Economic growth a double-edged sword for sustainability

By Angela Dorizas

Carbon emission reduction is a positive by-product of the current financial crisis and should spark further green investment, according to Macquarie University economics lecturer Ben Spies-Butcher.

Speaking at a recent local government sustainability forum in Sydney, Dr Spies-Butcher said there was a love-hate relationship between economic growth and the environment.

“While growth on the one hand gives the revenue that government need in order to be able to effect policy changes and develop the technologies we need in order to be able to implement sustainable solutions, growth also by its very nature tends to increase consumption of renewable and non-renewable resources,” he said.

“The Stern Report estimated that for every one per cent change in GDP there was a 0.9 per cent change in carbon pollution.”

Dr Spies-Butcher said the single greatest reduction in carbon emissions to have taken place in 40 years was a direct result of the global financial crisis.

“Recently the International Energy Agency reported that 2009 is set to have the largest decrease in emissions for years and while policy aimed at curbing emissions can take credit for about a quarter of that drop, the vast bulk of it is due to the recession,” he said.

He said the global financial crisis had created the ideal opportunity for the Australian Government to address climate change through investment in the green economy.

The Federal Government had made available an unprecedented level of local and state government funding, which he said should be directed towards sustainable projects.

“Part of the role of local government is not only tapping into those resources but also working as closely as you can with both state and federal governments in order to shape how those packages look,” he said.

Dr Spies-Butcher called on councils to boost local employment through the creation of new, green jobs in public works and sustainability.

“I think that’s one of the biggest opportunities for local government,” he said.

“If you think about the sorts of jobs that you create or the sorts of programs that you run, they tend to be quite labour intensive.

“In terms of trying to lessen both the environmental and the social equity implications of recession at the same time they’re precisely the sorts of initiatives that are likely to work.”

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required