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Locking in or Helping Shift? Trends and Developments Affecting Sustainable Resource Use and Degrowth

Locking in or Helping Shift? Trends and Developments Affecting Sustainable Resource Use and Degrowth

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A new economic paradigm and its multiple facets for future development were intensively discussed at the international "Degrowth Conference" in Leipzig from 2. until 6. September 2014. The Ecologic Institute contributed through presentations, workshops and moderations. Dr. Martin Hirschnitz-Garbers and Susanne Langsdorf presented results obtained in a "Horizon Scanning"-exercise done as part of the SimRess-project. The presentation slides are available for download.

A number of global megatrends are challenging the likelihood and feasibility of options for degrowth: Rising global population and affluence levels, proliferation of westernized lifestyles and production and consumption patterns with associated resource use needs and environmental impacts jeopardize the earth's carrying capacity. Degrowth in the sense of socially sustainably and equitably reducing material and energy use and shifting to a focus on welfare instead of economic indicators emerged as one central theme to stay within planetary boundaries.

In the context of a German research project ("SimRess – Models, potential and long-term scenarios for resource efficiency"), trends and developments that will affect resource use and thus resource policy in the future were analysed. Knowledge on relevant trends and their causal linkages is key to identifying promising leverage points for policies supporting resource efficiency and degrowth. While some developments, such as socio-economic acceleration, counteract resource efficiency, emerging new modes of thought and business models towards simplicity and product-service-systems support it.
The trends were identified in a "horizon scanning" exercise, which focussed on (sub-)trends which are emerging or have received limited scholarly attention so far. Therefore, instead of analysing scientific journals, a review of newspapers and online sources was undertaken. The trends were clustered into trend themes, discussed in an expert workshop and during telephone interviews. After the identification and verification phase the trend themes were refined and backed-up with scientific literature. Furthermore the interaction between trend(theme)s was analysed.

Trend analysis can serve as an early warning mechanism and help identifying intervention points for precautionary actions. The results of the analysis were discussed at the degrowth conference with 50 people in the audience. Among other topics the role of the capitalist economic system and its reformability were discussed, as many of the trends that counter the shift to resource efficiency are newer forms of old trends that result from a system focussing on profit maximisation.

With more than 3,000 participants and a strong interest by the media, the conference itself was highly successful.