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Increasing evidence—synthesized in this paper—shows that economic growth contributes to biodiversity loss via greater resource consumption and higher emissions. Nonetheless, a review of international biodiversity and sustainability policies shows that the majority advocate economic growth. Since improvements in resource use efficiency have so far not allowed for absolute global reductions in resource use and pollution, we question the support for economic growth in these policies, where inadequate attention is paid to the question of how growth can be decoupled from biodiversity loss. Drawing on the literature about alternatives to economic growth, we explore this contradiction and suggest ways forward to halt global biodiversity decline. These include policy proposals to move beyond the growth paradigm while enhancing overall prosperity, which can be implemented by combining top‐down and bottom‐up governance across scales. Finally, we call the attention of researchers and policy makers to two immediate steps: acknowledge the conflict between economic growth and biodiversity conservation in future policies; and explore socioeconomic trajectories beyond economic growth in the next generation of biodiversity scenarios.
Received: 9 August 2019 Revised: 30 January 2020 Accepted: 8 February 2020
DOI: 10.1111/conl.12713
Biodiversity policy beyond economic growth
Iago Otero1,2 Katharine N. Farrell3,4 Salvador Pueyo5,6 Giorgos Kallis5,7, 8
Laura Kehoe9,10,11,12,13 Helmut Haberl1, 14 Christoph Plutzar14,15 Peter Hobson16
Jaime García-Márquez1,17 Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos5,7,18 Jean-Louis Martin19
Karl-Heinz Erb14 Stefan Schindler20 Jonas Nielsen1,9 Teut a S kor in21
Josef Settele22,23,24 Franz Essl15 Erik Gómez-Baggethun25,26 Lluís Brotons27,28,29
Wolfgang Rabitsch30 François Schneider5,31 Guy Pe’er22,32,33
1Integrative Research Institute on Transformations of Human-Environment Systems (IRI THESys), Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
2Interdisciplinary Centre for Mountain Research, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
3Biology Program, Faculty of Natural Sciences, Universidad del Rosario, Bogotá, Colombia
4Berlin Workshop in Institutional Analysis of Social-Ecological Systems, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
5Research & Degrowth, Barcelona, Spain
6Department of Evolutionary Biology, Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Universitat de Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain
7Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA), Autonomous University of Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain
8ICREA, Barcelona, Spain
9Geography Department, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Berlin, Germany
10Biology Department, University of Victoria, Victoria, Canada
11Department of Forest & Conservation Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
12The Nature Conservancy, London, UK
13Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
14Institute of Social Ecology, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Austria
15Division of Conservation Biology, Vegetation Ecology and Landscape Ecology, Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research, University of Vienna,
Vienna, Austria
16Centre for Econics & Ecosystem Management, Writtle University College, Chelmsford, UK
17Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries, Berlin, Germany
18Energy and Resources Group, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, United States
19Centre d’Écologie Fonctionnelle et Évolutive UMR 5175, CNRS–Université de Montpellier–Université Paul Valéry Montpellier–École Pratique des Hautes
Études, IRD, Montpellier, France
20Community Ecology and Conservation research group, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, Czech University of Life Sciences, Prague, Czech Republic
21Freelance biodiversity conservationist, Zagreb, Croatia
22German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany
23UFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Department of Community Ecology, Halle, Germany
24Institute of Biological Sciences, University of the Philippines Los Baños, College, Laguna, Philippines
25Department of International Environment and Development Studies (Noragric), Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU), ˚
As, Norway
26Norwegian Institute for Nature Research (NINA), Oslo, Norway
27InForest Joint Research Unit (CTFC-CREAF), Solsona, Spain
This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original
work is properly cited.
© 2020 The Authors. Conservation Letters published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Conservation Letters. 2020;e12713. 1of18
2of18 OTERO ET AL.
28CREAF, Cerdanyola del Vallès, Spain
29CSIC, Cerdanyola del Vallès, Spain
30Environment Agency Austria, Vienna, Austria
31Research & Degrowth France, Cerbère, France
32UFZ - Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research, Department of Ecosystem Services and Department of Environmental Economics, Leipzig, Germany
33University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany
Iago Otero, Centre interdisciplinaire de
recherche sur la montagne, Universitéde Lau-
sanne - Site de Sion, Ch. de l’Institut 18, 1967
Bramois, Switzerland.
Funding information
Austrian Science Funds, Grant/AwardNum-
ber: P29130-G27; Seventh Framework
Programme, Grant/AwardNumbers: EU
BON/308454, ROBIN/283093; sDiv;Austrian
Academy of Sciences, Grant/Award Num-
ber: LUBIO; Spanish Ministry of Economy
and Competitiveness, Grant/Award Number:
MDM-2015-0552; Horizon 2020 Research and
Innovation Programme, Grant/Award Num-
bers: CLAMOR/797444, COUPLED/765408,
Increasing evidence—synthesized in this paper—shows that economic growth con-
tributes to biodiversity loss via greater resource consumption and higher emissions.
Nonetheless, a review of international biodiversity and sustainability policies shows
that the majority advocate economic growth. Since improvements in resource use effi-
ciency have so far not allowed for absolute global reductions in resource use and pollu-
tion, we question the support for economic growth in these policies, where inadequate
attention is paid to the question of how growth can be decoupled from biodiversity
loss. Drawing on the literature about alternatives to economic growth, we explore
this contradiction and suggest ways forward to halt global biodiversity decline. These
include policy proposals to move beyond the growth paradigm while enhancing over-
all prosperity, which can be implemented bycombining top-down and bottom-up gov-
ernance across scales. Finally, we call the attention of researchers and policy makers to
two immediate steps: acknowledge the conflict between economic growth and biodi-
versity conservation in future policies; and explore socioeconomic trajectories beyond
economic growth in the next generation of biodiversity scenarios.
biodiversity conservation, biodiversity loss, biodiversity policy, biodiversity scenarios, decoupling,
degrowth, economic growth, postgrowth, sustainability policy, transition
Conservation scientists have long stressed the need to pay
attention to the socioeconomic context of biodiversity loss if
effective policies are to be designed (Martin, Maris, & Sim-
berloff, 2016). Such a question becomes urgent in the face
of an unprecedented degradation of the biosphere, undermin-
ing human well-being and calling into question the standard
development model (IPBES, 2019a). As economic growth is
part and parcel of this development model (Escobar, 2015),
the exploration of its effects on biodiversity has the potential
to strengthen the diagnosis of biodiversity decline and support
the design of effective solutions.
The critical assessment of economic growth has recently
been directly linked to the debates around biodiversity con-
servation. Authors have highlighted the need to move away
from the global economy’s current foundation on economic
growth while discussing the role of conservation science in
the transition to a society focused instead on biodiversity and
well-being (Büscher et al., 2017; Martin et al., 2016; see also
Czech, Krausman, & Devers, 2000). However, why and how
a critical assessment of economic growth may improve biodi-
versity policies in an ambitious and yet realistic way remains
This paper aims to shed light on this crucial question.
To do so, we first synthesize available empirical evidence
on the relationships between economic growth and biodi-
versity, focusing on land-use change, climate change, and
invasive alien species. Second, we review the prospects for
decoupling economic growth from biodiversity loss. Third,
we review the position of 28 international biodiversity and
sustainability policy documents (produced under the auspices
of the United Nations between 1972 and 2016) about eco-
nomic growth and decoupling. Fourth, we sketch out policy
possibilities by presenting existing literature on alternatives to
economic growth and reviewing its relevance for biodiversity
conservation. Finally, we show how scenario development for
major policy instruments, such as the Convention on Biolog-
ical Diversity, could help directing national and international
priorities away from the growth imperative and toward the
enhancement of biodiversity and human well-being.
FIGURE 1How economic growth contributes to biodiversity loss. Economic growth increases resource use and trade, which in turn impact
biodiversity via various mechanisms reviewed in the text (climate change, land-use change, and invasive species). Source: our own
Increasing evidence shows that an expanding economy
degrades biodiversity. In this paper, biodiversity is understood
as the variability among living organisms and the ecolog-
ical complexes of which they are a part. This can include
variation in genetic, phenotypic, phylogenetic, and functional
attributes, as well as changes in abundance and distribution
over time and space, within and among species and ecosys-
tems (IPBES, 2019a, glossary). The connection between eco-
nomic growth and biodiversity loss can be explored by resort-
ing to correlations between gross domestic product (GDP),
resource use and the state of biodiversity (Figure 1). While
such correlations do not necessarily imply causality, the argu-
ments assembled below suggest that causal relations do exist.
Next, we show the relevance of our rationale for three well-
known mechanisms of biodiversity loss.
2.1 Land-use change
Global agricultural area has increased by ca. 70–80% dur-
ing the twentieth century, and agricultural production has
increased nearly sixfold as a result of land-use intensifica-
tion (Klein Goldewijk, Beusen, Doelman, & Stehfest, 2017;
Krausmann et al., 2013). This increasing—and increasingly
intense—use of land for agriculture has been attributed to
different drivers such as population, yield, and diet (Alexan-
der et al., 2015). The structure and evolution of the global
economy seem to play a key role though. Trends in global
agricultural land and in fertilizer and pesticide use correlate
with GDP since the 1960s (Tilman et al., 2001). Increases in
per-capita GDP also closely correlate with a higher demand
for animal protein (Tilman & Clark, 2014), which further
increases the demand for agricultural area (Alexander et al.,
2015; Kastner, Rivas, Koch, & Nonhebel, 2012).
