The end of february saw the return of a conference by the “Growth in Transition” initaitive, having been on break for four years prior. SERI participated in several “parallel sessions” again. Additionally, N21, our German-language online magazine for all things sustainable, covered the event with a three-day workshop where participants wrote about the conference in a live blog and even in two issues of a printed “conference newspaper”.

On the first day of “Growth in Transition 2016”, SERI in collaboration with the Club of Rome organised a session called “Secular Stagnation”. Around two years ago, the American economist and US Secretary of the Treasury under Bill Clinton, Larry Summers rekindled the debate, though without taking environmental aspects into consideration. There are plenty of reasons for low growth, including an aging population, resource scarcity, market saturation, debt and/or high interest rates. “All these reasons need to be considered if we want to deal with the situation – in whichever way that may be.”, Angelika Zahrnt, one of the sessions panelists, remarked.

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Angelika Zahrnt at the SERI-Session “Secular Stagnation”. (© BMLFUW/Jana Madzigon)

However, the debate should include the arguments of the “post-growth”-movement that has been occupied with this question for some time now. Conversely, “post-growth economists” should also start to consider the hypothesis of secular stagnation, rather than asking, “How much growth do we want?”. „Secular stagnation is not the root of Europe’s crisis“, argued Stephan Schulmeister, another panelist, “but we are using the wrong roadmap”. Mainstream economists seemed to want to supress their theories’ role in triggering the crisis in the first place.

What happens when civil society initiates the transition to lower resource consumption? This notion was presented by Jill Jäger and Henning Wilts in a session titled “Scenarios for Europe using much less resources”. The EU project POLFREE (Policy Options for a Ressource Efficient Economy), coordinated by the University College London Institute for Sustainable Resources (UCL ISR) with involvement by SERI and a number of other European institutions, presents three idealised pathways towards a more resource efficient future. Whereas the scenario dubbed “Global Cooperation” illustrates the effects of international collaboration around the globe, “EU Goes Ahead” looks at potential outcomes of a European commitment to resource-efficiency.

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SERI-Head Fritz Hinterberger moderated a workshop about the project POLFREE with Jill Jäger and Henning Wilts (left to right; Foto: © BMLFUW/Jana Madzigon)

In the third scenario “Civil Society Leads” presented by Jill Jäger, the transition towards less resource consumption is initiated by the citizens and parts of civil society. Less meat consumption and increased shared use of commodities lead to an extensive reduction of CO2 emissions and other pressures. Jäger also pointed out that zero growth of GDP and a reduction of working hours accumulated to 17 million additional jobs compared to Business-as-Usual in the complex macroeconomic modelling used as part of the project. Henning Wilts from the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy explained how the “policy mixes” needed for the respective scenarios were derived. These approaches could differ quite strongly, reaching from taxation to social innovation.
Jill Jäger’s presentation can be found here, Henning Wilts’ here.

Additionally, to find out more about POLFREE, including videos of Jill Jäger and project coordinator Paul Ekins (UCL) speaking about the various scenarios, visit polfree.seri.at