Title: Assessing the decoupling of economic growth from environmental impacts in the European Union: a consumption-based approach
Citation: JOURNAL OF CLEANER PRODUCTION vol. 236 p. 117535
Publication Year: 2019
JRC N°: JRC114831
ISSN: 0959-6526 (online)
URI: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652619323431?via%3Dihub
DOI: 10.1016/j.jclepro.2019.07.010
Type: Articles in periodicals and books
Abstract: Pursuing a responsible and sustainable development, the United Nations urged to decouple economic growth from environmental impacts. Several European Union (EU) policies have been implemented towards such goal. Although multiple authors have evaluated the decoupling of the economic growth from the resource use or environmental concerns, the environmental assessment mostly focused on pressures rather than impacts, and used single indicators assumed to be a proxy of the overall effects on the environment. Furthermore, no studies were found using a process-based life cycle approach to quantify the environmental impacts of consumption. To solve such research gap, this paper assesses the decoupling in the EU focusing on potential environmental impacts, complementing a production-based approach with two options for accounting for the impacts of consumption. The aim of this paper is to evaluate the decoupling of the economic growth (in terms of Gross Domestic Product) from the environmental impacts due to EU-28 consumption, assessed by means of life cycle assessment (LCA). The decoupling is then assessed in impact terms rather than limited to pressures by using the Environmental Footprint (EF2017) indicators, which allows assessing 16 different impacts. The Consumption Footprint indicator quantified the environmental impacts of EU apparent consumption, including the territorial impacts (Domestic Footprint) and the embodied impacts in both imports and exports (Trade Footprint). The inventory of pressures for the trade component is compiled either with a bottom-up approach (process-based LCA of representative traded goods) or a top-down approach (input-output-based LCA). Methodological aspects influencing the decoupling assessment and the resulting outputs are presented and discussed. According to the results, the environmental impacts of EU-28 consumption showed decoupling during the last decades (2005–2014), between relative to absolute decoupling depending on the inventory modeling approach taken. Some countries showed higher decoupling levels than others displaying a heterogeneous map of EU-28 decoupling, which was led by acidification, particulate matter, land use and eutrophication impacts. Notwithstanding current limitations, the assessment of decoupling using consumption-based environmental indicators is very promising for supporting policy-making towards addressing the actual impacts driven by the EU production and consumption system.
JRC Directorate:Sustainable Resources

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