Decoupling: natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth

United Nations Environment Programme (2011)

Humankind has witnessed phenomenal economic and social development in the past century. However, there are increasing signs that it has come at a cost to the environment and to the availability of cheap resources. Despite progress, there is still great disparity between the rich and the poor. The dilemma of expanding economic activities equitably while attempting to stabilize the rate of resource use and reduce environmental impacts poses an unprecedented opportunity and challenge to society. In this report, the International Resource Panel has sought to apply the concept of decoupling economic growth and human well-being from environmental impacts and resource use to address this challenge. The report provides a solid foundation for the concept of decoupling, clearly defining key terms and providing empirical evidence of escalating resource use. It shows that decoupling is already taking place to some extent, but is lagging far behind its potential. The scenarios show that we are facing a historic choice about how we use resources and the report scopes the potential of innovation, rethinking economic growth and the role of cities in building more resource efficient economies. Four case studies at the country level show how policy makers are implementing decoupling strategies. This report focuses on material resources, namely fossil fuels, minerals, metals and biomass and will be complemented by parallel reports of the IRP on land and soil, water, metals, cities and technologies to mitigate GHG emissions. These future reports will contribute to the International Resource Panel’s objective to build a better understanding of how to decouple environmental impacts from economic growth and improved human well-being. It is hoped that policy makers aiming to green their economies will greatly benefit from the contributions that the International Resource Panel is making through its work on decoupling resource consumption from economic growth.

Monograph