GDP growth is also associated with an expansion of urban
areas and infrastructures (Seto, Güneralp, & Hutyra, 2012).
The total mass of global human-made material stocks (build-
ings, roads, etc.) grew in unison with global GDP over the last
century, replacing ecosystems at a massive scale (Krausmann
et al., 2017).
Agricultural expansion and the development of cities and
infrastructures threaten biodiversity through the encroach-
ment and fragmentation of habitats, both major causes of bio-
diversity loss across almost all terrestrial taxonomic groups
(Andrén, 1994; Didham, Ghazoul, Stork, & Davis, 1996; Fis-
cher & Lindenmayer, 2007; Krauss et al., 2010). Conventional
agricultural intensification—characterized by a shift to highly
mechanized, large-scale monocultures with high levels of
agrichemicals use—is often detrimental to biodiversity (New-
bold et al., 2015). These intensification processes can increase
the risk of soil erosion, degradation (Foucher et al., 2014;
IPBES, 2018a), and salinization (Foresight, 2011). They can
also reduce soil organic matter, disturb soil biota communi-
ties (Foucher et al., 2014; Postma-Blaauw, de Goede, Bloem,
Faber, & Brussaard, 2010), result in biotic homogenization,
become toxic to plants with cascading effects on ecosystems
(Yamaguchi & Blumwald, 2005), and threaten birds, mam-
mals, amphibians, and insects (Gibbs, Mackey, & Currie,
2009; Hof, Araújo, Jetz, & Rahbek, 2011; IPBES, 2017; Kerr
& Cihlar, 2004; Kleijn et al., 2009).
2.2 Climate change
Global economic and population growth have driven an
increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,
leading to unprecedented atmospheric concentrations that
have warmed the climate (IPCC, 2014). Global carbon diox-
ide and other GHG emissions increase with GDP, and there
is no empirical evidence for the assumption that they would
automatically start declining in absolute terms once a certain
threshold of GDP has been reached (Burke, Shahiduzzaman,
& Stern, 2015; Stern, 2017; for national-level decoupling, see
Section 3).
Shifts toward warmer climates are occurring at an unprece-
dented rate that may exceed the capacity of many species and
ecosystems to adapt, leading to changes in species ranges and
population sizes, and resulting in local extinctions (Burrows
et al., 2011; Hof et al., 2011; Wessely et al., 2017). Warmer
temperatures have affected the phenology and the distribution
of species from various taxonomic groups across the globe
4of18 OTERO ET AL.
(Cohen, Lajeunesse, & Rohr, 2018; Parmesan & Yohe, 2003;
Peñuelas & Filella, 2001; Root et al., 2003; Walther et al.,
2002). Breeding bird populations, for instance, have shown a
consistent response to climate change across the United States
and Europe since 1980, with an increasingly divergent fate
between species favored and disadvantaged by rising temper-
atures (Stephens et al., 2016). Between 2001 and 2008, Euro-
pean mountain plant communities experienced a decline in
cold-adapted species and an increase in warm-adapted ones,
as well as upward shifts in ranges (Gottfried et al., 2012;
Pauli et al., 2012). The northward shift of European bird
and butterfly communities observed between 1990 and 2008
was insufficient to track temperature changes (Devictor et al.,
In addition, climate change modifies habitats and enhances
the frequency and intensity of extreme events such as storms,
floods, extreme temperatures, and droughts (Maxwell, Fuller,
Brooks, & Watson, 2016). In fact, extreme events are con-
sidered to pose an even greater threat to biodiversity than
global warming, both in terrestrial and marine environments
(Garcia, Cabeza, Rahbek, & Araújo, 2014; Wernberg et al.,
2013). Moreover, changes in climate can undermine efforts
to conserve biodiversity: for instance, in Europe 58% of plant
and terrestrial vertebrate species are projected to lose suitable
climate conditions within existing protected areas by 2080
(Araújo, Alagador, Cabeza, Nogués-Bravo, & Thuiller, 2011).
Climate change could also cause abrupt system-level shifts
in several biomes on the earth (Lenton, 2013). Finally, the
effects of climate change are likely to act in synergy with
the effects of land-use change, especially as species’ disper-
sal and adaptation to changing conditions is hindered by habi-
tat loss and fragmentation (Sirami et al., 2017; Urban et al.,
2.3 Invasive alien species
Economic growth is intimately related to international trade
and the expansion of transport routes (Dittrich & Bringezu
2010; Schandl et al., 2017). In turn, international trade pro-
vides numerous opportunities for the transport of propag-
ules of alien species to new regions (Seebens et al., 2015).
Seebens et al. (2015) show that a strong increase in alien plant
species is expected in the next decades, especially for emerg-
ing economies in megadiverse regions.
The human-caused introduction and spread of species in
regions that were previously beyond the reach of natural
colonization has become a defining feature of global biodi-
versity loss (IPBES, 2019a). Alien species are the second
most common threat associated with the extinction of plants,
amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals (Bellard, Cassey,
& Blackburn, 2016). Impacts of alien species are particu-
larly pronounced on islands, where evolutionary naïve native
species often become exposed to novel predators, pathogens,
or strong competitors. Accordingly, 86% of documented his-
toric extinctions on islands are linked to biological invasions
(Bellard et al., 2016). An unprecedented intensity of human-
mediated species exchange is associated with contemporary
economic activities, leading to the homogenization of flora
and fauna (Capinha, Essl, Seebens, Moser, & Pereira, 2015;
Winter et al., 2009), redefining the classical boundaries of bio-
geography (Capinha et al., 2015), and presenting far-reaching
negative implications for native biota, ecosystem services,
and human well-being (Vilà & Hulme, 2017; Vilà et al.,
As the global economy grows, the increase in the numbers
of alien species does not show any sign of saturation (Seebens
et al., 2017). Thus, many new introductions and associated
negative impacts can be expected in the future (Seebens et al.,
In theory, increases in the efficiency of resource use could
enable economic growth while reducing environmental and
biodiversity impacts. This possibility is referred to as decou-
pling.Relative decoupling means that GDP grows faster than
resource use. It has been observed in the global aggregate
as well as in many countries over long (decadal) periods of
time for measures of aggregate use of resources (materials
and energy) and GHG emissions in the last century (Haberl
et al., 2019). Absolute decoupling means that resource use
declines in absolute terms while GDP grows; this requires that
resource efficiency (i.e., the ratio GDP/resource use) grows
faster than GDP. The literature has provided ample evidence
that sustained absolute decoupling has not occurred so far
(Alexander et al., 2015; Csereklyei & Stern, 2015; Kraus-
mann et al., 2013; Steinberger, Krausmann, Getzner, Schandl,
& West, 2013; Ward et al., 2016; Wiedmann et al., 2015; see
below for some nuances). These studies suggest that, under
current socioecological conditions, economies with higher
GDP tend to (i) consume more raw materials and energy,
(ii) occupy more productive land, and/or (iii) use it more
With regard to raw materials, a panel analysis of 39 coun-
tries (1970–2005) found that a 1% growth in GDP per capita
implied a 0.8% growth in material use per capita (Steinberger
et al., 2013). Krausmann, Schandl, Eisenmenger, Giljum, and
Jackson (2017) found that global relative decoupling of mate-
rials from GDP ground to a halt around 2002; thereafter,
global material productivity (GDP/material use) deteriorated
due to growth in regions with resource-intensive production
such as China. The few cases of absolute decoupling they
found were related to low GDP growth and to increased
import of material-intensive goods. Similarly, the domestic
material use of some countries in the Global North declined
in absolute terms while their economies grew (1990–2008),
but this was achieved by importing resource-intensive goods
from the Global South (Wiedmann et al., 2015). When all raw
materials associated with imported and exported goods are
considered, the material footprint of these countries increases
with GDP, although not at the same rate (Wiedmann et al.,
In the case of the human appropriation of net primary
production (HANPP), global data show a (strong) relative
decoupling. In the period 1910–2005, global GDP increased
much faster than global HANPP (17-fold vs. twofold) (Kraus-
mann et al., 2013). However, this was due to (i) land-use
intensification, which resulted in NPP increases and partly
compensated for growing harvest volumes, and (ii) most
non-land-use–based economic activity being reliant on fossil
energy and not biomass (Krausmann et al., 2013). As noted
above, both land-use intensification and fossil energy use (cli-
mate change) impact biodiversity, suggesting that this relative
decoupling can have considerable trade-offs for biodiversity
Regarding CO2emissions, a steady increase is observed
at the global level for the period 1960–2018 (Global Carbon
Budget, 2018). An analysis of 189 countries for the period
1961–2010 found that a 1% increase in GDP was associated
with a 0.5–0.8% increase in CO2emissions (Burke et al.,
2015). In the period 2006–2016, the United States and EU28
had declining emissions in absolute terms despite continued
economic growth, in both territorial and consumption-based
terms (Global Carbon Budget 2018; see also Quéré et al.,
2019). These results indicate that absolute decoupling could
be possible. However, these declines are far slower than those
needed to meet the 1.5C Paris target (Hickel & Kallis, 2019).
In the case of biodiversity, an absolute decoupling between
economic growth and impacts occurred in Western Europe
and North America during the period 2000–2011, consider-
ing both production and consumption (Marques et al., 2019).
