UN report: economic growth and decarbonisation ‘two sides of same coin’

Emissions from a power station. [Stocker1970/Shutterstock].

Power station emissions. [Stocker1970/Shutterstock].

The deep decarbonisation of developed economies, such as the EU, can go along with economic growth, according to a report published by the United Nations this week.

The world’s largest economies, which include Germany, France and the UK, can continue to post economic growth, or turn around the recession, by transitioning to a ‘green economy’, according to the UN.

This is consistent with the European Commission’s message in its recent communication on the “circular economy”. It aims to push EU countries towards higher re-use and recycling rates and boost environmentally friendly employment.

>> Read: EU tables ‘circular economy’ package with zero-landfill goal

The report, ‘Pathways to deep decarbonisation‘, said that developed countries should not see the reduction of their greenhouse gas output as a constraint to prosperity, arguing that they are “two side of the same coin” and “must be pursued together as part of sustainable development”.

The world’s largest economies have pledged to take action to limit global warming to within 2° C, a goal which requires almost complete decarbonisation by the second half of the century. Heavy industry and fossil-fuel burning cars have released significant levels of CO2, which account for 76% of greenhouse gas emissions, into the atmosphere.

“The Deep Decarbonisation Pathways Project report is an effort to demonstrate how countries can contribute to achieving the globally agreed target of limiting global temperature rise to below 2°, said Ban Ki-Moon, the secretary-general of the UN.

“Ambitious national action is critical to averting dangerous climate change,” he added.


The report cites a recent study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), funded by the World Bank, showing that a 4°C warmer world could create climate and weather extremes that would cause devastation and human suffering.

The 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that such a temperature rise could affect crop harvests, cause sea-level rises and disease migration, including into Europe.

While many large economies have begun to decarbonise, a trend which is set to continue with fossil fuel reserves having become more scarce, the world is still on track for global mean temperature rise of 3.7°C to 4.8°C compared to pre-industrial levels. When accounting for full climate uncertainty, the range extends from 2.5°C to 7.8° by the end of the century, the report said.

The report, drafted by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Paris-based Science Po University’s Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, puts forward three “pillars” of deep decarbonisation:

  • energy efficiency and conservation, particularly in transport, buildings an industry
  • low-carbon electricity, with the replacement of fossil fuels with nuclear or renewable energies, such as solar, hydro, wind and geothermal, or the coupling of fossil fuel combustion with carbon capture and storage (CCS)
  • switching end-use energy supplies from fossil fuels in transport, buildings and industry with lower carbon fuels

The suggestions are similar to some of those put forward in a recent European Commission communication on the circular economy.

William Neale, a member of cabinet with the European commissioner for the environment, Janez Potocnik, said the package was intended to “create the framework conditions for a smooth transition” to a green economy, attempting to “avoid the dislocation” that could be caused by the current industrial model.

Next year, countries meet in Paris under the auspices of the UN to attempt to negotiate a deal on curbing global carbon emissions.

CO2 emissions are the largest driver of global warming, and account for over 70% greenhouse gas emissions.

The emissions are caused by certain climate conditions, economic growth, population numbers and transport and industrial activity.

  • 2015: COP21 meeting in Paris in which governments will attempt to reach an agreement on curbing global carbon emissions.

Research and academia

Subscribe to our newsletters