Academics and campaigners write open letter to EU leaders as Beyond Growth summit begins

European flags fly in front of the European Commission building in Brussels, Belgium. Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto© Getty Images/iStockphoto

Caroline O’Doherty

HUNDREDS of academics and civil society organisations have signed an open letter to European leaders calling on them to abandon policies that prioritise economic growth over the health of the planet and its people.

The letter, which includes Irish signatories, is published as a three-day ‘Beyond Growth’ summit begins in Brussels.

The summit was devised by a cross-party group of 20 members of the European Parliament and aims to start discussion on pivoting policy towards “sustainable prosperity”.

The organisers say they aim “to challenge conventional policy-making in the European Union and to redefine societal goals across the board, in order to move away from the harmful focus on the sole economic growth – that is, the growth of GDP – as the basis of our development model”.

Campaign groups and academics have sought to underline that point before discussions get under way.

“There is no empirical basis indicating that it is possible to globally and sufficiently decouple economic growth from environmental pressures,” they write.

“The pursuit of endless economic growth by high income nations is a problem as it either reduces or cancels the outcomes of environmental policies.

“The current climate chaos and unravelling web of life on which our society depends is an existential threat to peace, water and food security, and democracy.”

Their demands are for policy that abandons the notion that the market can make the best decisions for society and sustainability, and creates an economy that serves people rather than the other way around.

They seek recognition that frugal, sustainable living need not result in a dip in living standards, but has the scope to improve life for all.

They are calling for action to eradicate income extremes and want a strong emphasis on recognising the Earth’s “biocapacity” .

That would entail strict fossil fuel phase-outs, limits to raw material extraction, and nature protection and restoration measures for soils, forests, marine and other ecosystems.

The summit will be addressed by senior EU officials and prominent politicians along with speakers from think-tanks, academia, industry and civil society.