A systematic review of the evidence on decoupling of GDP, resource use and GHG emissions, part II: synthesizing the insights

Haberl, Helmut ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2104-5446 and Wiedenhofer, Dominik ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-7418-3477 and Virág, Doris ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8300-8590 and Kalt, Gerald ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4087-8902 and Plank, Barbara ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0306-3715 and Brockway, Paul ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6925-8040 and Fishman, Tomer ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4405-2382 and Hausknost, Daniel ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0496-5526 and Krausmann, Fridolin ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9995-2372 and Leon-Gruchalski, Bartholomäus ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6289-9961 and Mayer, Andreas ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6975-7082 and Pichler, Melanie ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6224-1609 and Schaffartzik, Anke ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0284-6099 and Sousa, Tania ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-3502-3371 and Streeck, Jan ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-4083-0044 and Creutzig, Felix ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5710-3348 (2020) A systematic review of the evidence on decoupling of GDP, resource use and GHG emissions, part II: synthesizing the insights. Environmental Research Letters, 15 (6). ISSN 1748-9326

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Strategies toward ambitious climate targets usually rely on the concept of "decoupling"; that is, they aim at promoting economic growth while reducing the use of natural resources and GHG emissions. GDP growth coinciding with absolute reductions in emissions or resource use is denoted as "absolute decoupling", as opposed to "relative decoupling", where resource use or emissions increase less so than does GDP. Based on the bibliometric mapping in part I (Wiedenhofer et al., this issue), we synthesize the evidence emerging from the selected 835 peer-reviewed articles. We evaluate empirical studies of decoupling related to final/useful energy, exergy, use of material resources, as well as CO2 and total GHG emissions. We find that relative decoupling is frequent for material use as well as GHG and CO2 emissions but not for useful exergy, a quality-based measure of energy use. Primary energy can be decoupled from GDP largely to the extent to which the conversion of primary energy to useful exergy is improved. Examples of absolute long-term decoupling are rare, but recently some industrialized countries have decoupled GDP from both production- and, weaklier, consumption-based CO2 emissions. We analyze policies or strategies in the decoupling literature by classifying them into three groups: (1) Green growth, if sufficient reductions of resource use or emissions were deemed possible without altering the growth trajectory. (2) Degrowth, if reductions of resource use or emissions were given priority over GDP growth. (3) Others, e.g. if the role of energy for GDP growth was analyzed without reference to climate change mitigation. We conclude that large rapid absolute reductions of resource use and GHG emissions cannot be achieved through observed decoupling rates, hence decoupling needs to be complemented by sufficiency-oriented strategies and strict enforcement of absolute reduction targets. More research is needed on interdependencies between wellbeing, resources and emissions.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Although reasonable endeavours have been taken to obtain all necessary permissions from third parties to include their copyrighted content within this article, their full citation and copyright line may not be present in this Accepted Manuscript version. Before using any content from this article, please refer to the Version of Record on IOPscience once published for full citation and copyright details, as permission may be required. All third party content is fully copyright protected, and is not published on a gold open access basis under a CC BY licence, unless that is specifically stated in the figure caption in the Version of Record.
Divisions: Departments > Sozioökonomie > Gesellschaftswandel und Nachhaltigkeit
Version of the Document: Accepted for Publication
Depositing User: Gertraud Novotny
Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2020 11:48
Last Modified: 23 Jul 2020 15:29
Related URLs:
FIDES Link: https://bach.wu.ac.at/d/research/results/95793/
URI: https://epub.wu.ac.at/id/eprint/7624


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