104, 2509–2526 (2014).
Autor, D. H., Dorn, D. & Hanson, G. H. Untangling trade and technology: evidence from local labour markets. Econ. J. 125, 621–646 (2015).
Petrongolo, B. & Pissarides, C. A. The ins and outs of European unemployment. Am. Econ. Rev. 98, 256–262 (2008).
Mouw, T. & Kalleberg, A. L. Occupations and the structure of wage inequality in the United States, 1980s to 2000s. Am. Soc. Rev. 75, 402–431 (2010).
Schwellnus, C., Kappeler, A. & Pionnier, P.-A. Decoupling of Wages from Productivity OECD Economics Department Working Papers No. 1373 (OECD Publishing, 2017).
Alcott, B., Giampietro, M., Mayumi, K. & Polimeni, J. The Jevons Paradox and the Myth of Resource Efficiency Improvements (Routledge, 2012).
The Next Production Revolution: Implications for Governments and Business (OECD Publishing, 2017).
Askenazy, P. Working time regulation in France from 1996 to 2012. Cambridge J. Econ. 37, 323–347 (2013).
Fitzgerald, J. B., Schor, J. B. & Jorgenson, A. K. Working hours and carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, 2007–2013. Soc. Forces 96, 1851–1874 (2018).
Schor, J. & White, K. E. Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (Penguin Press, 2010).
Dietzenbacher, E. et al. Input–output analysis: the next 25 years. Econ. Syst. Res. 25, 369–389 (2013).
A Clean Planet for All - A European Strategic Long-term Vision for a Prosperous, Modern, Competitive and Climate Neutral Economy Communication from the Commission 773 (European Commission, 2018).
This research was commissioned by B. Eickhout, P. Lamberts, F. Marcellesi and T. Reintke (members of parliament at the Greens∣EFA Group at the European Parliament). We thank all of them, as well as C. Cattaneo, F. Demaria, O. Derruine, E. Giuliani, P. Guarnieri, G. Kallis, P. Manfredi and L. Piccinini for discussions and suggestions. We also thank the participants at the 6th International Degrowth Conference, held in Malmö, and at the Post-Growth Conference, held at the European Parliament. This research would not have been finalized without funding under the LOCOMOTION project, within the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 821105.
The authors declare no competing interests.
Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
About this article
Cite this article
D’Alessandro, S., Cieplinski, A., Distefano, T. et al. Feasible alternatives to green growth. Nat Sustain 3, 329–335 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-020-0484-y
Exploring the possibility space: taking stock of the diverse capabilities and gaps in integrated assessment models
Environmental Research Letters (2021)
A new two-nested-game approach: linking micro- and macro-scales in international environmental agreements
International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Law and Economics (2021)
Nature Communications (2021)
Assessing the renewable energy policy paradox: A scenario analysis for the Italian electricity market
Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews (2021)
Enabling assessment of distributive justice through models for climate change planning: A review of recent advances and a research agenda
WIREs Climate Change (2021)