The decoupling debate, one year on: the global picture, and Manchester.

A year ago, in one of our most popular web articles, we took issue with claims from New Climate Economy (NCE) that there was no conflict between climate change mitigation and continued economic growth. NCE argued that by taking action on climate change economic growth could be boosted. While there NCE have marshalled a lot of relevant information on the how of emissions reduction, emphasising the role of cities, investment in clean energy, and adopting more efficient technologies in aviation and shipping, their argument relies on the idea that economic (i.e. GDP) growth can be decoupled from the growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

There are two kinds of decoupling. Relative decoupling means that the rate at which emissions increase is lower than the rate at which GDP decreases. That is not a lot of help in the climate crisis, since under relative decoupling, if there is economic growth, then GHGs continue to accumulate in the atmosphere, contributing to the already high risk of runaway global warming. Absolute decoupling on the other hand would mean that as the economy grew, emissions don’t. If it could be demonstrated, then we might want to rethink our critique of endless economic growth.

Last year, NCE made the claim that there was evidence for decoupling.

The decoupling of growth from carbon emissions in some of the best-performing economies, both in Northern Europe and in North America, demonstrates the gains that can be made in incomes, jobs, rates of innovation and profits from a low-carbon, resource-efficient model of growth.(34). (p. 18)

As we showed, there wasn’t such evidence. The only evidence was for relative decoupling, and decoupling within a territory, whereas for post-industrial Western economies a large proportion of emissions (estimates range from 34% to 50% for the UK) have been outsourced to extraction, manufacturing and distribution outside the territory.

In their most recent report, they again make the claim that,

The reduction in the CO intensity of global GDP adds to the growing body of evidence that countries can reduce GHG emissions while sustaining economic growth.” p.22

Yet two pages on they state what is actually the situation:

But the challenge is clear. Although GHG emissions are gradually being decoupled from growth rates, they are not doing so at anything like the rate required to put the world on a 2°C path.” p.24

This is all but saying that absolute decoupling is not happening.

However, a report “Turning point: Decoupling Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Economic Growth” has just been published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation’s North America office. This appears to provide evidence that absolute decoupling is occurring in some economies. Let’s look at this.

They substitute the terms “strong” and “weak” decoupling for the more usual “absolute” and “relative”. They actually compare four economies, Germany, USA, China and India as well as reviewing global figures. They claim that Germany alone shows strong (absolute) decoupling. The US and China demonstrate week (relative) decoupling, while India does not demonstrate any decoupling. Yet, having checked the primary source (BP Statistical Review of World Energy June 2015), the claim for Germany’s strong decoupling is based on the net territorial emissions and territorial energy use and not on the country’s consumption emissions (and energy use), which will include, for example, consumer goods and components made in China and products such as steel from India. This is the same problem that we drew attention to last year, an unwarranted optimism based on looking at only part of the picture. It is like trying to assess someone’s attempts at weight loss based on the food prepared at home, mostly salads, when nearly half their diet is take-away fast food and confectionery!

Not surprisingly, then, when the Böll report looks at the global situation, it concludes that

Between 2004 and 2014, global GDP has grown by 44%, while the consumption of conventional fuels has increased by 19%, resulting in a 22% increase of worldwide emissions. (p. 10)  and
There is little evidence for a changing relation between fossil energy consumption and growth.  (p.11)

To illustrate the problem, here is a graph from a 2012 report on Consumption-Based Emissions Reporting to the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change Committee:

So what do we know?

Firstly, there is undoubtedly progress on switching to renewable energy in much of the world’s economy. There are also signs of a reduction in use of the dirtiest fossil fuel, coal (although we should be cautious here since this conclusion is based on what might turn out to be a 2014 blip).

Secondly, while renewables have increased their share, and expansion of fossil fuel use has slowed, as the following graph from New Climate Economy’s 2015 report shows, fossil fuel usage is still increasing.

Graph showing that fossil fuel use predicted to continue rising til at least 2030

Additions to energy capacity fossil and renewable from New Climate Economy 2015 report p.17

Thirdly, while it is important to focus on energy generation and use, there are other factors critical to GHG transactions. De-forestation, emissions from agriculture, release of trapped polar methane, reduction of ocean capacity to store carbon dioxide, and so on. Technological optimism about energy generation should not make us forget this. For a good example of how such factors can be incorporated into a (national) net zero carbon framework, see The Zero Carbon Britain work of the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Fourthly, while there is undoubted progress being made in some places, it is the global pictue that is most important. China is to be commended for taking its emissions seriously, yet those emissions are still predicted to rise further, and it is the cumulative emissions that will kill us.

