Chapter 24: Decoupling resource consumption and economic growth: insights into an unsolved global challenge
In the face of climate change, global demographic developments and growing resource use, natural capital in the form of not only resources but also sinks (for example the atmosphere as a dump for greenhouse gas emissions) is becoming increasingly scarce. Therefore, the decoupling of resource consumption from economic growth (that is, less used natural resources per unit of economic output) and impact decoupling (that is, reduced environmental impact of resource use and economic activities) are necessary condition for sustainable development (UNEP 2011). To this day, there exists no agreed solution for this challenge, despite the increasing risks of irreversible changes of the global earth system (‘tipping points’). To minimize these risks, politics, business and civil society have to take considerably more action than they have done until today. Although unsustainable trends have driven the world economy ‘beyond the limits’ (Meadows et al. 1992) and an overshoot of ‘planetary boundaries’ (Rockström et al. 2009) is threatening mankind, a resource efficiency revolution in combination with sufficiency policies could be a promising step towards a solution. Scenarios for the global energy sector (e.g. WWF et al. 2011) and for specific countries such as Germany (see Hennicke et al. 2011 for a comparison of scenarios) have clearly demonstrated the technical feasibility for absolute decoupling of gross domestic product (GDP) from primary energy consumption up to 2050.
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