Until today the paradigm has prevailed among governments and international organizations that it is possible to save the environment and biodiversity while maintaining the growth of the economy. But this idea is just a statement of intent that is not supported by data collected since the 20th century.
This is the conclusion reached by a group of twenty-two academics from institutions such as the University of Oxford, the Center for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications of Barcelona (CREAF), the University of Leipzig or the Humboldt of Berlin, among others. The group, led by the Spanish Iago Otero, from the University of Lausanne (Switzerland), believes that an urgent change in paradigm is necessary, and for this it proposes a battery of shock measures to limit the effects of the economy on ecosystems.
The team led by Otero has elaborated its thesis in an article published in April by Conservation Letters magazine, coinciding with the covid-19 pandemic. Otero explains to EL PAÍS that the current crisis confirms the conclusions of the text on the priority that safeguarding biodiversity should be: “A well-preserved nature would protect us from diseases like this. Behind the pandemic is deforestation, the expansion of agriculture or the trade of species, which put more people in contact with animals that carry the viruses ”.
The measures proposed by the twenty-two scientists are summarized in seven points: limit the exploitation of natural resources and prohibit their extraction in areas of high ecological value; restrict the construction of large infrastructures that break the integrity of green spaces; promote local agriculture and limit the expansion of cities, while favoring urban planning with a greater demographic concentration; compensate for the destruction of jobs with the creation of new jobs by reducing working hours; hinder the promotion of those products from agricultural overexploitation and nature.
The authors of the study assume that their proposals would face a multitude of "cultural and social barriers" because they go against "the prevailing imaginary of unlimited growth." "They are proposals to be debated," says Christoph Plutzer, professor at the University of Vienna and one of the signatories of the document. The only measure that requires “immediate action”, according to Plutzer, is to consolidate new indices that replace GDP and that assess social welfare and levels of environmental protection.
These academics emphasize that so far an increase in GDP has not been sustained by reducing the consumption of natural resources. In developed countries that has been achieved, they add, has been at the cost of an increase in natural exploitation in developing societies. The report provides data that would show a coincidence in the levels of evolution of world GDP since 1960 with that of farms, the use of pesticides and fertilizers, and with the demand for meat consumption. "The total amount of human production of materials grew in the last century in unison with global GDP, replacing ecosystems on a massive scale."
Another effect of global trade is the proliferation of invasive species, which are the second cause of extinction of flora and fauna. The effects of climate change on biodiversity are also evident, and the document highlights the forecasts for the European continent: it is estimated that 58% of the special plants and vertebrates will lose their habitat in the next sixty years. The article concedes that it is feasible to achieve GDP growth by reducing the use of natural resources and the emissions of polluting gases, but until today it has not been achieved - except in specific moments of economic crisis -, not even at the pace necessary to meet the objectives. to leave the increase in global warming to around 1.5 degrees.
The so-called European Green Deal, the plan of the European Commission and the main EU member states to eradicate polluting emissions from the economy, shares objectives with the article published in Conservation Letters. The main difference is that its authors defend the need to decrease in terms of GDP to build a “post-growth” society. "Our work proposes going beyond economic growth," says Otero, "this requires stopping using GDP as a guide indicator."
The first solution proposed in the study is to impose international limitations on the amount of natural resources used for the production of traded goods. "Different quotas could be applied to each country depending on its historical consumption and excesses in carbon dioxide emissions", says its text, adding that "the caps can be complemented with specific moratoriums for the exploitation of resources in highly biodiverse areas. delicate". Another proposal is to break up jobs into reduced working hours. "Under certain circumstances, the shorter working day is related to lower carbon emissions and other harmful effects on biodiversity."
Relocating the economy to reduce the distance between the centers of production and consumers is another key measure, according to the report. This requires stopping the geographical expansion of cities in favor of farms close to cities, thus avoiding the destruction of natural areas in other regions. They also ask to put an end to the development of large infrastructures and transport networks that break the integrity of spaces of ecological value.
By Cristian Segura
Source: El País