Fifthly, the hypothesis that economic growth is compatible with action on climate change remains unproven. Our best strategy is still managed degrowth to a steady state economy.

What does this mean for us in Greater Manchester?

We need to think globally and act locally – for a global impact. There are some obvious implications.

1) Continue to lobby for disinvestment from fossil fuels. Campaigns to this end in the region focus on the giant Greater Manchester Pension Fund, and on Manchester University. This disinvestment needs to be matched by a strategy of re-investment in local renewable energy production, low-carbon transport, energy conservation and stewardship of the land.

2) Continue to encourage our public bodies, GMCA, the LEPs, the Chamber of Commerce, our councils, to adopt an economic policy that rejects the endless pursuit of aggregate growth, instead focussing on real local prosperity based on conserving resources, building resilience, and investing in the replacement economy.

3) Campaign vigorously against the UK government’s disastrous policies on energy and energy conservation while supporting local initiatives for a switch to community owned and run renewable power and retrofit.

4) Campaign against fracking which will lead to an increase in GHG emissions since it will add to rather than substitute for other fossil fuels.

5) Get a grip on food and energy waste. In this, we commend Manchester City Council for its reduction in net energy use last year, although that achievement is not reflected in GHG emissions, which are calculated based on a national formula – so for example the switch to purchasing (equivalent generation of) green electricity is not reflected in the calculations for emissions. It is essential that we get better, local data on both territorial and consumption-based emissions. And there is much more to do, not least acting on the promise of building a low carbon culture in the city.

Not just ecologically, but financially unviable too: GMPF’s fossil fuel investments

Our last post was about the fossil fuel divestment campaign that is focussing on local government pension funds, and in our case Greater Manchester Pension Fund.

One argument made against the divestment campaign is that Trustees (responsible for the Fund) have to ensure that the Fund’s investments are sound, with the implication being that “ethical” investments are less reliable.

Let’s look at GMPF’s top five investments:  these graphs show their share prices over the last year.  Do you notice a common pattern?  A lot of the investment has perished, and given that they represent un-burnable carbon that must stay in the ground, assets stranded before the rise of renewables and energy efficiency, it might never be recovered, and at best these investments will continue to be very volatile.

GMPF's top 5 fossil fuel companies, performance over the last year to 25/9/15: all show large declines.

GMPF’s top 5 fossil fuel companies, performance over the last year to 25/9/15  (click image for a pdf version)















Now, these investments are, paradoxically, still delivering reasonable returns, but we can’t say how long that will continue.  Governments worldwide provide huge subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, but again that situation will begin to change as the global divestment campaign grows.

Economically, as well as for the climate, we say: freeze fossil fuel investments now and begin a five year programme of divestment, reinvesting where possible directly in the viable, local economy.


Campaign on Greater Manchester Pension Fund’s investments hots up

Some months ago we reported on our attempts to encourage Greater Manchester Pension Fund to rethink its investment strategy, using explicit ethical criteria as part of its overall strategy for sound investments and returns, and in particular to move money from fossil fuel companies to the viable economy – where possible the local viable economy.  With 15% wiped off the value of mining giant Glencore in two days this week, (some £9M of GMPF’s money) and falls in other fossil fuel companies over the last year and more, GMPF’s exposure is looking like a poor financial strategy (in ensuring pensions can be funded), as well as a highly environmental practice.

Now the campaign has got a lot bigger.  Nationally, Friends of the Earth and the Fossil Free campaign have, using Freedom of Information requests, collated data on all the local authority pension funds in the country.  This shows some £14 Billion of fossil fuel investments.  And the biggest pension fund, our own Greater Manchester Pension Fund accounts for approx £1.3 Billion (nearly 10%) of that.  Indeed, it is one of the highest investors in fossil fuels in the land, with 9.8% of its money in potentially unburnable carbon.

GMPF fossil fuel investment table

Today, Steady State Manchester was pleased to be part of Manchester Friends of the Earth Action at the GMPF Headquarters.  You can sign their petition HERE.  The action made BBC North West tonight – see the coverage It starts at 16.04 minutes in.

In the window, GMPF proclaim "Looking after the pensions of a thrid of a million members" - but given 10% could be in stranded assets, how accurate can this claim be?

In the window, GMPF proclaim “Looking after the pensions of a thrid of a million members” – but given 10% could be in stranded assets, how accurate can this claim be?

Here is a report on today’s demonstration at GMPF’s headquarters in Droylsden, from the Manchester Friends of the Earth website.

Earlier today, a giant ‘dinosaur’ visited the Greater Manchester Pension Fund office in Droylsden, Tameside to call on the pension fund to divest from risky investments in fossil fuels.

