Preparing for a No-Growth World

Conferences discusses the state of the world by 2050.

Published: 11-Jun-2010

Colle di Val d’Elsa, ITALY -- A major correction to world GDP is inevitable, economist Hannes Kunz told attendees at an international forum in Colle di Val d'Elsa, Italy on Tuesday sponsored by sustainability think tank Global Footprint Network. Kunz is among the experts at Footprint Forum 2010, an international gathering of 200 scientists, economists, and business and government leaders to discuss today's most urgent environmental challenges, and strategies to address them.

How the world manages the transition to a no-growth economy will make the difference between whether it is a benign or a drastic correction, with per capita GDP stabilizing at levels closer to those of 20 years ago, or over a hundred years ago. Ecological economists talk about how we can rethink economic growth so we can also enable a sustainable world economy, he said. "But we don't have to rethink growth. Growth is going to go away."

"The financial claims on the world economy -- such as debt obligations, pension expectations, stocks, investments -- can only be paid back by extracting more resources and converting them into financial assets. But we have a finite amount of resources, and those resources are becoming less and less available, so we're trapped," he said, cautioning assembled environmental experts that if this transition to a sustainable economy is not managed adequately "we won't have a chance to build something good afterward."

Other highlights from Tuesday's conference included:

Juan Gonzales-Valero of agri-business leader Syngenta discussed the changes that would need to be put in place to meet the needs of population of 9 billion people by mid-century. The conclusion were part of the the findings of Vision 2050, an effort through the World Business Council of Sustainable Development by 29 of the world's leading corporations to develop pathways for a one-planet economy by 2050.

Feeding the projected 9 billion will require, among other things: halving CO2 emissions, doubling agricultural output, and providing for a four-to tenfold increase in resource efficiency. Doubling agricultural output while radically reducing fossil fuel dependence is possible, Gonzalez-Valero said. "Most of the necessary technologies are already in place. It's about how they can be applied and shared." But reaching these goals will require radical transformations to existing market and government structures.

Swiss-based private banking firm Sarasin Bank, with 63.2 billion worth of assets under management, presented a system of rating country bond based on sustainability and Ecological Footprint. "We believe that only these countries will be able to pursue the economic activities they will need to pay back their debts in the long run," said Balazs Magyar, Head of Sustainable Investment Portfolio Management for Sarasin. High foreign and public debt means conceding future resources to someone else, he said, and the issue is similar for ecological as for economic debt.

Footprint Forum 2010

Footprint Forum 2010 will continue until June 13, and will include a series of sessions and round tables focused on sustainability and systemic change. The event is hosted by U.S.-based Global Footprint Network, in conjunction with the University of Siena. Upcoming topics include: Feeding 9 Billion: The Food, Water and Energy Connection; Re-thinking Growth; and Can We Reboot the System? Cities, Infrastructure, and Energy Systems. For more details on these sessions, or on the Forum, go to

Global Footprint Network

Global Footprint Network is an international think tank working to advance sustainability through use of the Ecological Footprint, a resource accounting tool that measures how much nature we have, how much we use and who uses what. By making ecological limits central to decision-making, we are working to end overshoot and create a society where all people can live well, within the means of one planet.

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