“We can and must decouple economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions”

Tribune. From a growth fetishism that is certainly open to criticism, although still very prevalent among political personnel, are we in the process of tipping without transition towards a fetishism of degrowth? It is a matter of transition, precisely, energy and environmental, but the idea is spreading that it would be possible only because of the decrease in the volume of the economy. In other words, we cannot “decouple” economic activity from damage to the environment, and first of all from greenhouse gas emissions. However, at least as regards this last parameter, key to our control – or not – of climatic disturbances, this radical and demobilizing pessimism is erroneous. No, this famous “decoupling” is not a pipe dream.

Yet researchers say they haven’t found any evidence of it in the statistics. More specifically, only “relative” decoupling has been observed – emissions grow less quickly than the economy. It is far from being enough. Controlling climate change requires that global emissions decrease (and quickly!), Which would constitute “absolute” decoupling. Nothing like this has happened so far. But how does this prove that decoupling will not take place, cannot take place? The argument, repeated over and over again, is markedly weak. Let’s take a closer look.

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Absolute decouplings have indeed been observed – locally. CO emissions2 of the United Kingdom have decreased by 46% since 1971, those of France by 41% from 1973 to 2014, those of Germany by 26% since 1990 (while the gross domestic product of these countries grew by 179%, 126 % and 52%). Main factors of these decoupling: the replacement of coal and oil in the production of electricity by gas in the United Kingdom, nuclear in France and renewables in Germany. Because contrary to the lie that too many lazy people copy, renewables more than compensate for the decline in nuclear power in Germany, they are pushing back coal.

The case of 18 countries

Corinne Le Quéré, President of the High Council for the Climate, and various co-authors have examined the case of 18 countries – the United States and European countries – which have reduced their carbon emissions from 2005 to 2015 by 2.4% per year on average. CO2. This detailed examination shows that the relocation of industrial production, especially in China, played only a minor role in the reduction of emissions. This results first of all from the decrease in the share of fossils in energy consumption, and the decrease in this consumption. The increase in the use of gas to the detriment of coal has played a supporting role, particularly in the United States. Renewables and energy savings are therefore already proving their worth. But the essential remains to come.

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“We can and must decouple economic activity and greenhouse gas emissions”