GMPF offices and fossil fuel dinosaurData released today reveals that the Greater Manchester Pension Fund (GMPF) has an astonishing £1.3 billion of public money invested through their pension funds in fossil fuel companies like Shell and BP. [1]The research by, Platform, Friends of the Earth and others, shows that:

  • The Greater Manchester Pension Fund has 9.8% of its pension fund invested in fossil fuels.



  • GMPF is investing £477 per resident in fossil fuels
  • Money is invested into multinational fossil fuel companies including £269 million in BP and £261 million in Shell.
  • It has the largest amount invested in fossil fuels of any local authority pension fund in the country, and the 4th highest percentage of fossil fuel investments

Fossil fuel companies hold five times more carbon resources than they can burn if we are to meet the internationally-agreed safe limit of 2 degrees Celsius. This means fossil fuels are in fact stranded assets and must remain in the ground. Therefore, GMPF’s investment policy means Greater Manchester’s pensioners risk being left with worthless assets underpinning their retirement funds.

Spokesperson for Fossil Free Greater Manchester, Chris Smith said:“The new data released today shows that Greater Manchester Pension Fund has the greatest amount of all local authority pension funds invested in fossil fuels. These are risky investments not only for the planets future but also with the future pensions of fund members.”

Chris Smith added:  “Greater Manchester led the industrial revolution on the back of fossil fuels – and now it’s time for us to lead the world out of the fossil fuel era.“At a time when smart investors around the world are already ditching underperforming fossil fuel stocks, the fund risks becoming an investment dinosaur.”

“As local residents we’ll be calling on the Greater Manchester Pension Fund to stand on the right side of history and divest from fossil fuels.”

Greater Manchester Pension Fund member, Nigel Rolland said: “I am glad to be here today to tell Tameside Council and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund that I have been a pension fund member for over 25 years and I don’t want our money invested in fossil fuels. The fund claims to be investing in our future, but they are investing in the past. Fossil fuels are a dinosaur industry destroying the planet.”

This is the first time that the £231 billion of public money invested by local government pension funds has ever been broken down and released publicly, and their exposure to fossil fuels quantified.  The data shows that overall the 192 councils in the UK have £14 billion invested in fossil fuels via their pension funds.

Three quarters of these direct fossil fuel shareholdings are in only ten companies, headed by BP and Shell.A third of all oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves need to remain in the ground to avoid catastrophic climate change, according to a study by University College London. [6]

Consequently, there has been growing concerns about the long-term financial risks of fossil fuel investments, a ‘carbon bubble’ that risks taxpayers being forced to bail out public pensions in the future. [7]

A recent analysis found that California’s public pension funds, CalPERS & CalSTRS, incurred a combined loss of over $5 billion in the last year alone from their holdings in the top 200 fossil fuel companies. [8]

This data, available at, offers the residents of Greater Manchester the information they need to ask why the Council is choosing to invest in risky coal, oil and gas.  Instead, the fund could reinvest this money into building new homes, clean renewable energy or public transport.

Oxford and Bristol City Councils have already taken a lead in making fossil free commitments, joining 40 cities internationally and larger institutions like the Norwegian Government Pension Fund. There are 389 institutions globally – including universities, faith groups, health groups and governments – that have committed to divest. [9]

Local residents who would like to join the local campaign to convince the Greater Manchester Pension Fund to divest from fossil fuels can sign a petition at [10]

Notes to editor

1. Data, including spreadsheets for each pension fund with a breakdown of investments, can be accessed at

2. The data was sourced by, Community Reinvest and Platform through Freedom of Information Act requests to the 101 administering pension funds.

3. This data is released as part of an ongoing campaign through Fossil Free UK to secure fossil free divestment commitments from local governments.  A divestment commitment is a principled commitment to wind down exposure to the Carbon Underground top 200 fossil fuel companies over a 5 year period.

4. Fossil Free Greater Manchester is part of the Fossil Free UK grassroots network, which itself is part of a growing international movement calling on institutions to divest (sell their shares) from fossil fuels to take action against catastrophic climate change.

5. The Greater Manchester Pension Fund is the largest local authority pension fund in the country, with total investments of over £13 billion.  Its members work for the 10 local authorities in Greater Manchester, and a whole host of other organisations such as local colleges and Citizens Advice Bureau.

6. See

7. See


10.  The Fossil Free Greater Manchester petition will go live on Thursday 24th September at

11. The 2014 Law Commission clarification on fiduciary duty concluded “that there is no impediment to trustees taking account of environmental, social or governance factors where there are or may be, financially material” and that environmental concerns may also be taken into account as a non-financial factor so long as there is there is no “significant impact on returns” and “trustees have a good reason to think that scheme members would share the concern.”

