Bringing green growth from popular concept to powerful action

Green growth has become an increasingly popular term. It is an ambitious concept, aiming to conserve and improve the environment and achieve economic growth simultaneously. As such, green growth reconciles two interests that are usually viewed as contradictory: economic growth without environmental damage, and environmental enhancement without economic cost. It is a potentially powerful political and social concept that is supported by many governments, corporations and citizens alike. Unfortunately, the reason for the current broad support for the concept could ultimately also lead to its downfall. When practical implications of the concept are discussed, green growth shows to be a concept under construction, with a wide array of interpretations and opinions on how it should be defined and implemented.

This publication aims to clarify the concepts of ‘green growth’ and ‘green economy’, especially regarding their political and social significance. It explains the concepts, definitions, debates and actions regarding green growth and gives recommendations for the Dutch government on how to stimulate the development of green growth in the Netherlands.

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From greening the economy to a green economy. Source: final report.

Key findings of the research can be summarised as follows:

  • Political decisions will have to be made to bring green growth from a powerful, unifying discourse towards an effective policy framework. An important step will be to set concrete, quantitative goals, and a clear set of indicators to measure progress towards these goals.
  • There are various policy instruments that could be used to promote green growth, for instance putting a price on detrimental effects to the environment, abolishing environmentally harmful subsidies, and promoting R&D.
  • Two concepts are important in defining green growth: decoupling and offsetting. Relative decoupling, where the environmental impacts of economic activity become less severe, greens the economy. But planetary boundaries can still be crossed as the economy continues to grow. Only absolute decoupling halts the negative environmental impacts of increased economic activity altogether. Furthermore, greening in one part of the world should not be offset by increased pollution in a different region. Thus far, domestic green growth policies are often ambiguous about the extent of decoupling and have barely shown measures to avoid offsetting in practice.
  • Green growth also entails a promise of enhancing economic wealth. Recent years have shown the growth of green sectors, such as renewable energy, energy efficiency and recycling. Other sectors could also benefit from green growth, but it is inevitable that some polluting industries will shrink in the process as well.