As these authors show, this decoupling was associated with a
reduction in consumption following the financial crisis, after
which biodiversity impacts increased again. At the global
level and in the same period, despite a reduction of biodiver-
sity impacts per unit of GDP, overall population and economic
growth resulted in increased total impacts (Marques et al.,
Some studies suggest that absolute decoupling could be
possible in the future under scenarios of dramatic reductions
in energy demand through highly efficient technologies and
structures (Grubler et al., 2018). Yet other studies argue that
absolute decoupling is unlikely to occur, specially at a fast
enough rate to ensure global sustainability (Hickel & Kallis,
2019; Jackson & Victor, 2019; Ward et al., 2016).
The possibility of absolute decoupling is implicitly
defended through reference to the environmental Kuznets
curve (EKC). The EKC applied to biodiversity predicts that
biodiversity damage first increases and then decreases with
rising per capita incomes, as higher levels of income bring
about demand for, and investment in, biodiversity conser-
vation (Dietz & Adger, 2003). Partial support for a biodi-
versity EKC has only been found for threatened bird and
mammal species in two multicountry analyses (McPherson &
Nieswiadomy, 2005; Naidoo & Adamowicz, 2001), as well
as for birds linked to some habitat types in a number of Cana-
dian provinces (Lantz & Martínez-Espiñeira, 2008). However,
several multicountry analyses found no evidence to support
an EKC effect for a range of terrestrial and aquatic biodiver-
sity proxies, even supporting a trend in the opposite direction
from that predicted by the EKC hypothesis (Clausen & York,
2008; Dietz & Adger, 2003; Gren, Campos, & Gustafsson,
2016; Majumder, Berrens, & Bohara, 2006; Mills & Waite,
In the United States, the existence of an EKC was not
supported for an integrated index of biodiversity risk (Tevie,
Grimsrud, & Berrens, 2011). In this country, avian biodi-
versity was found to follow an S-curve relationship, rather
than the U-curve of the EKC—that is, biodiversity initially
declines with economic growth, then improves over inter-
mediate growth, and ultimately declines at higher growth
(Strong, Tschirhart, & Finnoff, 2011). These observations
resonate with other studies carried out in the United States
indicating a close link between GDP growth and species
endangerment (Czech et al., 2005; Czech, Mills Busa, &
Brown, 2012), and with theoretical analyses arguing that
economic growth results in the competitive exclusion of non-
human beings (Czech, 2008). Given the evidence assem-
bled in this paper, such a close link is unlikely to be a
Advocacy of economic growth is unequivocal in some of the
most influential policy documents on sustainability and biodi-
versity analyzed in this paper (see selection criteria in SM1).
The first major international declaration concerning sustain-
able development, the 1987 Brundtland report, called for
“internationally expansionary policies of growth” in indus-
trial countries and for “more rapid economic growth in both
industrial and developing countries”.1This commitment has
since been reiterated in all subsequent major sustainability
declarations and agreements (Gómez-Baggethun & Naredo,
6of18 OTERO ET AL.
2015). The Declaration of the UN Conference on Environ-
ment and Development held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 advo-
cated “economic growth and sustainable development in all
countries, to better address the problems of environmental
degradation”2; the 2011 UN Environment Programme
(UNEP) report on the green economy stated that “the key
aim for a transition to a green economy is to enable eco-
nomic growth and investment while increasing environmental
quality”3; and the Rio 2012 declaration reaffirmed “the need
to achieve sustainable development by promoting sustained,
inclusive and equitable economic growth”.4The current UN
Sustainable Development Goals likewise call for “sustain-
able economic growth” and to “sustain per capita economic
growth”.5In keeping with this trend, the declaration of the
Cancun Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Bio-
logical Diversity (CBD) commits signatories to “promote sus-
tainable economic growth”.6
While advocating economic growth, key policy documents
on sustainability and biodiversity conservation acknowledge
the relevance of drivers of biodiversity loss that are strongly
related to economic growth according to the review presented
in Section 2 (Table S4 in the Supporting Information). Indeed,
their views on the relationship between economic growth and
biodiversity are mostly ambiguous, and very few of them
(six out of 28) explicitly recognize that growth is problem-
atic for biodiversity (Tables 1 and 2). More than half of
these documents (16) neglect the question of how a decou-
pling of economic growth from biodiversity loss might be
achieved. Among those that do address this question (12),
only seven accept that reducing the pressures of a growing
economy on biodiversity is challenging (Tables 1 and 2).
This is the case, for example, of the Global Biodiversity Out-
look 4, which explicitly recognizes that absolute decoupling
is unlikely given current patterns of consumption7. The other
documents that do address the question of decoupling either
have ambiguous positions or consider it to be unchallenging.
The latter is the case of the Cancun declaration, which lim-
its itself to listing several measures to reduce the biodiversity
impacts of economic growth, without recourse to a scientific
assessment of their success prospects within the current eco-
nomic system.
Other key biodiversity policies do not acknowledge the
problematic nature of economic growth at all when address-
ing drivers of biodiversity loss. For instance, the CBD Aichi
Targets for 2020 aimed to contain “the impacts of use of
natural resources well within safe ecological limits”,8with-
out addressing the systemic relationships between economic
growth and the critical global biodiversity pressures shown
to undermine progress toward the targets. These pressures
include ecological and water footprints, trawl fishing effort,
nitrogen surplus, and introduction of alien species (Tittensor
et al., 2014). This means that several Aichi targets (and future
similar targets) may be unachievable unless clear progress
is made in explicitly addressing the impacts of economic
In light of ample evidence showing that absolute decou-
pling is unlikely under current conditions, the unreflexive
growth emphasis of the biodiversity and sustainability poli-
cies seems to stand in the way of safeguarding biodiversity.
Biodiversity policies reflect the shared assumption by policy-
makers that economic growth is needed to alleviate poverty
and to achieve prosperity (Table S4 in SM1). However, an
emerging literature explores whether and how it may be pos-
sible to find a “prosperous way down” and manage without
growth (D’Alisa, Demaria, & Kallis, 2014; Daly, 1991; Jack-
son, 2011; Odum & Odum, 2006; Victor, 2008). This litera-
ture has its origins in the Global North, where strategies for
alternative economies thrive on an intellectual and material
history that is far from that of the Global South. Yet anal-
ogous values—such as subsistence-living, balance between
all living beings, and reciprocity—favor a joint explo-
ration of alliances (Escobar, 2015; Rodríguez-Labajos et al.,
This literature—composed of different schools—argues
that policy-makers can design policies to control unsustain-
able expansion. Steady-state economics proposes legal lim-
its to throughput (the economy´s use of energy and mate-
rials), allowing the economy to develop qualitatively within
such limits (Daly, 1996; Dietz & O’Neill, 2013). Degrowth
scholars call for abolishing the pursuit of GDP growth and
highlight the potential of grassroots movements for facilitat-
ing the transition to a new economy (Kallis, 2011; Kallis
et al., 2018). Whereas the degrowth literature considers a
reduction of GDP inevitable if throughput is to decrease to
sustainable levels, the postgrowth literature prefers to ignore
GDP, which is deemed a bad indicator of welfare, and argues
for environmental and well-being policies, regardless of their
effects on GDP (Raworth, 2017; van den Bergh & Kallis,
Policy proposals from this literature can contribute to
reframing biodiversity and economic policies beyond the
economic growth imperative (Table S5 in SM2), even if
remarkable challenges are to be expected (Box 1). The
establishment—via multilevel governance—of absolute caps
on the amount of resources embedded in imported goods
and services is crucial (Alcott, 2010; Daly, 1991). Dif-
ferent caps could apply to different countries depending
on their past consumption and ecological or carbon debts
TABLE 1 Policy analysis: How key international declarations and agreements on sustainability and biodiversity view the relationship between
economic growth and biodiversity, and how they view the prospects of decoupling economic growth from biodiversity loss
View on the
relationship between
economic growth and
View on decoupling
economic growth
from biodiversity
Policy documents on
Declaration UN Conference on the Human
Environment Stockholm (1972)
Problematic Yes Challenging
UN Report of the World Commission on
Environment and Development (1987)
(Brundtland Report)
Ambiguous Yes Challenging
Declaration UN Conference on Environment and
Development Rio de Janeiro (1992)
Ambiguous No NA
Declaration UN World Summit on Sustainable
Development Johannesburg (2002)
Unproblematic Yes Unchallenging
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005) Ambiguous Yes Challenging
Declaration UN Conference on Sustainable
Development Rio de Janeiro (2012) (Rio +20)
Problematic No NA
UN Sustainable Development Goals (2015) Ambiguous Yes Unchallenging
Policy documents on
Convention on Biological Diversity (1992) Ambiguous No NA
Report CBD COP 1 (1994) Ambiguous No NA
Report CBD COP 2 (1995) Problematic No NA
Report CBD COP 3 (1996) Ambiguous Yes Challenging
Report CBD COP 4 (1998) Ambiguous Yes Challenging
Report CBD COP 5 (2000) Ambiguous No NA
Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the CBD
Unproblematic No NA
Report CBD COP 6 (2002) Problematic No NA
Report CBD COP 7 (2004) Unproblematic No NA
Report CBD COP 8 (2006) Ambiguous Yes Challenging
Report CBD COP 9 (2008) Ambiguous No NA
Report CBD COP 10 (2010) Ambiguous Yes Ambiguous
Strategic Plan 2011–2020 and Aichi Targets
CBD COP 10 (2010)
Unproblematic No NA
Nagoya - Kuala Lumpur Supplementary Protocol
to Cartagena Protocol (2011)
Ambiguous No NA
Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources
to the CBD (2011)
Unproblematic No NA
Report CBD COP 11 (2012) Problematic Yes Ambiguous
Report CBD COP 12 (2014) Ambiguous No NA
Gangwon Declaration CBD COP 12 (2014) NA No NA
Global Biodiversity Outlook 4 (2014) Problematic Yes Challenging
Opening statement to CBD COP 13 (2016) NA No NA
Cancun Declaration CBD COP 13 (2016) Ambiguous Yes Unchallenging
Note: Column A. “Problematic”: Growth is explicitly presumed to have either a negative, or potentially negative, impact on biodiversity. “Unproblematic”: Growth
is explicitly presumed to have either no impact or a positive impact on biodiversity. “Ambiguous”: The position is either internally contradictory, sometimes seen as
problematic sometimes not, or too vague to be determined. “NA”: Not assessed. Column C. “Challenging”: Decoupling economic growth from biodiversitylossis
explicitly presumed to be complicated, difficult, or potentially impossible. “Unchallenging”: Decoupling economic growth from biodiversity loss is explicitly presumed
to be easy and/or automatic. “Ambiguous”: The position on decoupling is either internally contradictory, sometimes seen as problematic sometimes not, or too vague to
be determined. “NA”: The relationship was not assessed if the document did not mention decoupling. For methods and full results of the review of policy documents, see
8of18 OTERO ET AL.
