The diagram above is from "World Economic Situation and Prospects 2016" published by the UN. On the face of it, this provides some hope about the state of decoupling of carbon emissions from per capita GDP. If sufficient decoupling can be achieved, then an amount of aggregate global GDP growth could be achieved while keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.
However, there is one aspect of this which is of some concern. There is a nagging question on my mind. What if the reduction in per capita carbon emissions in high-GDP countries is largely achieved by 'exporting' carbon emissions, ie by consuming products and services imported from parts of the world which have much higher per capita carbon emissions? If this was the case, then, all other things being equal, it wouldn't be possible for all countries to be moved, over the years and decades, from bottom left of the diagram to the bottom right. This is because there wouldn't be any countries remaining in the bottom left to "export" carbon emissions to.
I'd be happy if anyone can point me in the direction of evidence that can put my mind at rest on this point.
And perhaps one of the most important questions following on from that is: "what would be the distribution of countries on the above curve at a sustainable equilibrium, and would that equilibrium be consistent with operating within sustainable and safe planetary limits (as per the Oxfam sustainability "doughnut" model)?"
Achim Steiner (above), new Director of the Oxford Martin School, gave an absorbing and curiously upbeat talk in Oxford on 29th November about many of the dimensions of the current global challenges in creating a sustainable, fair existence for humanity on the planet.
He argues not for throwing away the existing systems, such as global economic ones, but rather for tweaking them in ways that incentivise right behaviours that take us closer to sustainability for the common good. His most impassioned plea was for members of the audience to consider the degree of pressure currently faced by farmers, especially smallholders, within the agricultural economy. He pointed out that we need that sector to thrive if we are to feed a human population that might grow to 10 billion people. he also emphasised that automation is a threat to employment, yet within a few decades we will need about 600 million new jobs if we are to continue to use employment as an important means for people to provide for themselves.
Although this was one of the best, most integrative talks I've ever attended, I'm left with one question that bugs me - how to turn the fine words into fine actions. Indeed, that's a question I ask of myself as well as wonder about others.
The video of the talk can be accessed at:
The Planetary CFO - working towards a sustainable World Balance Sheet.