The EU-backed DYNAMIX project, which has been established to contribute to the aims of the European Commission's resource efficiency roadmap, has published a research report that offers a comparative analysis of current initiatives working to achieve the absolute decoupling of resource use from economic growth.
DYNAMIX, which brings together researchers from eight institutes in seven EU countries, is a large-scale initiative to study resource-use pathways that the EU could follow. The project's work encompasses three basic scenarios. The first two are “conventional decoupling” scenarios - that economic activity will be delinked from environmental pressure either in a relative sense, meaning that resource use and environmental damage could continue to rise, but at a lesser rate than economic activity; or in an absolute sense, meaning that economic growth continues, but resource use declines from current levels.
The third scenario takes a different view and introduces a new variable - societal wellbeing. In this scenario, it is argued that conventional economic growth based on high levels of resource consumption might not be sustainable, and will consequently stagnate or decline slightly, with resource use declining at an even faster rate. However, societal wellbeing, including elements such as health and happiness, will increase.
The latest study published by DYNAMIX covers 15 cases studies of resource efficiency policies in different economic sectors. It finds that relative decoupling is being achieved in Europe, though at different rates in different countries and for different resources. Examples include fossil fuel consumption in Denmark and Sweden, municipal waste in Slovakia and land take in England and Germany - in these cases, resource consumption is becoming more economically efficient, though in absolute terms, resource consumption is still on the increase.
Absolute decoupling is rarer, the study finds. But there are examples, including fertilizer use in Denmark, aggregates in the United Kingdom and plastic bags in Ireland. In Iceland, for some fish stocks, the take of fish is now at sustainable levels without negative impacts for the economic growth of the fishing sector.
From the case studies, the project is able to make some recommendations of the right policy mix. Among its recommendations are that policies should be sector-specific, should be informed by a clear understanding of limits and thresholds, should address the global impacts of resource use, including of imports from overseas, and should be underpinned by clear targets. In cases in which policies are inconsistent, or if too many exemptions are granted, the potential for decoupling is undermined, according to the study.
The study on decoupling initiatives is the latest in a series of DYNAMIX research reports that provide concrete information for policymakers. Other reports include recommended “policy mixes” to decouple resource use from economic growth for metals and agricultural land use, and a study of the underlying reasons for resource efficiency. All of the studies are available at http://dynamix-project.eu/results.
Duration: September 2012 to December 2015
Partners: Ecologic Institute (Germany), BIO Intelligence Service (France), Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (Italy), Institute for Structural Research (Poland), Institute for European Environmental Policy (UK), Swedish Environmental Research Institute (Sweden), University of Westminster, Policy Studies Institute (UK), Vienna University of Economics and Business, Research Institute for Managing Sustainability (Austria)
Funding: €3,425,633 including €2,853,623 from the 7th Framework Programme