Measuring sustainability and decoupling

A survey of methodology and practice

There is growing interest, among policymakers, for the prospects of decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation, as they have a hard time disentangling environmental policies from their economic and social impacts. Opportunities for improved environmental quality without compromising economic growth are, and always will be, welcomed. Decoupling should not be thought of as an approximation of sustainability. While decoupling indicators often give a reasonably good measure for potential or progress towards sustainability, decoupling is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for sustainability. Decoupling indicators, unlike many other statistical efforts related to the environment, are not meant to be all-inclusive or to summarize the general state of the environment. Their purpose is rather to measure countries’ progress towards mitigating or alleviating particular environmental pressures from the relevant driving forces. Decoupling indicators are primarily attractive for their simplicity. For detailed policy analysis in which sustainability is the objective, other methods are needed.