12. In March 2014, following a clarification from the UK Law Commission on the interpretation of fiduciary duty, the Local Government Association (LGA) (England & Wales) published a legal opinion on how fiduciary duties affected the scope for a Local Government Pension Scheme (LGPS), concluding that “the precise choice of investment may be influenced by wider social, ethical or environmental considerations, so long as that that does not risk material financial detriment to the fund.”

– See more at:

Mayor Tony Lloyd responds to our Open Letter.

We have now received a response from Tony Lloyd to our open letter about DevoManc. In that letter, which received a lot of interest and support, we did two things. First we shared ideas about how to begin addressing the democratic deficit in Manchester’s devolution arrangements, its combined authority, and mayor. Secondly we highlighted the flawed economic model of the scheme with its assumption of ecologically suicidal endless growth and the trickle-down of its results, its eclipse of important areas of the economy and society, and reliance on huge cost savings from welfare reform and dependency reduction.

Here is Tony’s response (reproduced here with his agreement).

Dear Mr Burton,

Thank you for your letter. Please accept my apologies for the delay in responding to you.

I was interested to read your letter and grateful for the suggestions you make. As you rightly point out I am concerned that the public involvement in the processes that have increased powers to the Combined Authority and introduced the role of the Mayor has been extremely limited. I am currently leading discussions with Local Authority leaders about how engagement both with the public and local councillors can be improved through regular meetings and enhanced scrutiny processes.

Improvements that will be introduced very soon include live streaming of Combined Authority meetings and the launch of a new user friendly website.

I think that many people right across Greater Manchester would echo your question about what devolution and the Mayor role will bring to the conurbation. The delivery of economic growth is undoubtedly an element of the work of both the ten local authorities and the GMCA but the focus of all our work is how it can improve the lives of people in every part of the conurbation. We have got to prove that the work the Combined Authority does on health, housing, low carbon, infrastructure and all our other projects can make a real difference to the people we represent. I hope that in the coming weeks and months we are able to make real progress on this.


Tony Lloyd

We welcome this response, so far as it goes. It is good to know that the democratic deficit is a concern to Tony and that he is discussing “engagement both with the public and local councillors can be improved through regular meetings and enhanced scrutiny processes” with the council leaders (the other members of the Combined Authority). It is also good to know that he sees the need to prove the worth of the Combined Authority in improving the ecological, economic and social well-being of Greater Manchester’s population.

However, it is a little disappointing that there has not been engagement with the substance of our letter, which was not a set of unfounded assertions, but (as evidenced by the many hyperlinks) supported by a substantial body of work, not just from ourselves but from the policy and research community. We should understand the sensitivity of negotiations about increasing democratic accountability, especially with leaders who have been used to making decisions in today’s equivalent of the “smoke-filled room”. For this reason, we should watch carefully for any indication that more will be put into operation than “live-streaming” and a scrutiny function at GM level.

But on the economy, our point is not that economic growth must improve the lives of people in the conurbation, but that given its impossibility in a finite world, and its dubious contribution to social and economic well-being, we desperately need to find another route. For that reason we asked whether,

increased regional autonomy [could] instead support a different kind of economic and social development, that increased economic, social and ecological resilience as it built up co-operative and collaborative economic and social structures to provide authentic and durable security for citizens?”

In this vein, our letter discussed those relatively hidden areas of the economy that, while creating value, do not figure in the official narrative about Manchester’s devolution: the large, mundane and relatively resilient “Foundational Economy”, and the “economies outside the economy” of informal, non-monetised exchange and mutuality, and the civil economy of collaboration among public, private and voluntary sectors, as well as community activists and scholars. We are not alone in these calls, our own Open Letter was followed by one from leaders in Greater Manchester’s community and voluntary sector.

In conclusion, we feel that Mayor Tony is open to some of our thinking, and is genuinely concerned that DevoManc does accountably benefit all of Greater Manchester’s people. But we do need to keep up the pressure on the fronts of both democracy and a viable economy for true, resilient economic, social and ecological well-being. Meanwhile we continue to work on various levels to bring about this change of direction.

The Steady State Manchester collective.

Of related interest – see Tony Lloyd’s Question and Answer session with Stockport councillors

What is the Sharing Economy really, and how can we make it happen here?

