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Economy v Ecology: How Economic Growth May be Incompatible with Saving Europe’s Biodiversity
As European leaders struggle to avert a second recession a new study finds that economic growth and the conservation of the continent’s biodiversity may be incompatible. The research, published in a special issue of Global Ecology and Biodiversity, uses socio-economic models to explore three possible routes for the future of Europe’s economy and the impact on biodiversity up to 2050.
The paper is part of a special issue on the ALARM project (Assessing LArge-scale environmental Risks for biodiversity with tested Methods.) The project brought 250 scientists from 35 countries together to explore potential future risks to Europe’s biodiversity.
“One of the key variables which will determine the future of biodiversity is human activity,” said lead author Dr Andrea Stocker from the Europe Research Institute in Vienna. “To measure this variable the ALARM project developed three different trajectories for Europe’s economic and social future, we then applied these scenarios to the GINFORS model, a global inter-industry forecasting system.”
In the first ALARM scenario, BAMBU, or business-as-might-be-usual, the member states of the European Union continued policy decisions which have already been made. In the second scenario, named GRAS, or growth-applied-strategy, European economies are set towards economic growth and increased deregulation. In the final scenario, SEDG, or sustainable European Development Goal, the economies focus on sustainable development.
Using these three scenarios the team considered future unemployment, material extraction, energy supply and CO2 emissions to investigate the relationship between the environment, biodiversity and socio-economic forces.
The team’s results showed that unemployment was lowest with the SEDG scenario, where it fell between 2005 and 2020. In the BAMBU scenario it fell to pre-2005 levels, but with GRAS the levels of unemployment were higher than 2005 levels by 2020.
Similarly, material extraction remained stable under BAMBU, increased with GRAS and decreased with SEDG, however none of the scenarios resulted in a decline of energy use.
Energy use and CO2 levels are expected to be decoupled by the development of renewable energy sources. Accordingly emissions decreased slightly under BAMBU, increased with GRAS and fell with SEDG.
“The results clearly show that a growth-orientated policy is not compatible with the conservation of biodiversity,” concluded Stocker. “Political opinion suggests economic growth is crucial to our society, but we must ensure it does not harm biodiversity, which is even more fundamental to human survival and development.”
“Scenarios can play a valuable role in providing coherence to studies of future global change,” said Josef Settele, editor of the special issue. “This is especially true when such studies address multiple objectives and draw upon diverse disciplines and research traditions as we see in this issue.”
The abstract of this study is available free online: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1466-8238.2010.00639.x/pdf