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Sustainable Growth: Myth or Reality?

I recently attended an international development society conference. The topic this year was climate change, its effects and policy solutions. We had the opportunity to listen to six speakers who have a vast range of experience in environmental issues including academics, researchers and charities. The talks provided valuable insights into this ‘hot’ topic with case studies from South Africa, Ethiopia, Latin America and Asia. Whilst it is important for our media to bring these discussions into the mainstream and recognise the problems we are creating; such news articles have painted a somewhat miserable picture. Therefore, I firmly believe that now is the time to discuss the practical policy solutions.

Politicians, until very recently, have not advocated for policy reform in this area. As the IPPC reported last year we need far reaching and unprecedented change to tackle these issues (UN 2018). Not just banning plastic straws. But a total reform of our energy systems, business regulations and transport infrastructure. However, as Jo Musker-Sherwood from the charity ‘Hope for the Future’ explained, our MPs do not commonly stand up in parliament to raise the issue of climate change. The mission at Hope for the Future is to communicate the urgency of the climate crisis through providing constituents with ways to get through to their MPs. Simply framing the problem in a different way can make MP’s realize they must begin to bring the issue into mainstream politics (Sherwood, 2019).

Part of the problem is that sustainability has been regarded an obstacle to economic growth. Thus tackling poverty, generating wealth and protecting the poor have naturally taken priority over environmental protection. Nonetheless we should now begin to reframe the climate change debate and propose that controlling its impacts is essential to protecting the vulnerable. If we present our arguments in such ways to our MP’s we can generate support by resonating with MPs on the left. Equally framing climate reform in terms of upholding traditionalism has resonance with those on the right.

Regardless of the warnings we have received thus far about climate change the theory that reform will hinder economic growth should now be recognised as outdated. In another presentation by Marc Curran (researcher to Nick Stern LSE), the message is quite different. Rather than emission caps being economically limiting, investing in renewable energies has numerous benefits including: reduction in energy prices; better cities; greater transport and water (Curran, 2019). Research by the new climate economy predicts that in the US there would be around 65 million additional low carbon jobs and $2.8 Trillion in carbon based revenues (New Climate Economy, 2018). Such benefits encapsulate further our social responsibility to people by redesigning our cities, there is better insulated housing, and less city density bringing benefits to the urban poor. Implementing climate smart agriculture we can increase food stocks, help poor farmers and lower food volatility. Improvements in transport can also increase efficiency, and air quality, protecting everyone from the inadequacies of poor health.

Now is the time for investment. Not only are we facing a ticking time bomb to meet our 2050 zero emission targets but the market conditions are favourable. Low interest rates, make investment cheap and the financial capital is there for us to do it. Further the advances in new technology have seen its costs fall, solar panels have halved in price from £12,000 to £6,000 in the last decade (Telegraph Financial Solutions, 2018) evidencing the increased progress and market competition. Whilst the opportunity for private investment is there on the one hand the UK government can, and I believe should, lead the way with a publicly financed scheme. Curran suggested that a partnership of both the private and public sectors would be a feasible solution that unlike previous partnerships should not be feared (Curran Speaking at IDS conference 2019).

It is refreshing to see that Jeremy Corbyn has recognised the need for radical change. In line with socialist policies the motivations for such reform include job creation and public funding for insulation to lower energy costs for those most vulnerable. In a recent tweet he advocated that ‘this is not a burden and Labour’s plans will create at least 400,000 skilled and unionised jobs’(Corbyn 2019). The move presents optimism in dealing the planet and shows the alleged ‘hindrance to economic growth’ arguments are now outdated whilst also highlighting the message from Jo Musker-Sherwood of the importance of reframing the debate to align with political ideology.

In summary sustainable growth is not a utopian fantasy and we ought to pressure our MP’s to make radical change, particularly in energy policy. We have been appeased with bans on straws and carrier bags but we should not remain complacent.

A massive thank you for International Development society for hosting such a wonderful conference. All of the speakers gave engaging and valuable speeches however I have drawn on the two I see as linking the problems to policy outcomes. If you are interested to hear more about the International development society check out their Facebook page.


Curran, P. (2019). The 21st century, sustainable and inclusive growth story: Putting developing countries at the centre.

New Climate Economy. (2018, Aug). New Climate Economy Report 2018. Retrieved from New Climate Economy:

Sherwood, M. (2019, Feb 23). IDS conference.Telegraph Financial Solutions. (2018, Oct 18). Are Solar Panals Worth it? Retrieved from The Telegraph:

Corbyn, Jeremy. (2019, February) A Tweet from @jeremycorbyn on 19/02/2019

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#sustainability #Environment #internationaldevelopment #UniversityofYork #climatechange #Corbyn #MPs #reform

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