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20+ Nations Have Decoupled GDP From Emissions

Since 2000, more than 20 countries have successfully decoupled (both curbed their greenhouse gas emissions and boosted their gross domestic product), says World Resources Institute analyst Nate Aden.

Aden’s research took off from a recent International Energy Agency report on how energy-related emissions have “decoupled” from economic growth over the last two years. The decoupling events present an opportunity to preserve existing world economic security while curbing global climate challenges.

The WRI author finds that as countries begin to transition to a new climate economy, several debates have arisen:

  • Can economic growth drive climate stabilization, or even coexist with it?
  • Can climate stabilization drive economic growth?

Aden points to recent developments in the trend toward decoupling:

“The debates on growth and resources are complex, fractious and centuries old, and while they won’t be resolved in the immediate future, recent developments show that global greenhouse gas  emissions stayed flat in 2014 and 2015 while GDP continued to grow. This emerging trend is supported by 21 countries that have managed to reduce GHG emissions while growing GDP.”

The data-rich infographic shown here concisely summarizes his observations:

21 countries decouple GDP from GHG emissions, 2000-2014

Here’s an excellent related article on decoupling with a different stance. A few specifics on decoupling trends:

Decoupling time record. The United States—currently the second-largest CO2 emitter—is the largest nation to have experienced consecutive years (2010-2012) decoupling economic growth from growth in carbon dioxide emissions.

The US Energy Information Administration forecasts in its analysis of the Clean Power Plan that a cleaner post-2020 electricity system would extend GDP-GHG decoupling. As illustrated in the figure, CPP implementation is expected to reduce total US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions should drop by a further 6% between 2020 and 2025, with a simultaneous 13% rise in GDP.

Sustained decoupling divergence. In the United Kingdom, economic growth and CO2 emissions have diverged periodically (6 years of absolute decoupling with an emissions drop from 591 to 470 million metric tons of energy-related CO2 and GDP increase from $2.1 to $2.7 trillion.

Causes of decoupling: shift away from domestic industries, carbon taxes, and increased renewable use. No single trend has driven GDP-GHG decoupling across all countries. A huge number—more than 90%—of decoupled nations also reduced the industrial share of their economies. This is by no means universal, however. In Switzerland and the Czech Republic, the industrial portion of GDP remained essentially steady, and in Bulgaria and Uzbekistan industrial activity expanded along with decreased emissions.

Across the 21 nations, the average change in the industry share of GDP was a 3% reduction, with an average CO2 drop of 15%. Sweden decoupled due to policy changes, including carbon taxes. Denmark rapidly increased renewable energy, reducing emissions while stimulating local production.

Feasibility. Decoupling of GDP and GHG emissions in numerous countries demonstrates the feasibility, and increasing prevalence, of the energy transition from fossil fuels. Potential leakage of carbon emissions to other countries as nations move toward overseas industrial facilities overseas. The aggregate annual CO2 reduction for these 21 countries amounted to slightly more than 1 billion metric tons, while total annual global CO2 emissions grew by more than 10 billion metric tons. The world must scale up decoupling rapidly to limit average warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels in this century.


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Written By

covers environmental, health, renewable and conventional energy, and climate change news. She's currently on the climate beat for Important Media, having attended last year's COP20 in Lima Peru. Sandy has also worked for groundbreaking environmental consultants and a Fortune 100 health care firm. She writes for several weblogs and attributes her modest success to an "indelible habit of poking around to satisfy my own curiosity."


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