TABLE 2 Summary of results from policy analysis (Table 1)
A. View on the relationship between economic
growth and biodiversity
B. Is decoupling
C. View on decoupling economic growth from
biodiversity loss
ematic Ambiguous NA Yes No Challenging
enging Ambiguous NA
Policy documents on
sustainability (7)
2 1 4 0523 2 0 2
Policy documents on
biodiversity (21)
4 4 11 2 7 14 4 1 2 14
(Martinez-Alier, 2002). Caps could be complemented by spe-
cific moratoria on resource extraction in highly sensitive bio-
diverse regions—so-called “resource sanctuaries” (Videira,
Schneider, Sekulova, & Kallis, 2014)—and by limiting the
expansion of large infrastructures, which not only enhance
the extractive capacity of nations (Krausmann et al., 2017)
but also represent a direct threat to biodiversity (Ibisch et al.,
2016; Maxwell et al., 2016; Table S5 in SM2). The global
map of roadless areas is a cost-effective means for guiding
this endeavor, as it highlights the potential of, and the urgent
need for, protecting key biodiversity refugia from road expan-
sion (Ibisch et al., 2016).
When designing policies for a prosperous way down, one
core concern is what would happen to employment. Lack of
growth in growth-based economies increases unemployment
and causes instability. But high unemployment is not a nec-
essary outcome of an economic slowdown: 1% less growth
in Japan or Austria leads to only 0.15% more unemploy-
ment, compared to 0.85% in Spain (Ball, Leigh, & Loun-
gani, 2013). Employment policies matter. They can redirect
economic activities toward employment-rich sectors, such as
health and caring services (D’Alisa et al., 2014). Sharing work
by reducing working hours can increase the number of new
jobs even if productivity and growth stall (Kallis, Kalush,
O’Flynn, Rossiter, & Ashford, 2013). Under certain condi-
tions, shorter working time is linked to lower carbon emis-
sions and other environmental pressures harmful to biodi-
versity (Knight, Rosa, & Schor, 2013; Shao & Rodríguez-
Labajos, 2016). Biodiversity benefits from reducing work-
ing hours are therefore likely (Table S5 in SM2), even if
they may depend on complementary policies ensuring that
the time liberated from work will not be directed to resource-
intensive consumption (Kallis et al., 2013). Work sharing
schemes could be applied in combination with taxation linked
to resource use and environmental and biodiversity impacts.
Simulations suggest that with a high enough carbon tax,
Canada could reduce its carbon emissions by 80% in 2035;
while income would contract to the levels of 1976, employ-
ment would not decrease if working hours were to be reduced
to one fourth of their present level (Victor, 2012).
Another concern is that without economic growth inequal-
ity may rise. However, simulations suggest that there is no
necessary link between a slowing down of the economy and
rising inequality (Jackson & Victor, 2016). Redistributive
policies such as high taxes on high-income brackets, speci-
fied ratios for the spread between minimum and maximum
salaries, and capital or inheritance taxes can reduce inequal-
ity (Piketty, 2014). Without growth in GDP or population,
and with an ageing population, societies also face the problem
of covering pensions, health care, and education costs. How-
ever, the presence of quality health and education systems in
middle-income countries suggests that it is possible to secure
good public services at levels of GDP much lower than those
of today’s rich countries (Gough, 2017).
Relocalizing the economy (Latouche, 2009), namely short-
ening the distances between production and consumption, is
a degrowth principle important for biodiversity conservation,
even if local production does not always mean lower environ-
mental impacts (Theurl, Haberl, Erb, & Lindenthal, 2014).
Supporting local and regional agroecological management
practices that enhance the diversity and services of ecosys-
tems while ensuring food sovereignty could reduce biodiver-
sity pressures from food production (Altieri, 2004; Infante
Amate & González de Molina, 2013; Kovács-Hostyánszki
et al., 2017; Table S5 in SM2). While small-scale farming sys-
tems may be less productive in GDP terms, they are employ-
ment rich and often provide higher social value for local com-
munities (Jackson, 2011).
Compact urban planning could help limit the physical
expansion of cities (Wächter, 2013; Xue, 2014), reducing the
ongoing loss and fragmentation of periurban habitats. Peri-
urban croplands—saved from urbanization—could produce
food to feed city inhabitants, thus reducing the displacement
of agricultural land-use change to remote biodiverse regions
(Marques et al., 2019; Table S5 in SM2). Top-down national
land-use planning must enforce limits to urban expansion.
However, bottom-up planning schemes are also needed that
take into account the regional context, where stakeholders can
redesign housing arrangements to solve housing needs while
restoring ecosystems (Lietaert, 2010). Finally, labeling based
on a product’s full biodiversity footprint along international
trade routes has the potential to mitigate the impacts of
consumption (Lenzen et al., 2012). Together with govern-
mental control of advertisement and the use of public media
Measures such as a reduction of working hours and
resource caps may benefit biodiversity, but their
implementation faces several challenges. Social and
cultural barriers are to be expected since voluntary
simplicity goes against the prevalent imaginary of
unlimited growth. However, evidence suggests that
the desire for more personal time, environmental
and ethical factors, and health reasons motivate peo-
ple to seek a simpler life, mostly by working less
(Alexander & Ussher, 2012). The greatest obstacle
for this is the structural incentive to overwork. More-
over, modern societies require material growth in
order to preserve the socioeconomic and political sta-
tus quo (Rosa, Dörre, & Lessenich, 2017). There-
fore, calls to go beyond economic growth in bio-
diversity policies will also find political and legal
barriers. By questioning the assumption that eco-
nomic growth is necessary to ensure prosperity, such
calls aim at “repoliticizing” the sustainability debate
(Asara, Otero, Demaria, & Corbera, 2015). The polit-
ical confrontation between alternative societal mod-
els can be an opportunity to expand the solutions
space for biodiversity conservation. Whether alter-
native ideas will permeate national and international
legal frameworks influencing the planet’s biodiver-
sity will ultimately depend on the ability of politi-
cal actors to forge new consensus beyond economic
growth. Finally, corporate barriers should not be
neglected. Industries tend to endorse policy initia-
tives that secure growing access to resources from
global markets, thus against the rationale of resource
caps. The European Union’s Raw Materials Initia-
tive is a good example of this (European Commis-
sion, 2019). Furthermore, revenue is a basic driver
of corporate profit. Faced with societal and political
decisions for reduced resource use, companies may
generate signals that act as disincentives for further
resource savings. For instance, when domestic water
usage in Barcelona dropped to less than 120 liters
per person per day by 2008 (Tello & Ostos, 2012),
the average billing increased by 60% in the following
5 years. The private company in charge of domestic
water supply provided economic viability reasons to
justify the fee increases (Cordero, 2013).
to provide information on the impacts of products, labeling
could contribute to more biodiversity-friendly consumption
Many of these proposed policies have not yet been widely
tried nor analyzed, so it is uncertain that they would have the
posited effects. The systematic investigation of their prospects
constitutes fertile ground for future research.
A range of feasible actions at multiple scales could put
humanity on a biodiversity-friendly pathway while enhanc-
ing overall prosperity (Table S5 in SM2). To support this
transition, we recommend that in the negotiations of the next
CBD COPs and in future assessments of the Intergovernmen-
tal Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem
Services (IPBES), endorsement of economic growth is
replaced by at least a precautionary recognition that it can
be problematic for biodiversity. A significant step in this
direction has been made in the IPBES Global Assessment
Report, by acknowledging the need to move away from the
current growth paradigm (IPBES 2019b, p. 19).
