UK: The Truth About What Will Really Enable Us To Tackle Climate Change Effectively

Last Updated: 5 January 2016
Article by Frances Lawson

At the heart of any discourse are assumptions that are taken to be beyond question. The dominant climate change discourse encircling the current COP21 negotiations is based on several such assumptions which therefore lie outside the scope of what is being discussed, not only by ministers and negotiators, but by also commentators. Challenging those assumptions crosses some red lines into territory that is deeply unpopular, even scandalous. At least some of those assumptions are, however, what lies between us and an effective approach to tackling climate change.

Assumption 1: Limitless economic growth is both a good thing and compatible with climate change mitigation

There are, of course, many who challenge the economic growth doctrine and call for a more 'distributive' and 'just' economic model. Those people, however, are immediately marginalised into the 'extreme left' of the political spectrum and stripped of any mainstream credibility. Anyone who wants to be listened to and taken seriously by decision-makers has to endorse the 'economic growth' agenda as the only legitimate approach. Consequently, even some in the NGO world have begun to tacitly accept the narrative of 'growth' in their literature.

There is no need for an economics degree in order to understand why the current 'growth' model is inherently incompatible with effective climate change action. The need for growth is taken to be endless, infinite ... it is the motor for the global economy, and consequently there will never be a point at which we can step off its hamster wheel. There are two preconditions in order for the economy to grow endlessly – the first is that everyone on the planet continues to consume more and more 'stuff' ... we buy more goods, throw things away quicker, replace them quicker, own more than we need etc. That is what retailers, manufacturers, producers rely upon to generate higher and higher profit levels, which in turn produce rising levels of GDP. The other precondition is that there are ever more consumers on the planet, in other words, an ever higher global population.

No politician, no commentator, no analyst, no researcher has, to my knowledge, explained how we can have ever greater levels of consumption and successfully tackle climate change in line with the scientific consensus. There is much talk of how consumption habits can be made 'greener' and 'more sustainable'. Making consumption less environmentally harmful is, however, is very different from those consumption habits being consistent with total decarbonisation and the limiting of warming to 2 degrees Celsius. The reason, I suggest, for the absence of an explanation as to how ever-greater growth, and the ever-greater consumption it relies upon, can fit with the overarching objective of the UNFCCC is due to a mixture of denial and a resolute refusal to discuss it where it needs to be discussed most.

Assumption 2: Economic growth is needed in order to eliminate poverty

The rationale for maintaining the economic growth doctrine is an emotive one. It is impossible to argue against the desirability of reducing, or ideally eliminating, poverty. Within the climate negotiations, developing countries proclaim a right to economic growth, and therefore to emit greenhouse gases, in order to 'eliminate poverty', an objective reinforced by the Sustainable Development Goals adopted in September 2015.

We only have to look at our own countries for abundant proof that our current economic growth model does not lead to poverty elimination. Every morning in Paris, I walk past at least half a dozen homeless people either begging in the street, or wrapped up in a sleeping bag. The picture is equally dismal on my home territory of Islington in North London. One of the great ironies of the climate negotiations is that developing countries are asserting a need to pollute in order to adopt a development model that has comprehensively failed to eliminate poverty in the developed countries that they wish to emulate.

No reasonable person would dispute that we should aim for a world without poverty, or at the very least, without a poverty extreme. What we are failing to ask ourselves, however, is whether a world without poverty means that everyone has the right to own and drive a car? To own a detached property with private garden? To have satellite TV? Multiple mobile phones? The developing country discourse in the UNFCCC seems to suggest that everyone in their countries should enjoy the standard of living that some, but not all, in the developed world have available to them, as if these things are the benchmark of a 'life without poverty'. Such a discourse overlooks not only the viability of everyone on the planet having these things without that very planet being destroyed, but also whether these things are what enable people to live a happy, healthy and fulfilling life. Questioning this discourse, however, tends to result in being labelled as someone who wishes to see the perpetuation of poverty-induced suffering.

Assumption 3: Everyone can have it all

This assumption ties together the two previous ones. The reason for the reticence of the Parties to the UNFCCC to bind themselves to legal obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the extent required by the science is because they fear it may harm their short-term economic interests to do so. What underpins this reticence is said to be the desire to ensure that standards of living are maintained in the developed world, and that poverty is eliminated in the developing world. What it is actually about, however, is one simple phrase ... wanting to have it all.

There is an unspoken assumption in the 'developed world' that we have to continue to have all that we have at present, indeed that it is our 'entitlement' – we need to be able to drive our cars when we want, fly abroad when we want, buy things we don't need when we want, throw things out the minute they don't work ... this is the concept of 'freedom' and 'happiness that we have brought into. It is out of the question in our era to make sacrifices, even for the future of the planet. Maybe because 'sacrifice' has a religious connotation that makes us uncomfortable. Or maybe because the majority have still bought into the notion, sold us by the 'economic growth' advocates in politics, that having all this 'stuff', benefiting from all these 'freedoms' make us happy. Would being only able to take one flight per year affect my personal happiness? Having reflected on the question, and despite my love of international travel, the answer is no, it would not. Would I be prepared to make that, and other sacrifices, in order to ensure we are successful in limiting global warming? Unhesitatingly yes I would. From a small survey of my friends, so would others. Yet, due to the erroneous assumptions above, none of us are being asked to. Instead, we're being told we can have it all and encouraged to consume even more that we do at present.

Once again, no politician, commentator, researcher has, to my knowledge, explained how we can enable a global population of 8 billion (and rising) to benefit from an unlimited ability to fly, drive cars, use energy, consume goods and services whilst making deep and lasting cuts to our greenhouse gas emissions in the short timescales required to avoid catastrophic climate change. The simple reason is because we can't.

If the international community is sincere in its commitment to tackling climate change in time, it is time to question the assumptions above and reflect upon the following alternative truths:

1. The current consumption-based economic growth model is fundamentally incompatible with adequate climate change mitigation and is the major block to an effective agreement in Paris.

2. The current economic growth model is primarily about wealth accumulation, greed, and wanting to have it all ... not about poverty elimination.

3. Developing country calls to be allowed to follow our example economically is, in many cases, not just about eliminating poverty but is also about the politics of envy, wealth accumulation and greed.

4. In order to successfully mitigate climate change, developing countries must immediately adopt a truly sustainable, decarbonised, low-emission pathway, fully supported and enabled by the developed world. There should be no new building of fossil-fuel energy generation facilities – everything financed by the developed world should involve renewable energy. Reversing what has already been done 10, 20 years down the line is so much harder than doing it in the right way first time around.

5. An alternative economic model is needed that does not rely upon endless consumption, is compatible with our climate mitigation commitments and which promotes a good quality of life for everyone without extremes of wealth.

6. We need to change our discourse from believing we can, and should, have it all to one where we recognise that avoiding catastrophic climate change requires adjustments to our daily lives, and some modest sacrifices that, most probably, will not impinge our quality of life or happiness.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.