The “sharing economy” has attracted a great deal of attention in recent months. Platforms such as Airbnb and Uber are experiencing explosive growth, which, in turn, has led to regulatory and political battles.
The government’s advisers are defining the sharing economy as online platforms that help people share access to assets, resources time and skills. It encompasses a broad church of businesses and business models: peer-to-peer marketplaces such as Etsy, which allows anyone to sell their craftware; services like City Car Club where people can share access to a car without having to own one themselves and timebanks like Economy of Hours which allows you to trade your skills, an hour for an hour. Indeed, Nesta has estimated that 25% of the UK adult population is sharing online in some way.
It is no surprise that the “sharing economy” is attracting such attention. PwC has calculated that on a global basis, it is currently worth £9bn – with this set to rise to a massive £250bn by 2025. As a result, venture capitalists are piling into technology start-ups that specialise in platform development  for fear of missing out on the next big thing.
New York’s venture capitalists claim the new technologies will yield utopian outcomes—empowerment of ordinary people, efficiency, and even lower carbon footprints.
Critics denounce them for being about economic self-interest rather than sharing, and for being predatory and exploitative.
Yet arguably the sharing economy began in 1844 when the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers founded an early consumer co-operative, and was one of the first to pay a dividend to members, forming the basis for the co-operative movement that we know today. The difference between this movement and the likes of Uber and Air Bnb boil down to the sharing of the enterprise and of the surplus it generated.
The Rochdale Pioneers considered that shared ownership was key – stakeholders not shareholders.  There were two important aspects: shared profits, where contribution was linked to entitlement, and shared values & principles which increased trust, democracy and engagement.
Their shared purpose was to help all in need, not just a few. They believed that a shared enterprise would mean learning to cooperate, and that a shared identity was essential in creating work that was worthwhile and rewarding.
With protests mounting against Uber in Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Rome, Milan, Mexico City and London, and campaigns against Airbnb in Barcelona, San Francisco and elsewhere, it’s increasingly obvious that the new use of the term “the sharing economy” is an appropriation of the name for a noble tradition by  venture capitalists and their allies, as yet another way of extracting profits from the rest of us.  It couldn’t be more Orwellian in its use of a term to suggest the opposite of what it refers to.
While the large technology companies will merely be “profit-maximising” as usual, these new technologies of peer-to-peer economic activity are potentially powerful tools for building a social movement centred on genuine practices of sharing and cooperation in the production and consumption of goods and services.
But achieving that potential will require democratising the ownership and governance of the platforms, or more likely, constructing ones that are intentionally designed to do this.
By developing an enabling platform and new co-operative network, Manchester is developing its own version of the sharing economy by raising the stakes around what it means to share.
Steady State Manchester is working with a number of individuals and organisations on a new project.   We are identifying a core group of individuals, brands and organisations that are willing to share their resources in order to tackle the large complex social, environmental and economic problems that are too big for any one organisation to fix on their own.
The enabling platform will provide shared service support to the co-operative’s members many of whom will include small community groups and good causes. They will be encouraged to mobilise their memberships and solve local problems. Local businesses will be able to use the platform to support and develop the work undertaken. The idea is to address the root cause of problems by providing backbone support, and create new outcomes that benefit everyone.
Locally based activities will be coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action, and bring together a diverse set of stakeholders from different sectors. Success will be measured and reported in a standardised and uniform way (for example via time-based units), and relevant performance indicators will share best practice so the network can learn and improve.
By building a web-enabled social platform, the aim is to develop a responsible marketplace where members can connect, share and trade for mutual benefit, with a rewards system sitting at the heart of it.
The business strategy is to create a large network of highly engaged members that eventually could work together to disrupt big, dominated markets such as insurance, finance and energy. As we develop, more individuals, brands and membership organisations will be invited to join the network and enjoy the rewards of its growth.
Uber and Air BnB have taught us that there is unused value stored in expensive and underutilised assets such as cars and homes, which advances in technology can now help to unlock.
But this is a trivial use of such powerful new tools when our entire and abundant economy is full of assets and resources that remain under- or unemployed.
A co-operative network where transport, shared office space, accommodation and skills networks are joined together, and residents are encouraged to share as part of their daily lives, is a network that fits the traditions and ethos of a city like Manchester where the co-operative ‘divi’ was the best reward going.
A world where business prospers by helping citizens live more sustainably, and citizens prosper by doing so, is an elegant solution to addressing social, environmental and economic needs.  Manchester is the perfect city to combine trade with social justice and earn a living from it.

Mike Riddell

Calais and the Viable Economy

I am trying to read the newspaper.  The sense of horror and helplessness which has been pre-occupying me over the last few days and weeks has driven me to write this blog.  No doubt many readers have similar feelings as we hear about the mounting numbers of desperate people in Calais trying to get to the UK and the response.

