With the slowdown in global growth, Africa is regarded as the last frontier for robust economic activity, but without this necessarily leading to a reduction in inequalities or poverty. This phenomenon, combined with climate issues, prompts us to devise alternative development models. An interview with Gaël Giraud, Chief Economist at Agence Française de Développement (AFD).
Why are you challenging the quest for growth?
Because increasing Gross Domestic Product is not a panacea. It has never led to a reduction in inequalities, the eradication of poverty or real prosperity. Africa is experiencing significant growth rates, without populations being more prosperous. Inequalities will continue to increase and the distribution of revenues, mainly related to fossil fuels, will not be synonymous with prosperity for all. There is not necessarily a link between growth, inequalities and prosperity…
Why is global growth declining?
For two main reasons. The first is that for two centuries it has been based on the consumption of fossil fuels. This is no longer possible due to climate issues. The second reason is the increasing scarcity of the flow of natural resources that we are able to extract from the subsoil to fuel this growth. In the North and South alike, we can no longer have growth as the only societal project. Consequently, there is a need to come up with new models that are compatible with the lack of growth, and establish a different relationship towards others and things.
In your opinion, what is the way forward?
My assumption is that the real societal, political and economic project for the future lies in the ecological transition. What planet are we going to pass on to future generations? The answer to this question can become a societal project likely to create jobs and give meaning, even if, and I was going to say, because, it implies radical transformations. Everywhere, we will need small urban centers with a provision of public transport, without cars or combustion engines, which are likely to make pollution worse. We must learn to stop taking planes as much as possible and use organic poly-agriculture close to urban centers. This requires a redistribution of income, which is incompatible with the obstinacy of some elites to allocate themselves goodbye bonuses of EUR 13 million.
Does this model not seem utopian? Are Scandinavian countries the only ones to take initiatives in this direction?
A lot of initiatives in the field, on the periphery of our societies, are moving in this direction. In France, farmers in the Corrèze and Creuse regions are much more aware of the need to change model and of the urgency of climate issues than urban elites. The centers of power – especially financial centers – are the last to understand. They are also the main areas of resistance to change, even if, individually, there are thankfully some courageous prophets. On the periphery of our social organizations, there is already an awareness and the desire to move forward.
Does the oil lobby not also act as a brake?
Some, in the vast world of oil, have clearly understood that change is essential. Total is already trying to diversify its activities by investing in renewable energies. Today, we can no longer say that this group focuses on oil deposits. Furthermore, there is the question of the operating licenses given to these companies. The idea of stranded assets is beginning to take root, with the aim of limiting the exploitation of gas, oil and coal deposits. Will there be international coordination to achieve this? Investors and financiers are thinking about these issues. They consider that, as of now, we must divest from companies who exploit fossil fuel deposits which will eventually be banned.
Are you expecting tangible outcomes from the Paris Climate Change Conference, COP21?
Yes. The question that will be asked to diplomats during COP21 is this: How can we embark upon a path by 2025 rather than work towards a defined target – which will require holding major international conferences every five years? During COP21, the international community could set out on a pathway with a roadmap that will need to be updated on the basis of the treaty negotiated in Paris in 2015.
What are your areas of work?
The main area focuses on redefining what should be considered as a global public good. Private property is not the be all and end all of our economies. The age-old debate on the relationship between market and State spheres is completely outdated. Global public goods pertain neither to private management, nor to bureaucratic public management, and they are essential to the survival of a dignified and decent humanity. It remains to be seen what institutions need to be established to define, promote and develop them.
Do you have an example?
If we look at fisheries fauna on the ocean floor, we know that fish species can permanently disappear, which was the case for the Canadian cod in the 1970s. Our private fishing practices break fish reproduction chains. Do we want to live on a planet in 2050 where the oceans will be populated by jellyfish? If this is the case, let’s continue to do what we are doing today. Otherwise, we need to establish international organizations to ban deep-sea fishing and jointly organize the resources. The same applies to bees, which risk disappearing because of our fanatic use of neonicotinoids in agriculture. Economists tell us that the robotization of the pollination process can support growth. In actual fact, the odds are that it is cohorts of slaves, and especially poor women, who will have to pollinate manually, as we can already see in certain Asian countries. New institutions must take charge of the survival of bees.