Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Shades of green growth scepticism among climate policy researchers


Despite strong promotion of green growth by policymakers and international institutions, there is mounting criticism concerning the compatibility of continued economic growth with sustainability goals. Our global survey of 789 climate policy researchers reveals widespread scepticism in high-income countries, supporting the notion that as national income rises, environmental goals prevail over economic growth. This finding underscores the importance of considering alternative post-growth perspectives, including agrowth and degrowth strategies, to cultivate a more comprehensive discourse on sustainable development strategies.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Fig. 1: Respondents’ positions on the growth-versus-environment debate.
Fig. 2: Growth position and relationships to GDP per capita and IHDI in the country of origin.

Similar content being viewed by others

Data availability

The source data are available at the public depository GitHub under the following weblink:

Code availability

The source code is available at the public depository GitHub under the following weblink:


  1. Bowen, A. & Hepburn, C. Green growth: an assessment. Oxford Rev. Econ. Policy 30, 407–422 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. OECD Green Growth Studies Towards Green Growth (OECD, 2011);

  3. Reflecting on Green Growth: Creating a Resilient Economy Within Environmental Limits (European Environment Agency, 2021);

  4. Inclusive Green Growth: The Pathway to Sustainable Development (The World Bank, 2012);

  5. Jackson, T. & Victor, P. A. Unraveling the claims for (and against) green growth. Science 366, 950–951 (2019).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. D’Alessandro, S., Cieplinski, A., Distefano, T. & Dittmer, K. Feasible alternatives to green growth. Nat. Sustain. 3, 329–335 (2020).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Hickel, J. & Kallis, G. Is green growth possible? N. Polit. Econ. 25, 469–486 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Jackson, T. Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (Routledge, 2016).

  9. Hickel, J. et al. Urgent need for post-growth climate mitigation scenarios. Nat. Energy 6, 766–768 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. van den Bergh, J. C. J. M. & Kallis, G. Growth, a-Growth or degrowth to stay within planetary boundaries? J. Econ. Issues 46, 909–920 (2012).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Kallis, G. In defence of degrowth. Ecol. Econ. 70, 873–880 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. van den Bergh, J. C. J. M. Environment versus growth—a criticism of ‘degrowth’ and a plea for ‘a-growth’. Ecol. Econ. 70, 881–890 (2011).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Savin, I. & van den Bergh, J. Tired of climate targets: shift focus of ‘IPCC scenarios’ from targets to policies. Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. 1517, 5–10 (2022).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Savin, I., Drews, S. & van den Bergh, J. GEM: a short ‘growth-vs-environment’ module for survey research. Ecol. Econ. 187, 107092 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. van den Bergh, J. C. J. M. Ecological economics: themes, approaches, and differences with environmental economics. Reg. Environ. Change 2, 13–23 (2001).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. 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).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Javeline, D. & Shufeldt, G. Scientific opinion in policymaking: the case of climate change adaptation. Policy Sci. 47, 121–139 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Krause, N. M., Brossard, D., Scheufele, D. A., Xenos, M. A. & Franke, K. Trends—Americans’ trust in science and scientists. Public Opin. Q. 83, 817–836 (2019).

    Google Scholar 

  19. Drews, S., Savin, I. & van den Bergh, J. C. J. M. Opinion clusters in academic and public debates on growth-vs-environment. Ecol. Econ. 157, 141–155 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. van den Bergh, J. et al. Designing an effective climate-policy mix: accounting for instrument synergy. Clim. Policy 21, 745–764 (2021).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. World Economic Outlook Database (IMF, 2022);

  22. Human Development Data (UNDP, 2023);

Download references


This work contributes to the ‘María de Maeztu’ Programme for Units of Excellence of the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation (CEX2019-000940-M). I.S. acknowledges funding from the European Union’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme under grant agreement number 101056891, ClimAte Policy AcceptaBiLity Economic (CAPABLE) framework. I.S. and S.D. further acknowledge support from an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (grant agreement number 741087). We are grateful to J. van den Bergh and G. Kallis for their useful comments.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



L.C.K. and I.S. jointly conceived the research and drafted the paper. I.S. and S.D. gathered the data. I.S. performed the regression and clustering analysis.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lewis C. King.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Peer review

Peer review information

Nature Sustainability thanks Tiziano Distefano, Markus Kröger, and Peter Victor for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Additional information

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Discussion, Methods, Figs. 1–7 and Tables 1–7.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Check for updates. Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

King, L.C., Savin, I. & Drews, S. Shades of green growth scepticism among climate policy researchers. Nat Sustain 6, 1316–1320 (2023).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing