Scientific Consensus on Post-Growth over Green Growth

Teemu Koskimäki
8 min readSep 29, 2023


According to new research, a scientific consensus is forming for a new economic paradigm that looks beyond growth. This post presents proof and answers why green growth no longer seems viable.

At present, there are two main strategy options for countries to achieve sustainability: green growth and post-growth.

The green growth approach seeks more economic growth while decreasing environmental impacts at the same time. There is a good chance this is what your country currently tries to do.

In contrast, the post-growth approach seeks to secure the well-being of people and nature regardless of economic growth. It seeks to create a prosperous future beyond growth.

Illustration by John Holcroft

Within academia, the debate between green growth and post-growth has persisted for a long time. However, recent evidence suggests that a consensus is starting to form in favour of post-growth. This case has been made particularly clear by three scientific articles that came out this year: two independent global surveys and one global analysis of green growth.

Survey of Climate Policy Researchers

In August 2023, Lewis C. King, Ivan Savin & Stefan Drews published a paper in the high-profile Nature Sustainability journal, in which they demonstrate widespread scepticism against green growth with a global survey of 789 researchers who had published papers on climate policy (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Number of responses by country in the King et al. 2023 global survey (based on their Fig. S1).

Focusing on high-income countries, King et al. reported widespread scepticism towards green growth among the surveyed scholars, who represented different fields of science. Globally, as much as 73% of the scholars preferred post-growth approaches (i.e., agrowth or degrowth) over green growth (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Pathway preferences for high-income countries by climate policy researchers from different regions in the King et al. survey (based on their Fig. 1).

The growth agnostic “agrowth” position was the most ​popular pathway overall. Agrowth reflects the idea that growth in itself is irrelevant and policymakers should be neutral about it, as long as societal well-being and environmental goals are secured.

In addition, there was considerable support for “degrowth”, according to which affluent countries should aim for a deliberate and equitable reduction in economic activity, especially in environmentally harmful sectors, to meet people’s needs within planetary boundaries.

The paper also found that climate policy researchers from affluent countries are generally more critical of green growth compared to scholars who reside in less affluent countries, as the figure above demonstrates.

The authors conclude that their findings emphasize a need to expand the conversation on sustainable development beyond the green growth paradigm.

These findings and conclusions by King and his team largely agree with the results of another worldwide survey released earlier this year, which looked at a different group of experts.

Survey of Sustainability Scholars

This survey was done by me and it was published in May 2023 as an open access article in the journal Ecological Economics. My survey focused on scholars from various fields who had published papers on sustainable development.

My survey received responses from 461 scholars, from 66 countries (Figure 3). The purpose was to find out what future pathways countries in different income groups should follow for local and global sustainability to be achieved.

Figure 3. Number of survey responses by country in the Koskimäki 2023 survey.

Reflecting the findings of King et al., an overwhelming majority of the surveyed sustainability scholars, over 75 percent, supported the idea behind post-growth. According to the majority, high-income countries should look beyond growth already this decade. Instead of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), affluent countries should focus directly on the wellbeing of people and the environment (Pathway C in Figure 4), or even seek to decrease the GDP to reduce environmental impacts (Pathway D).

Figure 4. Sustainability scholars’ pathway preferences for different country income groups by decade. Pathways: Business-as-usual (A), green growth (B), and post-growth (C & D; agrowth & degrowth). Country income groups: high-income (HI), upper-middle-income (UMI), lower-middle-income (LMI), low-income (LI).

The agrowth position was particularly popular, which stated that “Countries should focus on increasing societal well-being directly while also reducing environmental impacts, regardless of what happens to GDP” (Option C in Figure 4). The “degrowth” pathway (D), which called for reducing GDP, also grew in support between the 2020s and the 2030s.

The idea behind green growth, which assumes that economic growth can occur while environmental impacts are reduced (Pathway B), did not receive much support for affluent countries. Many preferred green growth for less affluent countries instead. Interestingly, there was also a large fraction of sustainability scholars who preferred post-growth strategies for less affluent countries, suggesting these countries might want to avoid the narrow growth-based Western understanding of progress altogether.

The two surveys presented above reveal that a scientific consensus is forming for a new economic paradigm that looks beyond growth, particularly in high-income countries. The final paper I wish to focus on further highlights the urgency to consider alternatives to green growth.

The viability of Green Growth

In September 2023, an open access article was published by Jefim Vogel and Jason Hickel in the Lancet Planet Health journal, titled “Is green growth happening?”