Is the situation in Calais among the many other awful things going on near and far, a signal of ever increasing chaos as our global economic system fails to serve the needs of the ‘common good’ in favour of so called ‘economic growth’, and all that goes with it including ever growing inequalities​?

I am sure I am not alone amongst readers believing that this situation requires an immediate humanitarian response. yet I fear and know that this will not happen for many of the migrants. In the longer term, we know no visas, borders, walls, detention centres, immigration laws and benefit reductions will stem the flow. If the causes of migration are not effectively addressed the numbers will probably increase.

We​, in Steady State Manchester, have done some thinking about migration and what solidarity with places outside Manchester might look like.  We think it timely to open up a conversation about a viable economic approach to migration.

We believe Manchester is and should continue to be a place which values people from outside and celebrates the richness of a diverse and hospitable region. At the same time we should recognise that most people would prefer to stay in their home country if they can see a way to sustain their lives there and live in freedom, without conflict and persecution.

Current policies focus on controlling the numbers and types of people coming into the country rather than addressing the reasons why people want to move in the first place. A viable economy would work on reducing the determinants of migration. Policies should be based on an understanding that the interests of our region are interdependent with the interests of those outside. Solidarity is key to ensuring a viable population and migration patterns.  This needs to be international, national as well as local.

We believe that if economic equity is increased, migration will fall whether it is from the North East of the UK to Manchester, Manchester to London or Africa to the UK.  Similarly if the impact of climate change is kept to the minimum more people will manage to sustain their lives where they are and this will reduce migration.  There will be fewer wars in a world where more people can provide for their basic needs, live with greater equity within their societies and between societies and where economies such as ours produces and sells socially useful goods rather than armaments.  Well functioning societies here and elsewhere are likely to be more accepting of political, racial, religious and sexual diversity.

I do not feel I have enough conversations amongst people who are concerned about the welfare of migrants about longer term strategies, let alone with people more concerned about immigration controls. I find the polarisation of views on migrants / migration very painful.  I don’t find it easy to have conversations with people with very different views to mine, however I want to find ways to understand people’s fears and learn from them. I wonder if by addressing the bigger picture in a viable way it might be possible to come up with strategies that show compassion for the situation of migrants and people in the places they are coming from AND for people who fear them coming here

Steady State Manchester suggest some ideas to reduce the determinants of migration. We believe policies need to foster equity between our region and others, good environmental measures which will ensure minimum climate change and do not fuel reasons for migration such as economic injustice, eg TTIP and war e.g. arms exports. Given the role of war and civil conflict as causes of migration, we advocate work with the Campaign Against the Arms Trade to encourage transformation of jobs in the arms trade in our region to socially useful production such as renewable energy technology. This list is far from exhaustive – we would like to hear your views on these issues and what can be done especially things that have some chance of success in the months ahead.

Economics and Climate Change: the no-nonsense guide.

Climate change is the biggest threat to the world. But addressing it is difficult. First it is necessary to know what causes it. The 2014 report of the International Panel on Climate Change said:

Globally, economic and population growth continue to be the most important drivers of increases in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion. The contribution of population growth between 2000 and 2010 remained roughly identical to the previous three decades,while the contribution of economic growth has risen sharply (high confidence) [i.e. the scientific evidence for this statement is very good – SSM]. Between 2000 and 2010, both drivers outpaced emission reductions from improvements in energy intensity (Figure SPM.3). Increased use of coal relative to other energy sources has reversed the long‐standing trend of gradual decarbonization of the world’s energy supply. [1.3, 5.3, 7.2, 14.3, TS.2.2] ” 

Four economic approaches

Looking at the responses to climate change in economic terms, we can identify four different approaches:

1) Business as usual. Here the idea is to grow the economy so there is a surplus to invest in the technological solutions that deal with greenhouse gas emissions. A variant on this is the denialist position of carrying on as usual, ignoring the climate and ecological crisis – objectively there is little to choose between them. The reason is, as we showed in our report “In Place of Growth”, there is no evidence that the increase in greenhouse gas can be decoupled from economic growth at anything like the rate required. As Tim Jackson, in “Prosperity Without Growth” showed, the carbon intensity of the economy would have to decrease by 11 per cent per year, that’s sixteen times faster than it did between 1990 and 2009. Even some of the most prominent advocates of the Business as usual approach to climate change, the New Climate Economy Commission (although their discourse also draws on “Green Growth”) now admit thatAlthough GHG emissions are gradually being decoupled from growth rates, they are not doing so at anything like the rate required to put the world on [the politically agreed target of] a 2°C path”. Despite this, and in the face of contrary evidence, the Chair of the Commission, former President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón Hinojosai, makes the bold claim that “we can achieve economic growth and close the dangerous emissions gap”.

