Production process more environmentally efficient, but no green growth

17/05/2011 15:00

Economic growth is often realised to the detriment of the environment. Natural resources like ores, petroleum, water, fish and timber are depleted and harmful substances pollute the natural environment. Over the past two decades, environmental pressure has indeed abated in relation to economic growth, but the depletion of natural resources continues. In absolute terms, environmental pressure is still increasing and the quality of our natural environment remains under threat. The OECD defines green growth as economic growth, which puts as little pressure as possible on the environment and natural resources.

Environmental pressure proportionally lower

The Dutch economy has grown by 53 percent over the period 1990-2009, but environmental pressure has not increased at the same rate. Greenhouse gas emissions increased by ’only’ 5 percent. The growth rate of energy consumption was also lower than the economic growth rate. Only the consumption of tap water was reduced in the past decades, as more surface water was used and water-saving technologies were introduced.

GDP and environmental indicators

GDP and environmental indicators

Excess levels of minerals in agriculture reduced

Factory farming is the main source of nitrogen and phosphorus surpluses in the environment, which have led to drinking water problems and soil pollution. After the government had taken action, annual quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus from manure and artificial fertilizers have been reduced, although agricultural production has risen. As a result, large amounts of these minerals are deposited in the natural environment. Nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations are still above the target levels.

Excess levels of minerals and agricultural production growth

Excess levels of minerals and agricultural production growth

More animal species under threat

Inevitably, quality and quantity of natural resources are put under pressure by economic growth. Natural resources are of paramount importance for our future prosperity and welfare. Nature regulates carbon storage, surface water purification and food production. In this respect, it is imperative to preserve biodiversity, i.e. the variety of life forms. Changes in biodiversity can also be an indicator of the greenness of our economy in the short run.

Between 1994 and 2005, the number of animal species under serious threat on the national red lists has increased by 7 percent. This is partly due to a change in land use and environmental pollution. The situation has improved only for mammals.

Changes in animal species under threat between 1994 and 2005

Changes in animal species under threat between 1994 and 2005

Kees Baldé, Bram Edens and Sjoerd Schenau

Source:
Green Growth in the Netherlands