Level of decoupling between economic growth and environmental pressure on Earth-system processes

Daniel Vázquez, Ángel Galán-Martín, Victor Tulus, Gonzalo Guillén-Gosálbez

Research output: Indexed journal article Articlepeer-review


Ensuring economic growth without challenging the Earth's resiliency is crucial to achieving sustainable development. Capitalizing on the planetary boundaries framework as the limits to growing safely, here we present a temporal assessment of the link between economic growth and pressure exerted on the environment using the Exiobase database. By studying the degree of decoupling between absolute sustainability metrics and economic indicators, we find that strong decoupling at a global scale has not occurred in any planetary boundary, with the impact on the planetary boundaries increasing at a slower pace than the global gross domestic product but not decreasing in the studied period (1995 to 2019). Our results also reveal that some countries shifted burdens overseas, thereby exhibiting lower decoupling rates on a production-based basis (vs. consumption-based). Moreover, we found that countries responsible for exerting the highest stress on the planetary boundaries tend to transgress their downscaled safe operating space and present weak decoupling. Considering future economic growth, tailored strategies will be needed to operate within the limits of the Earth, including complementing the gross domestic product with additional indicators to drive human development sustainably.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-229
Number of pages13
JournalSustainable Production and Consumption
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Decoupling
  • Exiobase
  • Planetary boundaries


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