Haberl, H., Wiedenhofer, D., Virág, D., Kalt, G., Plank, B, Brockway, P., Fishman, T., Hausknost, D., Krausmann, F. P., Leon-Gruchalski, B., Mayer, A., Pichler, M., Schaffartzik, A., Sousa, T., Streeck, J., Creutzig, F.

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

in Environmental Research Letters, 27.03.2020

Peer Review , Land Use, Infrastructure and Transport

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 emissio