At the same time, both CBD and IPBES could act as lab-
oratories where alternative policies are designed, tested, and
evaluated through enhanced cooperation between countries,
the private sector, and the civil society. Scenario development
can play a critical role in this endeavor. Participatory scenario
development is suited to overcome the societal addiction to
growth as it allows exploring policy options toward a positive
vision of a shared future and the commitments necessary
to get there (Costanza et al., 2017). Up to now, biodiversity
scenarios take growth forecasts as given and search for
policy options that can reduce biodiversity loss while the
economy grows. Inspired by van den Bergh (2017), we
propose here a different approach: first set tight biodiversity
targets and then examine how different economic scenarios
and conservation policies could accomplish them. This might
involve positive, zero, or negative growth. There is no reason
to restrict biodiversity policies only to those compatible with
positive economic (GDP) growth, as GDP is far from a robust
indicator of social welfare (van den Bergh, 2009). Chapter
5 of the IPBES Global Assessment is a good example of the
direction this could take (Chan et al., 2019).
The biodiversity scenarios currently under development
within IPBES use the shared socioeconomic pathways
(SSP) as a basis (Rosa et al., 2017). SSP are descriptions of
alternative societal trajectories in demographic, economic,
technological, governance, and environmental factors, which
serve as inputs to models of climate and other environ-
mental changes (O’Neill et al., 2017). Up to now, all SSPs
10 of 18 OTERO ET AL.
FIGURE 2Opening up scenario development for biodiversity
conservation. SSPs are descriptions of alternative societal trajectories
which are used in scenario development for biodiversity. Here,
currently available SSPs (SSP1 to SSP5) are displayed according to
their envisaged economic growth rates (in GDP terms) and biodiversity
conservation levels (adapted from O’Neill et al., 2017; see this
reference for a description of SSPs). Up to now, all SSPs consider
positive economic growth rates, and no pathway is included whereby
high levels of biodiversity conservation can be achieved with low or
negative economic growth. To explore this opportunity space (wider
circle in Yaxis), we propose to add a new SSP called “beyond
economic growth” (see Box 2)
consider positive economic growth rates, and no pathway is
included whereby high levels of social and environmental
sustainability can be achieved with low growth (O’Neill et al.,
2017). Based on these authors, Figure 2 situates the available
SSPs in the bidimensional space “biodiversity conservation”
vs. “economic growth” (SSP1 to SSP5). We propose to add a
new SSP to examine low, zero, and negative growth pathways
compatible with ambitious biodiversity targets and enhanced
well-being (SSP0). This effort could build on already existing
scenarios such as the “Great Transition”, which assumes
that GDP flattens while well-being and ecosystem services
increase (Great Transition Initiative, 2019; Kubiszewski,
Costanza, Anderson, & Sutton, 2017). Box 2 synthesizes our
vision for the SSP0.
The use of SSP0 in the IPBES Expert Group on Scenar-
ios and Models could strengthen the discussion on biodiver-
sity policy options. The participatory construction of visions
for nature already undertaken by this group echoes calls
to replace the pursuit of GDP growth with new well-being
paradigms (Lundquist, Pereira, Alkemade, & den Belder,
2017, p. 21). Yet low, zero, and negative growth pathways
have not yet been used in new modeling efforts (Kim et al.,
2018), although interest in doing so has been expressed in
some regional assessments (IPBES, 2018b).
The collective awareness of the human embedded-
ness in the Earth’s life network reaches a tipping
point. This is triggered by an accumulation of evi-
dence on the social and ecological costs of our devel-
opment trajectory, as well as by an active inner
seeking of genuine well-being by individuals and
countries throughout the world. As a result, human-
ity initiates a transition to a smaller global econ-
omy in material and energetic terms that is able to
redistribute wealth and provide enhanced prosper-
ity. The current emphasis on achieving resource effi-
ciency is complemented by the recognition of the
need to reduce the overall amount of materials and
energy used by the economy. Investment in tech-
nology is directed toward liberating time for intro-
spection and learning, not to fuel production and
consumption. The demographic transition is accel-
erated by educational and health investments, curv-
ing global population growth. Changing social pri-
orities substitute the consensus around the need for
GDP growth for a set of sustainable well-being indi-
cators, which is adopted by the international com-
munity (e.g., in relation to the sustainable devel-
opment goals). Overall, these changes open up the
range of potential biodiversity policies, as these are
not constrained anymore to only those compatible
with positive GDP growth rates (Figure 2). Scenario
development within international biodiversity poli-
cies thus explores a broader range of institutional
and economic reforms that could accomplish ambi-
tious biodiversity and well-being targets. By acting
as laboratories of new policies, they help to ease the
resistance of vested interests against such a transi-
tion. New policies include resource caps, resource
sanctuaries, limits to large infrastructures, redistribu-
tive green taxation, work reduction schemes, agroe-
cological development, compact urban planning and
restrictions to advertising. Time liberated from pro-
duction and consumption of resource intensive prod-
ucts is invested in meditation and self-awareness.
This shift improves overall health levels and deep-
ens the collective awareness of oneness between
humans and nature, leading to a positive feed-
back between human development and ecosystem
OTERO ET AL.11 of 18
1950 1954 1958 1962 1966 1970 1974 1978 1982 1986 1990 1994 1998 2002
GDP pc GPI pc
1840 1860 1880 1900 19 20 1940 1960 1980 2000 2020
GDP (2012 US$, billions)
(a) (b)
FIGURE 3(a) U.S. genuine progress indicator (GPI) and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, in 2000 U.S.$ (yearly data for 1950–2004).
Source: Talberth, Cobb, and Slattery (2007), U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (2005), and United Nations (n.d.). (b) U.S. GDP, in billions of 2012
U.S.$ (decennial data for 1850–1920, yearly data for 1929–2018). Source: Barro and Ursúa (2010), United Nations (n.d.), U.S. Bureau of Economic
Analysis (2019), and U.S. Census Bureau (1990). (c) Mean species abundance in the U.S. Historical trend (data for years 1850, 1900, 1910, 1940,
1980, and 2015) and projections (2050) for different SSP. Source: Data on historical trend and projections for SSP1, SSP3, and SSP5 were provided
by J.P. Hilbers, R. Alkemade, and A.M. Schipper. The value for SSP0 is our speculation (see Section 6 for details on SSP0). See SM3 for details on
figures’ sources and methods.
In this endeavor, the use of an integrated set of metrics
composed of economic measures, social indicators, biophys-
ical indicators (including biodiversity), subjective measures
of well-being, and composite measures of several indicators
(Costanza et al., 2014, 2016; O’Neill, 2012; O’Neill, Fan-
ning, Lamb, & Steinberger, 2018; Czech et al., 2005) would
encourage a better understanding of the relationships between
economic activity, social well-being, and biodiversity. The
fear that achieving ambitious conservation targets is likely to
diminish GDP could be calmed by visualizing stable or even
positive trends in more robust measures of well-being such
as the genuine progress indicator (GPI) (Kubiszewski et al.,
2013; Talberth & Weisdorf 2017; see Figure 3; Box 3). In
addition, it would be important to account for ecosystems
positive contributions to well-being in new metrics where sus-
tainable and equitable prosperity is the explicit goal (Costanza
et al., 2016). The global transdisciplinary research effort on
nature’s contributions to people (Díaz et al., 2018) offers a
valuable resource for advancing this work. While changing
modeling paradigms is not changing policy, adding an SSP0
to current scenario analyses could contribute to overcome the
growth dependency of countries and help them shift their
political economic priorities toward better biodiversity and
well-being policies.
12 of 18 OTERO ET AL.
Whereas U.S. GDP per capita experienced an almost
continuous upward trend since 1950, GPI per capita
increased steadily until about 1978 and flattened
out (Talberth, Cobb, & Slattery, 2007; Kubiszewski
et al., 2013; Figure 3a). Economic growth seems
to bring about an improvement in social well-being
but only up to a certain threshold. Instead, there
is no “threshold” for biodiversity degradation. The
number of threatened and endangered species has
increased sharply since the 1970s (Czech et al.,
2005) and the mean species abundance has contin-
uously declined over the period 1850–2015 along-
side a growing economy (Figures 3b and 3c). The
evidence presented in this paper suggests a strong
connection between endless growth and biodiver-
sity loss. Moreover, the growing economy is reduc-
ing ecosystem’s contribution to well-being (Costanza
et al., 2016; Kubiszewski et al., 2013). Projections for
MSA in 2050 using currently available SSPs show
that, at best, we could keep biodiversity degradation
at levels similar to those of 2015 (SSP1, Figure 3c).
SSP1 is a green growth scenario that relies either on
negative emissions technologies—unproven and dan-
gerous at scale—or unfeasible decarbonisation rates
(Doelman et al., 2018; Hickel & Kallis, 2019). An
alternative option to SSP1 is to first set biodiver-
sity targets and then examine which combinations
of economic growth and conservation policies could
accomplish them. If, for example, by 2050 we were
to recover MSA to 1940 levels (73%; SSP0 in Fig-
ure 3c), what GDP growth rate would be consis-
tent with such target? What could be the combined
contribution of conservation policies like resource
caps, land-use regulations, and agroecological devel-
opment schemes? How would GPI and other mea-
sures of well-being react to redistributive green tax-
ation, work-sharing programs, and a recovery of
Economic growth and biodiversity loss are linked via a set
of mechanisms triggered by increased resource use. While
absolute decoupling remains a theoretical possibility, it has
not occurred so far and seems unlikely to occur in the near
future in the absence of major transformations in the eco-
nomic system. By contrast, global biodiversity and sustain-
ability policies generally advocate economic growth and have
ambiguous positions regarding its effects on biodiversity. This
reflects the widespread assumption that growth is needed
to secure prosperity, despite increasing evidence that, under
certain conditions, high levels of social well-being may be
achievable without—or beyond—growth. Scenario develop-
ment can play a critical role in shifting away from the cur-
rent development model, whereby positive visions of a shared
future are collectively designed. In particular, we propose that
a new SSP is introduced that examines low, zero, or negative
growth pathways compatible with ambitious biodiversity and
well-being targets. Using this SSP0 within IPBES—which
will advise the CBD during the adoption and implementation
of a post-2020 framework for biodiversity—has the potential
to open up the range of policy options beyond mere projec-
tions of the status quo. The discussion on crucial aspects of
this framework—new targets and indicators, mainstreaming
of biodiversity across all economic sectors and transformative
change—can benefit from both the evidence and the alterna-
tive scenarios presented in this paper.
