The feasibility of green growth is studied in the context of climate change. As carbon emissions are easier to quantify than many other types of environmental pressure, it will be possible to reach a more definite conclusion about the likelihood of green growth than has been possible in the long-standing historical debate on growth versus the environment. We calculate the rate of decoupling between gross domestic product (GDP) and GHG emissions needed to achieve internationally agreed climate targets. Next, eight arguments are considered that together suggest that fast decoupling will be very difficult. Subsequently, we examine the main lines of research used by proponents of green growth to support their viewpoint, including theoretical arguments, exercises with integrated assessment models, and studies of the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis. It will be concluded that decoupling as a main or single strategy to combine economic and environmental aims should be judged as taking a very large risk with our common future. To minimize this risk we need to seriously consider reducing our dependence on growth. This requires a fundamental change of focus in both economic research and policy. Policy relevance Currently, green growth is the only strategy of mainstream economists and policy makers to address climate change. This article demonstrates that such an exclusive focus is very risky due to the scale of the challenge and the existence of various barriers to the fast decoupling of GHG emissions from economic output. It seems that the only option to combine environmental and economic objectives is reducing the dependence of our economies on growth. Finding strategies in line with this requires a fundamental change of focus in both economic research and policy. © 2014 Taylor & Francis.
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