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News 22 May 2023

Top story of the week: Transforming Development Patterns: Insights from the Beyond Growth 2023 Conference

The Beyond Growth 2023 Conference, held at the European Parliament from March 15 to 17, aimed to explore ways to transform our current development patterns and envision a more inclusive and sustainable society within the constraints of planetary boundaries. Representatives from various sectors, including policymakers, civil society, think tanks, and academia, gathered to co-create impactful policies and proposals for a new social, economic, and environmental contract.

The urgency of a paradigm shift was evident from the very first plenary session, where President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen emphasised the inevitability of Europe's green transition. She highlighted the enduring relevance of the 50-year-old 'Limits to Growth' report by the Club of Rome, stating that a development model centred on fossil fuels is obsolete. President von der Leyen also stressed the importance of considering other elements of the European social market economy when shaping a new framework for sustainable development, including healthcare, education and skills, workers' rights, personal security, civic engagement, and good governance.

Conference speakers echoed the need to embrace systemic transformation. Sandrine Dixson-Declève, President of the Club of Rome, called for challenging the growth narrative itself, questioning the compatibility of democracy and capitalism. Jason Hickel, Professor at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, proposed a post-growth economy that prioritises well-being and ecology. He advocated for democratising industrial policy, de-commodifying universal public services, and investing in renewable energy and ecosystem restoration.

The conference comprised seven plenary sessions, twenty panels, and four policy workshops exploring various aspects of the post-growth model. The energy sector emerged as a crucial area requiring transformation to respect planetary boundaries and safeguard vulnerable elements in society. Panellists emphasised the significance of radically reducing energy demand and proposed strategies such as shifting from energy efficiency to energy sufficiency. They also suggested moving away from a grid designed to maximise energy generation, reimagining it according to the future net-zero demand.

The “Beyond Growth 2023 Conference” ultimately aimed to address the current imagination crisis – to quote Amitav Gosh - in the political landscape, responding to the climate emergency by envisioning alternative forms of human existence. Building upon this political momentum, EERA will work on a flagship report on "demand reduction," scheduled to be unveiled during the upcoming EERA High-Level Policy Conference on 17 October.