The authors defined green growth as a period of time during which the national economy grows while greenhouse gas emissions are simultaneously reduced, at a fast enough rate to meet the Paris climate and equity commitments (looking at a 50% chance of staying within the 1.5°C or 1.7°C targets for global warming). If emissions decline slower than that, growth cannot be considered green.

In academic jargon, the separation between growth and its impacts (such as emissions) is called “decoupling”. When that separation is large enough, so that the economy grows while impacts simultaneously decline in absolute terms, it is called “absolute decoupling”. The key question, however, is the speed and permanency of this decoupling. This is what determines the viability of green growth as a strategy for sustainability.

After analysing 36 high-income countries for which data were available, Vogel & Hickel found 11 countries that had achieved absolute decoupling of consumption-based CO₂ emissions from GDP, between 2013 and 2019: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK. However…

“A continuation of the 2013–19 average emission reduction rates achieved in the 11 countries through decoupling (business as usual) would not even suffice to reduce their emissions to net zero by 2050, much less to deliver the earlier net-zero dates (on average, in the late 2030s) required for these countries to comply with their 1.5°C fair-shares.” — Vogel & Hickel, 2023.

And the authors continue…

“On the basis of their 2013–19 decoupling achievements, the 11 countries would take between 73 years and 369 years (223 years, on average) to reduce their respective 2022 emissions by 95%, and would burn between five times and 162 times (on average, 27 times) their respective remaining post-2022 national fair-shares of the global carbon budget for 1.5°C in the process.” — Vogel & Hickel, 2023.

Essentially, the rate of decoupling is simply too slow. Green growth has not happened so far, and the authors conclude that achieving it seems empirically out of reach even for the best-performing high-income countries. It would require a “large, near-instantaneous” accel​eration of decoupling that is “very ​unlikely to be feasible.” Furthermore, decoupling emissions is not enough. Decoupling would also need to happen in terms of biodiversity loss and resource use, among other impacts, the authors note.

The Paris climate obligations cannot be met if growth remains a goal. More growth in production and consumption entails more energy demand, and therefore more emissions. Reducing harmful and wasteful forms of production and consumption is needed, not just increasing efficiency. As the authors conclude:

“A crucial step is to stop the pursuit of aggregate economic growth and instead pursue post-growth approaches oriented towards sufficiency, equity, and wellbeing.” — Vogel & Hickel, 2023.

Final thoughts

New research now shows that a strong and broad agreement exists among scholars that the future of global sustainability means getting beyond the growth-based understanding of progress and shifting societal focus directly on the wellbeing of people and nature.

Although there have been signs towards this direction, such as the large Beyond Growth conference hosted by the European Parliament in May 2023 and the expanding Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) partnership, no country has explicitly chosen a post-growth path

— so far.

However, since green growth has not occurred despite decades of efforts and seems far out of reach, it is now time to seriously consider post-growth policies that could secure the wellbeing of people and nature within just planetary boundaries. In high-income countries, this may require a period of intentional degrowth, which science can help make work.

To reduce emissions and other impacts fast enough, high-income countries need both increasing efficiency and demand reducing sufficiency solutions. This requires affluent countries to refocus their efforts to overcome the prevailing societal addiction to economic growth, both structurally and culturally.

Illustration by John Holcroft

The key is to find safe ways to complement the prevailing efficiency approach with demand reducing sufficiency solutions on a wide enough scale, directly addressing overconsumption, wasteful and resource-inefficient practices, and less-necessary or harmful forms of production. Tools such as new ecological macroeconomic models can be used to help evaluate post-growth pathways and test new policy frameworks which can facilitate a safe and just transition.

The alternative is a world of broken promises, irreversible environmental devastation, global injustice, increasing insecurity, nationalisation, and conflict. No country or class is immune from a crisis of this magnitude. It is therefore time to fundamentally rethink how our societies and economies function and alter them in whatever way is necessary to facilitate peace among people and peace between us and the planet that supports us.

Perhaps this emerging consensus among scholars will help encourage more research on post-growth pathways and solutions. Perhaps it will motivate funders to support this research. And perhaps it will direct people and decision-makers at different scales and in different sectors to listen to the emerging post-growth expertise and empower them to implement the much-needed post-growth and sufficiency solutions in practice.

Thanks for reading!

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How to cite this blog post:

Koskimäki, T. 2023. Scientific Consensus on Post-Growth over Green Growth. Medium.


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Teemu Koskimäki

Mostly science, society, space, and nature from a global change perspective. Teemu has a PhD in Ecological Economics from the Australian National University.