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3 “The Role of the International Economy”).
2The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. United Nations
Conference on Environment and Development, 1992 (principle 12).
3Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and
Poverty Eradication. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Program,
2011 (p. 16). This document is not included in our policy review (see
4Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 27 July 2012.United
Nations, A/RES/66/288 (p. 2).
5Resolution adopted by the General Assembly on 25 September 2015.
United Nations, A/RES/70/1 (goal 8).
6Cancun Declaration on Mainstreaming the Conservation and Sustain-
able Use of Biodiversity for Well-Being. Cancun, Mexico: 13th meeting
of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diver-
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7Global Biodiversity Outlook 4. Montréal: Secretariat of the Convention
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8Decision adopted by the Conference of the Parties to the Convention
on Biological Diversity at its Tenth Meeting. Convention on Biological
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This paper emerges from a workshop on degrowth and bio-
diversity conservation that took place at the 27th ICCB
and 4th ECCB in Montpellier, France (August 2015). G.K.
acknowledges support under the “María de Maeztu” Unit
of Excellence grant (MDM-2015-0552) from the Spanish
OTERO ET AL.13 of 18
Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness. C.P., K.-H.E., and
H.H. gratefully acknowledge funding by the Austrian Sci-
ence Funds (P29130-G27), by the EU FP7 (ROBIN, 283093),
and by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (LUBIO). H.H.
gratefully acknowledges funding from the European Research
Council under the EU’s H2020 Research and Innovation Pro-
gramme (MAT_STOCKS, 741950). S.P. is grateful to Cen-
tre de Recerca Matemàtica for its hospitality. B.R.-L. grate-
fully acknowledges funding and support from the EU’s H2020
Research and Innovation Programme (CLAMOR, 797444;
COUPLED, 765408). G.P. was funded by the FP7 project EU
BON (308454) and is currently funded by sDiv. We thank
I. Kubiszewski for providing the GPI data, as well as J.P.
Hilbers, R. Alkemade and A.M. Schipper for the MSA data.
The advices of B. Czech and R. Costanza are also appreciated.
We are grateful to the in-depth comments from three anony-
mous reviewers and the editors.
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Additional supporting information may be found online in the
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How to cite this article: Otero I, Farrell KN,
Pueyo S, et al. Biodiversity policy beyond eco-
nomic growth. Conservation Letters. 2020;e12713.
... However, cases of absolute decoupling are rare. They are related to low economic growth and the increase in imports of material-intensive goods (Otero et al., 2020). They also occur over short periods. ...
... This finding is consistent with the approach of post-growth authors (e.g., Daly, 1974Daly, , 2018Kallis et al., 2018). Contrary to the post-growth view, the environmental Kuznets curve implicitly suggests that absolute decoupling is possible (Otero et al., 2020). ...
... This argument contradicts the environmental Kuznets curve, which suggests that the negative effects of economic growth on biodiversity increase only up to a point, after which they decrease. This decline occurs because high economic growth raises concern for the conservation and protection of biodiversity (Dietz & Adger, 2003;Otero et al., 2020). ...
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National and international organizations have introduced policies aimed at sustainable development. These policies are designed to encourage sustainable forms of business to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda. Regional inequalities in sustainable development may be exacerbated by disparate levels of innovation. This paper analyzes the variations between clusters of countries according to the degree to which they have achieved the SDGs and their levels of innovation facilitators. Two types of analyses were employed. First, cluster analysis was used to examine changes in groups of regions with similar innovation characteristics between 2015 and 2020. Data for 122 countries were gathered from the World Bank, the SDG Index, and the Global Innovation Index. Second, multiple linear regression analysis was used to assess the power of the variables in the model to explain the level of sustainable development. The results reveal four clusters (low, medium, high, and very high innovative facilitators and sustainable development), as well as movements between those clusters from 2015 to 2020. The multiple linear regression analysis shows that the variables have explanatory power with respect to the dependent variable of sustainable development. This analysis also reveals different degrees of importance of the variables for each cluster. The findings highlight the need to consider the limitations of economic growth in terms of innovation facilitators to promote sustainable development. If policymakers recognize the limitations of economic growth and the physical ecosystem, degradation of the environment can be avoided, even when there is innovation. Global and individual social welfare can thus be ensured. This study offers valuable insights into how to achieve sustainable development through innovation facilitators by providing in-depth knowledge of the individual characteristics of innovation systems and considering the limitations of economic growth.
... At the same time, other critical developmental indicators such as GDP, income distribution, and population are, in fact, not modelled but are pre-defined by the underlying assumptions of scenario narratives and therefore do not change due to climate impacts and changes to energy supply. Moreover, the scope of narratives considered in existing scenarios is limited to the narratives that combine social and environmental sustainability with high economic growth , while narratives of ambitious sustainability at low economic growth are not considered (Otero et al., 2020). As a result, existing scenarios leave much of the possible scenario space unexplored. ...
... Meanwhile, the other side of the debate, represented by the post-growth (Jackson, 2019), degrowth and sufficiency (Millward-Hopkins et al., 2020) literature, is still omitted from the scenarios of successful mitigation produced by IAMs, despite the fact that these narratives have been common-place in the climate mitigation debate since "The Limits to Growth" was published in 1972. Moreover, multiple variants of conceptual low-growth scenarios have been developed that could be extended into a climate mitigation scenario, such as the "Post-growth" scenario by Nieto et al. (Nieto et al., 2020), the "Beyond economic growth" scenario by Otero et al (Otero et al., 2020), and the "Degrowth" scenario by D'Alessandro et al. (D'Alessandro et al., 2020). ...
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There is broad scientific consensus that to avoid catastrophic climate change, global warming should be stabilised well below 2 °C compared to the pre-industrial period. Alarmingly, the window of opportunity to bring down greenhouse gas emissions in line with this objective is rapidly closing. Existing climate mitigation literature agrees that the time when gradual emission reductions could address the issue of climate change is over, and that nothing short of a profound transformation of the energy system, economy, and lifestyles is required to accomplish the necessary emission reductions. Multiple scenarios have been produced by integrated assessment models (IAMs) that explore different mitigation avenues to accomplish a low-carbon energy transition. In this thesis, I analyse whether existing scenarios adequately represent biophysical constraints to the transition. Moreover, I explore if existing scenarios consider the full range of mitigation options to reduce emissions, and whether the scenarios assume adequate energy to enable a flourishing life for all. Finally, I discuss potential implications that a transition to a low-carbon energy system may have for the economy. Existing mitigation scenarios estimate emissions and energy pathways that would be compatible with limiting global warming to 1.5‒2 °C. However, at present, these scenarios do not estimate the amount of energy needed to build and maintain a low-carbon energy system, nor the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that would be associated with such a transition. This is a major gap in the literature, as it remains unclear how much of the remaining carbon budget would be tied to the transition, and how much of it would effectively remain for society to produce goods and provide services using fossil fuels. I calculate that the emissions associated with the transition could range from 70 GtCO2 to 395 GtCO2, with a cross-scenario average of 195 GtCO2. This corresponds to approximately 0.1 °C of additional global warming. I show that the transition could drive up the energy requirements of the energy system and may require a decrease in per capita net energy use of 10%‒34% during the initial push for the transition. Nonetheless, in contrast to what has been argued in previous studies, a low-carbon energy transition would not necessarily lead to a decline in the Energy-Return-on-Energy-Invested (EROI) of the overall energy system in the long-term. I conclude that a continued growth in energy use may be incompatible with the goal of avoiding dangerous climate change. Although use of negative emissions technologies may unlock additional energy from fossil fuels, the overall increase in available energy may be exaggerated in existing scenarios, due to overestimation of realistic mitigation potential and disregard of the high energy requirements of these technologies. Furthermore, use of negative emissions technologies may decrease the efficiency of energy provisioning to society, leading to increased economic expenditure for energy. The conclusion that a low-carbon energy transition may limit the prospects of growth in energy use raises concern, as energy is a key requirement to produce goods and services. How do existing mitigation scenarios address the socioeconomic implications of this energy constraint? I find that existing mitigation scenarios perpetuate the striking inequalities of energy use between the Global North and Global South. Lack of equitable convergence is further underlined by the scenarios that assume negative emissions. Although these scenarios allow for higher global energy use, the additional energy is overwhelmingly allocated to the countries in the Global North, which have the highest per-capita energy consumption. Moreover, existing mitigation scenarios do not consider that limits to energy growth may have a negative effect on the economy. On the contrary, mitigation scenarios typically assume economic growth is to increase in the future, despite lower energy use. To square economic growth with decreasing energy use, mitigation scenarios assume rapid and unprecedented improvements in the efficiency of energy use in the global economy. However, feasibility of accomplishing such improvements has been fiercely contested. To explore if there are alternative pathways to accomplishing a low-carbon energy transition, I outline a series of scenarios that assume lower rates of global economic growth. I demonstrate that lower economic growth makes it possible to accomplish sufficient emission reductions with more moderate energy efficiency improvements and a slower build-up of a low-carbon energy system. I discuss the concerns regarding negative implications that lower growth may have on social wellbeing and the ability to pay for the transition. I argue that post-growth policies focused on wealth redistribution may lead to desirable social outcomes without compromising the aim of avoiding dangerous climate change.