  1. Green Growth. This is based on the idea that we can grow the green parts of the economy and continue to enjoy the supposed benefits of economic growth. It supposes that there is good and bad growth, and that good growth can be selected. We can thereby have our cake and eat it.

    The Green Growth approach can be found in the work of the New Green Deal Group and their call for “Green Quantitative Easing”. This is an attractive idea, especially in response to the false logic (and its erroneous household budget metaphor) of austerity, in that it shows how interest-free money can be found for necessary investments (for example for energy conservation and renewable energy) that are needed as part of a strategy for reducing emissions while generating employment and further tax receipts. But without a cap on greenhouse gas emissions at source, it would fuel the growth of unselective consumption, precisely because of the multiplier effect on overall economic activity.

    The key problem here is that there is no guarantee that the expansion will be restricted to the ‘good’ parts of the economy. We illustrated this before like this:

“… in assessing whether the impact of an increase in one element of production is good or bad, we need to understand carefully what follows from it, and be prepared to look widely, expecting the unexpected.

An example might help.
It is decided that an area of good growth is efficient and affordable public transport, so that less fuel is used to get around and people spend less on doing so. As well as these two immediate benefits the change also has the wider social benefit of increasing social contact within neighbourhoods (people get talking at bus stops), reducing road casualties and reducing the rate of respiratory illness. But there are also negative consequences. The money people save by not running cars, or at least using them less, gets spent on other things – things like foreign holidays and plasma screen t.v.’s, eating more imported food. This increases carbon emissions, not here but in places like China, and on shipping and aviation.

Taking the whole system view has a further consequence for decision making. It is the total system impact that has to be considered. Our economy is too large, at least when considered in terms of its ecological impact. What selective growth there is has to be within the setting of absolute limits, which themselves have to progressively decrease until emissions are at a safe level.”

This idea that the economy is too big leads us on to the following two linked approaches, Steady State and Degrowth. But first, we should note that Manchester’s climate change plan, “Manchester, A Certain Future” (MACF) combines elements of both Business as Usual and Green Growth. Despite this, many of those involved in its governance and implementation are sympathetic to the premises of the following two approaches.

3) The Steady State Economy. This is associated primarily with the discipline of ecological economics, pioneered by Kenneth Boulding and Herman Daly in the USA and developed by other workers such as Tim Jackson in the UK and Peter Victor in Canada. Their key insight is that continued economic growth (strictly speaking, growth in composite measures of economic activity like Gross Domestic Product) comes up against the finite limits imposed by the earth’s systems: particularly finite resources (the inputs to the economy) and sinks (where the waste goes). Moreover, economic growth does not yield the benefits that are usually claimed for it. For example, increased GDP lost its association with increased sense of well-being here in the mid 1960s. The idea of a Steady State Economy, then is one that is designed and managed so it does not have to, and is not permitted to grow forever. As our name suggests, it is this approach that initially inspired us to try and work out what it would mean for Manchester and its region. But if we have a criticism it is that the writers associated with it tend not to emphasise that the implications of climate change almost certainly imply the need for a reduction in the scale of economic activity (as we know it) so tending to a steady state won’t give us rapid enough reduction of the emissions that continue to cumulate devastatingly.

4) Degrowth, which although sharing theoretical roots (in the application of thermodynamics to economics) with the Steady State approach, is influenced by European continental traditions of critical economic and social thought (principally the work of the post-Marxists, André Gorz and Cornelius Castoriadis). The name sounds like it advocates for a reduction in the scale of economic activity, and generally it does. However, the economist who coined the term (in French, decroissance), Serge Latouche, makes it clear that his interest is more in “changing the subject” away from the dominant role of growth in conversations about the economy and economics. Indeed, he goes further, to suggest that we need to escape from the domination of economic thinking, where other considerations are seen as less important, or are translated into economic and monetary terms.

The declaration from the first international degrowth conference, (Paris, 2008) defined

…degrowth as a voluntary transition towards a just, participatory, and ecologically sustainable society… The objectives of degrowth are to meet basic human needs and ensure a high quality of life, while reducing the ecological impact of the global economy to a sustainable level, equitably distributed between nations… Once right-sizing has been achieved through the process of degrowth, the aim should be to maintain a “steady state economy” with a relatively stable, mildly fluctuating level of consumption.” (Research and Degrowth, 2010, cited by O’Neill).

A more succinct definition is: “Living better, with less”.  It is this economic approach that we at Steady State Manchester are closest to, and which we draw on in our own work to map out what a Viable Economy might look like, in general, and for Manchester.

But how do we get there? Policy and Politics.

