International Society for Ecological Economics
ISEE Conference 16-19 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro
ECOLOGICAL ECONOMICS AND RIO+20:
CONTRIBUTIONS AND CHALLENGES FOR A GREEN ECONOMY
Models of Green Growth
Chair: Helen Suich / Roxana Juliá
RESOURCE EFFICIENCY AND DECOUPLING GDP GROWTH FROM NATURAL
RESOURCE USE: INTEGRATING ECONOMIC AND ECOSYSTEM APPROACHES
Jean-Louis Weber, Jock Martin,
European Environment Agency, Copenhagen - Denmark
• “resource efficiency” means doing the same thing or
more with less resource and less damages resulting from
• The first aspect is generally referred as decoupling (of
GDP from resource use).
• The second aspect is by analogy named “second”
decoupling (of GDP from environmental impacts).
• First decoupling indicators measure resource efficiency
from the point of view of the economy, with the
assumption that alleviation of pressures results in
improvement of the environmental conditions.
• Such indicators are compiled by OECD as outcomes of
MFA (material flows analysis) and measurements of
• the EU has chosen the indicator
Direct Material Consumption/GDP
as headline indicator of the “flagship initiative” for a
resource efficient Europe by 2020.
limitations of “first decoupling” indicators
• A first and well known limitation of “first decoupling” is
that the relative improvement of the ratio GDP/resource
use can be upset by a faster increase of GDP and result
finally in an increased burden on the environment.
• Even in the case of a reduction of resource use (absolute
decoupling is a difficult target considering economic
development and population growth), degradation may
continue if thresholds have been bypassed as it is the
case in several fisheries around the World.
• There are in addition issues with the format of indicators
based on “economy wide” material flows accounts.
A stylised map of materials of particular importance for accounting
Source : Steurer A. and Radermacher, W., 1996
materials are not equivalent regarding uses and impacts
• First remark: the land resource is excluded because it has no weight
• Second remark: the water resource is excluded because “the flows
of water would be so large that data on all other materials would
be of negligible size”
• In the middle of the oval the materials which make 99% of the total
flow coexist such as fossil fuels and carbon, biomass products and
sand and gravel. In fact, the consumption of fossil fuels and
biomass product results ultimately in combustion (and CO2) when
sand and gravel are moved from one place (e.g. quarry) to be
incorporated into durable infrastructures (e.g. buildings). Fossil
fuels and biomass products are internationally traded when sand
and gravel are mostly of local use.
• Sand and gravel (often named “non-metallic minerals”) represent
in Europe more than 40% of the domestic material flow.
• The addition of carbon material with san and gravel in one single
aggregate can lead to ambiguities and mis-interpretations.
An additional issue with the use of the GDP/DMI indicator
• DMI = Domestic Extraction Used (DEU) + Imports – Exports
• or DMI = DMI – Exports
DMI is a consumption indicators and should be compared to Final
Demand, not to GDP
DMI (the Direct Material Input = DEU + Imports) is more relevant for
comparisons with GDP.
(Ideally, DMI should be adjusted for those products which are only
imported for re-sale, without transformation in the country and the
embedded consumptions in the exporting countries)
In the case of Norway which GDP is to a large extent made of exports of oil and gas, the
GDP/DMI indicator which excludes exports gives a wrong picture of resource efficiency.
GDP/DMI would be a more correct measurement.
Measuring the ‘second decoupling’ with ecosystem capital accounts
• Ecosystem capital accounts are developed as a second volume of the UN SEEA.
• Pilot accounts are implemented in Europe by the European Environment
• Ecosystem capital accounts measure the degradation of all ecosystems
resulting from economic activities. They measure the resource which is
accessible without degradation and compare it to economic sectors’ use.
• The ecosystem capital degradation virtually embedded into international trade
of commodities is added to the ‘territorial’ degradation in order to calculate
the ‘total consumption of ecosystem capital’
• The measurement unit is a single currency which reflects the intensity of use
of accessible biomass, water and landscapes and the qualitative direct and
indirect impacts (contamination, losses of biodiversity…). This currency is
named ECU for ‘Ecosystem Capability Unit’. It is used to adjust the
biomass/carbon account from direct and indirect degradations.
• The ‘total consumption of ecosystem capital’ measured in ECU can be used to
measure the ‘second decoupling’ (of GDP growth from ecosystem impacts)
Integrating ‘first’ and ‘second’ decoupling
• The total carbon balance can be the pivot account of
economic material flow accounts as well as ecosystem
• It is sufficiently general to work as surrogate of the whole
economy-ecosystem relation: fossil energy and biofuels
extraction and use, food and fiber materials, GHGs
emissions, ecosystem carbon pools…
DMI Fossil CO2 Air
Total Ecosystem Capacity in ECU
Total Material Input
(agriculture, forestry, …) Biomass/
DMI Metal Carbon
Sand/ Sand, gravel Land
Decoupling (2) TEC
Decoupling (1) Sea
inputs Resource efficiency:
« 1 »: DMI-Carbon
GDP « 2 »: Total Ecosystem Capacity