... Les menaces directes sont synonymes de sources de stress et de pressions immédiates. Les menaces peuvent être passées (historiques, peu susceptibles de se reproduire ou historiques, susceptibles de se reproduire), en cours et/ou susceptibles de se produire dans le futur ». (Salafsky et al., 2008, p. 2 ;UICN, 2022b Le PIB, c'est-à-dire la taille de l'économie qui dépend en partie de la taille de la population, est également un moteur indirect clé de la perte de biodiversité au niveau national, par le biais d'une utilisation accrue des ressources (naturelles) (Otero et al., 2020). Cela est vrai même si (une part croissante) des importations contribue à la croissance du PIB et non aux impacts sur la biodiversité au niveau national. ...
Dans cette publication, nous faisons le point sur les connaissances et le savoir-faire générés par la première étape du projet, consistant à évaluer les principales menaces qui pèsent sur la biodiversité et à fournir des éléments de réponse aux questions spécifiques suivantes : comment les principales menaces pour la biodiversité ont-elles été identifiées et hiérarchisées, et comment les secteurs associés ont-ils été sélectionnés dans chaque pays ? Les différentes méthodes ont-elles coïncidé dans l’identification des principales menaces ? Quelles en sont les forces, limites et complémentarités respectives ? Quelles recommandations pouvons-nous formuler à l’adresse d’autres acteurs (gouvernements, ONG, donateurs tels que les banques multilatérales ou bilatérales de développement) désirant entamer des démarches similaires avec le secteur privé au niveau national ? Dans chaque pays de BIODEV2030, trois méthodes principales ont généralement été combinées pour identifier et hiérarchiser les principales menaces pour la biodiversité, puis sélectionner des (sous)-secteurs: revue de la littérature et des sources de données existantes, métrique STAR. Des résultats de ces évaluations et des processus de discussion qui ont suivi, nous tirons une liste de 12 recommendations clés.
... The humanity's demand on natural resources is increasingly exceeding Earth's biological rate of regeneration, inducing a growing number of social, economic, environmental and health crises (Bordo et al., 2001;Otero et al., 2020). The most recent and striking example is the Covid-19 pandemic , a global health crisis that in addition to the worldwide loss of human lives, constitutes an unprecedented challenge to our globalized societies (OECD, 2020). ...
... The idea of increased investments into biodiversity can translate into either direct funding for biodiversity, elimination of subsidies with adverse impacts on biodiversity and into setting-up public works programmes with socio-environmental objectives (Hujo, Braumann, and UNRISD 2016). A fundamental reorientation of economies away from continuous growth and a reduction of overall resource consumption has been identified as a necessary means to reducing the overall pressure on biodiversity (Otero et al. 2020). ...
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Although science widely supports moving towards transformative change through integrating biodiversity into decision-making, and arguing for the essential role of public authorities, it falls short on suggesting specific means to that end. This article considers the EU’s approach to fostering the green transition as part of its post-pandemic recovery while exploring how the integration of biodiversity considerations could be integrated into decision-making. The rationale and implementation of the EU’s do no harm principle is examined, which functioned as a condition for public funds. The analysis shows the mentioned EU policy innovation has a very limited impact. The role of do no harm has been limited to validating, rather than initiating policy measures. It has failed to influence the design of measures such that they would benefit biodiversity and not encouraged synergies between the climate and biodiversity goals. Based on the experience with do no harm as well as the more focussed regulatory action directed at the goal of climate neutrality, the article lists key steps for fostering biodiversity integration in policy planning and policy implementation. These steps encompass substantive and procedural approaches and aim for deliberation, target-setting, tracking, verification and screening. There is considerable scope for robust regulation to play a role in support of the biodiversity goals alongside transformative bottom-up initiatives.
... In achieving this goal, it can be achieved through economic development. While in current development, many countries have adopted economic development to be able to influence the economy (Otero et al., 2020). Meanwhile, the government's participation in development will be highly essential via the formation of programs that will be implemented to the community or area as specified in the fiscal policy that is developed (Peterson, 2017). ...
Indonesia`s intensively encouraging even better economic growth by the role of labor as one of the factors of production that will affect the high level of national income in terms of quality or quantity alone. The purpose of this study is to determine the effect of labor, fiscal decentralization, and local income on the human development index mediated by the economic growth of urban and district areas in east java province in 2017-2021. The quantitative research method was applied in this research with Explanatory Research, which employs hypothesis testing to explain the correlation among independent and dependent variables. The population in this research was the City of East Java Province in the research period during the period 2017 – 2021. The determination of the number of samples used by researchers is by the census method. The data employed in this study is secondary data using panel data from 2017 – 2021. The analysis technique carried out is the Model Moderator Regression Analysis (MRA), with the help of SPSS version 26 application. This study concludes that the Labor variable has an influence on the Human Development Index, the Fiscal Decentralization variable has no effect on the Human Development Index, the Local Revenue variable has an influence on the Human Development Index, the Regional Economic Growth variable has no influence on the Human Development Index, the Labor variable has an influence on Regional Economic Growth, the variable Fiscal Decentralization has no effect on Regional Economic Growth, the Local Revenue variable has no influence on Regional Economic Growth, the Regional Economic Growth variable cannot mediate the influence of Labor on the Human Development Index, the Regional Economic Growth variable cannot mediate the effect of Fiscal Decentralization on the Human Development Index and Regional Economic Growth variables cannot mediate the effect of Local Revenue on the Human Development Index.
... Moreover, it is well-articulated that resource efficiency will help in protecting the environment (Garske et al., 2021). In other words, economic growth plays an inevitable role in worsening biodiversity loss by expanding the level of resource consumption (Otero et al., 2020). Therefore, resource overconsumption is widely recognized as a leading cause of biodiversity loss (Crenna et al., 2019). ...
Environmental practices, in particular biodiversity protection, are crucial for a business to maintain its market valuation and social license. Grounded in resource dependency theory and upper echelon theory, we test the link between board gender diversity and firm's biodiversity initiatives disclosure. Also, we investigate potential moderating variables such as eco‐innovation, resource consumption reduction, and firm's corporate social responsibility (CSR) awards that could strengthen the link between board gender diversity and corporate biodiversity initiatives disclosure. To empirically test our study's framework, we rely on a sample of non‐financial firms operating in 13 European countries between 2002 and 2021. Our estimation results show that women's presence on boards is positively associated with better disclosure of biodiversity conservation initiatives of a firm. Also, our study suggests that firm's eco‐innovation, resource usage, and CSR awards are important and moderate the board gender diversity and biodiversity conservation disclosure nexus. Our results hold to a battery of sensitivity analyses.
... Besides the socio-economic aspects, it is necessary to consider the negative impacts of forest-based bioeconomy on biodiversity (Apostolopoulou et al. 2014;Otero et al. 2020) and a decreased capacity of forests to absorb CO 2 (BIOS 2017b; Kellokumpu 2021). As shown above, the demand for wood processing is increasing (Luke 2019). ...
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Bioeconomy is portrayed by the EU and several national governments as a central element contributing to sustainability strategies and a post-fossil transformation. This paper critically engages with extractivist patterns and tendencies in the forest sector as one of the main bio-based sectors. It argues that despite the official endorsement of circularity and renewability in the forest-based bioeconomy, current developments of modern bioeconomy might threaten sustainability prospects. The Finnish forest-based bioeconomy and one of its well-known showcase projects, the bioproduct mill (BPM) in the municipality of Äänekoski, serve as a case study in this paper. The forest-based bioeconomy in Finland is scrutinized as a potential continuation or consolidation of extractivist patterns, rather than an alternative to these tendencies. The lens of extractivism is applied to identify possible extractivist and unsustainable characteristics of the case study which are discussed along the following dimensions: (A) degree of export orientation and processing, (B) the scale, scope, and speed of extraction, (C) socio-economic and environmental impacts, and (D) subjective relations to nature. The extractivist lens provides analytical value to scrutinizing practices, principles, and dynamics of the contested political field and vision of bioeconomy in the Finnish forest sector. The analysis results in a discussion of latent and manifest social, political, and ecological contradictions within the forest-based bioeconomy in Finland. Based on its analytical lens and the empirical case of the BPM in Äänekoski, it can be concluded that extractivist patterns and tendencies are perpetuated within the Finnish forest-based bioeconomy.
