Uncoupling economic growth from growth in resource use

De-linking high energy consumption from standard of living

Achieving economic growth which is not based on the growth of resource use but instead on more efficient use of resources.


There is a need to consider how economies can grow and prosper while reducing energy, material use and production of harmful materials.

This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities.

Energy demand is projected to grow 80 per cent between 1990 and 2015, even with substantial increases in energy efficiency. Most growth in energy use will occur in developing regions, especially in Asia. Without major policies changes, the projected increase in energy use will result in a large increase in the emissions of greenhouse gases. Two global developments will affect future energy use and emissions of greenhouse gases: energy prices and the [Kyoto Protocol].


There is evidence that de-linked economic growth is on the rise. In developed countries the energy intensity of production -- the amount of fuel burned per monetary unit of economic output -- has been decreasing by about two percent a year.

The Japanese tax fuel heavily and use only half as much energy as the United States per unit of economic output. Between 1971 and 1987 the Japanese chemical industry grew by 151%, while electricity usage only rose by 17%, water usage by 31% and overall energy usage actually fell by 16%.

In the Netherlands, "gentleman's agreements" have been made between the chemical industry and the government for a 20% improvement in energy efficiency between 1993 and 2000, so that expected production growth does not need to be combined with a rise in carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.


As long as rich countries continue to consume a disproportionately large amount of the Earth's natural resources per capita, the poor countries also have that right. The inevitable consequence of this is that world production and consumption will never be able to stay within limits and a catastrophe will not be avoided. A disaster can only be prevented if natural resources are shared equitably throughout the world.

Type Classification:
D: Detailed strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and Production