It is all very well to say that we need a transition to an economy of the right size, which will then be maintained in a steady state, but there are some serious challenges to doing that.

  1. How do stop degrowth causing unemployment, poverty,social dislocation and conflict? The difficulty is that degrowth has not been tried, although some countries (e.g. Japan) have got on quite well with an economy that is not growing. There is evidence from the ecological economists, Peter Victor and Tim Jackson, using macro-economic modeling, that it is possible, for an advanced national economy, to keep GDP stable, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and maintain full employment and fair income distribution. Although that is a persuasive demonstration, the challenge is still to bring it about politically. So the second challenge is,

  2. How do you achieve a degrowth society and economy, politically? For this it is necessary to wage a double struggle, against the neoliberal regime that reduces everything to a commodity (economic rationalism) where capital and markets substitute for democratic management of the economy and society, and against the illusions of Business as Usual and Green Growth. The Green Party of England and Wales has done some of this, but in waging the first struggle it has perhaps accommodated to much with Green Growthism. Moreover,some of their policies (e.g. nationalisation of the money supply and full reserve banking while based on an accurate diagnosis, are the wrong prescription for the realities of debt-based money). For a good example of how an anti-austerity campaign might be made consistent with degrowth, take a look at the recent Guardian article and 10 point plan in response to Spain’s Podemos party’s Keynesian economic programme, from Giorgos Kallis of the Barcelona Research and Degrowth Group.

For local activism, the enormity and complexity of climate change can seem like an impossibility in terms of action that could make a difference. Our approach has been to break things down into manageable chunks. So when working out what Steady State and Degrowth mean in an urban regional context, we have emphasised redistribution and equality, localisation of economic production, finance (money, debt,credit, investment) and alternative ways of assessing economic well-being. We work with actors inside and outside the “system” on all of these, while continuing to promote general understanding of the concepts and issues so an ecological approach to economics becomes part of a new everyday common sense. That in turn translates into specific campaigns. For example,

  • How much produce do the city’s supermarkets source from the region – what are they doing to increase this?

  • What investments are being made by the local government and other pension funds: have they considered the risk of unburnable hydrocarbons and investment in local renewables?

  • What are public and private organisations doing with spare land. Is any of it being made available for allotments? Have they thought about carbon sequestration and soil restoration?

  • What initiatives are going on to keep money circulating locally, rather than pouring out to fuel corporate profits and high carbon lifestyles? How can these be supported?.

  • Struggles for greater equality or against privatisation help prevent concentration of wealth which then funds high carbon lifestyles.

  • When local leaders uncritically justify things in terms of economic growth,how can this be challenged, to focus on the real impact of initiatives on people’s lives and the living planet?

  • Is green space being built on, and if so what spurious arguments (usually growth-based) are being used to justify it?

But the choice of local campaigning action will depend on a variety of factors, such as the scope for building alliances, the degree of local feeling about the issue, the likelihood of success, and there being a specific focus and demand to catalyse the campaign.

Mark H Burton

i Of whom I wrote in 2012: “I watched a dreadful speech by Felipe Calderón the fraudulently elected Mexican president which extolled the virtues of the free market, de-regulation, prvatisation, and the so-called free trade agreement with the US and Canada.  He didn’t mention the hunger in the Mexican countryside, the towns where there are just old people and children because the parents are working in sweat shops on the border, or illegally in the US – all a consequence of these policies.”

Open Letter endorsements


The Open Letter to Tony Lloyd has been endorsed by the following people to date (in addition to the many people who have verbally expressed their appreciation for it).  Thank you, everyone.  We will be adding a selection of people’s comments too. To add your name, email us at or use the form at the end of the letter.  Thanks!

Judith Emanuel
Ben Godfrey
Professor Cathy Parker
Rob Trueblood
Brian Candeland
Brigitte Lechner
Margaret Morris
Steven Longden
Paula Moorhouse
Debbie Tomkies
Dick Venes
Richard Redman
Alison Allan
Bruce Bingham
Kate Eldridge
Mary Candeland
Pauline Hammerton
David Alderson
Alison Giles
Roger Bysouth
Steven Willett
Ian McHugh
Rod Riesco
Alastair Jones
Ursula Sharma
Mike Riddell
Mike Wild
Rashid Mhar
Simon Gray
Dominic McCann
Neil Corney, Trustee, on behalf of MERCi
Anne Tucker
Matt Schreibke (via UoM Policy blog comment)
Nicole Tidmas
Ellen Meredith
Dave Eatock
Rosie Adamson-Clark
Sophie King
Carolyn Kagan

Plus 4 more who did not want their names to appear publicly.