This chapter considers the case of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh—the largest mangrove ecosystem in the world and a hotspot of biodiversity resources—to explore the underlying causes behind the continuous and unabated loss of those resources. The chapter also seeks viable means or measures for halting the degradation process, revitalising the conservation process and ensuring the sustainability of the resources. By challenging the mainstream approaches, the chapter presents an alternative analysis to the sustainability of biodiversity resource management by means of a harmonious human–nature relationship. The findings exhibit that the fragile institutions, lax regulatory regime, nature of political settlement, unequal power sharing arrangements and the exclusion of Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities (IPLCs) in the conservation framework cause the degradation of biodiversity resources of the Sundarbans. The chapter, at its core, argues that the well-being of the biodiverse ecosystem essentially depends on human sociality constructed by norms, values and other formal and informal institutions.
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Humankind faces a Triple Challenge: averting dangerous climate change, reversing biodiversity loss, and supporting the wellbeing of a growing population. Action to address each of these issues is inherently dependent on action to address the others. Local, national, and international policy goals on climate change, biological diversity, and human wellbeing have been set. Current implementation measures are insufficient to meet these goals, but the Triple Challenge can still be met if governments, corporations, and other stakeholders take a holistic perspective on management of land and waters. To inform this effort, we identify a set of priority policy responses drawn from recent international assessments that, whilst not being the only potential solutions, can form the core of such a holistic approach. We do this through an iterative process using three methodological approaches: (i) structured literature review; (ii) deliberative expert analysis; and (iii) wider consultation, before synthesizing into this paper. Context-appropriate implementation of responses will be needed to capitalize on potential policy synergies and to ensure that unavoidable trade-offs between management of land and waters for climate mitigation, biodiversity restoration, and human wellbeing outcomes are made explicit. We also set out four approaches to managing trade-offs that can promote fair and just transitions: (1) social and economic policy pivoting towards ‘inclusive wealth’; (2) more integrated policymaking across the three areas; (3) ‘Triple Challenge dialogues’ among state and non-state actors; and (4) a new research portfolio to underpin (1), (2), and (3). Key policy insights: • Multiple recent global assessments provide a strong scientific basis for action on each of the three aspects of the Triple Challenge – climate, biodiversity, and human wellbeing (with a focus on food and nutrition) – but they do not provide an integrated perspective on how to address them simultaneously. • Synthesis of these assessments identifies a portfolio of five core policy responses that deliver across the Triple Challenge: (i) rapidly cutting fossil fuel use; (ii) promoting sustainable, healthy diets; (iii) increasing food productivity and cutting food loss and waste; (iv) implementing nature-based solutions at scale; and (v) strengthening governance and management of land and waters. • Even with widespread implementation of that portfolio, trade-offs between climate, biodiversity, and wellbeing outcomes might be unavoidable. Policymakers, researchers, and other actors should explicitly identify such trade-offs, and take steps to ensure management priorities are set through equitable dialogue processes informed by integrated research.
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The notion of green growth has emerged as a dominant policy response to climate change and ecological breakdown. Green growth theory asserts that continued economic expansion is compatible with our planet’s ecology, as technological change and substitution will allow us to absolutely decouple GDP growth from resource use and carbon emissions. This claim is now assumed in national and international policy, including in the Sustainable Development Goals. But empirical evidence on resource use and carbon emissions does not support green growth theory. Examining relevant studies on historical trends and model-based projections, we find that: (1) there is no empirical evidence that absolute decoupling from resource use can be achieved on a global scale against a background of continued economic growth, and (2) absolute decoupling from carbon emissions is highly unlikely to be achieved at a rate rapid enough to prevent global warming over 1.5°C or 2°C, even under optimistic policy conditions. We conclude that green growth is likely to be a misguided objective, and that policymakers need to look toward alternative strategies.
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Biodiversity and ecosystem service losses driven by land-use change are expected to intensify as a growing and more affluent global population requires more agricultural and forestry products, and teleconnections in the global economy lead to increasing remote environmental responsibility. By combining global biophysical and economic models, we show that, between the years 2000 and 2011, overall population and economic growth resulted in increasing total impacts on bird diversity and carbon sequestration globally, despite a reduction of land-use impacts per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). The exceptions were North America and Western Europe, where there was a reduction of forestry and agriculture impacts on nature accentuated by the 2007–2008 financial crisis. Biodiversity losses occurred predominantly in Central and Southern America, Africa and Asia with international trade an important and growing driver. In 2011, 33% of Central and Southern America and 26% of Africa’s biodiversity impacts were driven by consumption in other world regions. Overall, cattle farming is the major driver of biodiversity loss, but oil seed production showed the largest increases in biodiversity impacts. Forestry activities exerted the highest impact on carbon sequestration, and also showed the largest increase in the 2000–2011 period. Our results suggest that to address the biodiversity crisis, governments should take an equitable approach recognizing remote responsibility, and promote a shift of economic development towards activities with low biodiversity impacts. © 2019, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.
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Global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) from fossil fuels and industry increased by 2.2% per year on average between 2005 and 2015¹. Global emissions need to peak and decline rapidly to limit climate change to well below 2 °C of warming2,3, which is one of the goals of the Paris Agreement⁴. Untangling the reasons underlying recent changes in emissions trajectories is critical to guide efforts to attain those goals. Here we analyse the drivers of decreasing CO2 emissions in a group of 18 developed economies that have decarbonized over the period 2005–2015. We show that within this group, the displacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy and decreases in energy use explain decreasing CO2 emissions. However, the decrease in energy use can be explained at least in part by a lower growth in gross domestic product. Correlation analysis suggests that policies on renewable energy are supporting emissions reductions and displacing fossil fuels in these 18 countries, but not elsewhere, and that policies on energy efficiency are supporting lower energy use in these 18 countries, as well as more widely. Overall, the evidence shows that efforts to reduce emissions are underway in many countries, but these efforts need to be maintained and enhanced by more stringent policy actions to support a global peak in emissions followed by global emissions reductions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement³.
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To support the assessments of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the IPBES Expert Group on Scenarios and Models is carrying out an intercomparison of biodiversity and ecosystem services models using harmonized scenarios (BES-SIM). The goals of BES-SIM are (1) to project the global impacts of land-use and climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services (i.e., nature's contributions to people) over the coming decades, compared to the 20th century, using a set of common metrics at multiple scales, and (2) to identify model uncertainties and research gaps through the comparisons of projected biodiversity and ecosystem services across models. BES-SIM uses three scenarios combining specific Shared Socio-economic Pathways (SSPs) and Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) – SSP1xRCP2.6, SSP3xRCP6.0, SSP5xRCP8.6 – to explore a wide range of land-use change and climate change futures. This paper describes the rationale for scenario selection, the process of harmonizing input data for land use, based on the second phase of the Land Use Harmonization Project (LUH2), and climate, the biodiversity and ecosystem services models used, the core simulations carried out, the harmonization of the model output metrics, and the treatment of uncertainty. The results of this collaborative modeling project will support the ongoing global assessment of IPBES, strengthen ties between IPBES and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) scenarios and modeling processes, advise the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) on its development of a post-2020 strategic plans and conservation goals, and inform the development of a new generation of nature-centred scenarios.
It is clear that the larger the economy becomes, the more difficult it is to decouple that growth from its material impacts… This isn’t to suggest that decoupling itself is either unnecessary or impossible. On the contrary, decoupling well-being from material throughput is vital if societies are to deliver a more sustainable prosperity—for people and for the planet. (This article is posted on the Science website:
Recent high-level agreements such as the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals aim at mitigating climate change, ecological degradation and biodiversity loss while pursuing social goals such as reducing hunger or poverty. Systemic approaches bridging natural and social sciences are required to support these agendas. The surging human use of biophysical resources (materials, energy) results from the pursuit of social and economic goals, while driving global environmental change. Sociometabolic research links the study of socioeconomic processes with biophysical processes and thus plays a pivotal role in understanding society–nature interactions. It includes a broad range of systems science approaches for measuring, analysing and modelling of biophysical stocks and flows as well as the services they provide to society. Here we outline and systematize major sociometabolic research traditions that study the biophysical basis of economic activity: urban metabolism, the multiscale integrated assessment of societal and ecosystem metabolism, biophysical economics, material and energy flow analysis, and environmentally extended input–output analysis. Examples from recent research demonstrate strengths and weaknesses of sociometabolic research. We discuss future research directions that could also help to enrich related fields.
OPEN ACCESS, Ecological Economics Both environmental justice (EJ) and degrowth movements warn against increasing the physical size of the economy. They both oppose extractivism and debt-fuelled economies, as well as the untrammelled profit motive which fails to incorporate full environmental and social costs. They both rely upon social movements that have led scholarship in its activities and achievements, in part through challenging power structures. Therefore, some argue the existence of an obvious alliance between degrowth and EJ movements in the Global South. Yet, direct observation unveils concerns from EJ activists in the Global South about the plausibility of alliances until some significant divergences have been examined and reconciled. Activists inspire, promote and disseminate transformations that overcome several forms of domination. Their perspectives on degrowth advance informed cooperation. Our aim is thus to systematically evaluate tensions and possible analogies between the scope of action of EJ organisations operating in the Global South and the main propositions of the Degrowth movement. The argument relies on methodical scrutiny of core themes in the degrowth debate by critical thinkers in the Global South. It incorporates insights from EJ struggles in Ecuador, Italy, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uruguay, with important implications in Brazil, Mozambique, and Indonesia. The paper contributes to an exploration of the implications of the degrowth debate for the Global South, with the purpose of strengthening potential synergies, through an assertive recognition of the barriers to doing so.