Since the 1950s the global consumption of natural resources has skyrocketed, both in magnitude and in the range of resources used. Closely coupled with emissions of greenhouse gases, land consumption, pollution of environmental media, and degradation of ecosystems, as well as with economic development, increasing resource use is a key issue to be addressed in order to keep the planet Earth in a safe and just operating space. This requires thinking about absolute reductions in resource use and associated environmental impacts, and, when put in the context of current re-focusing on economic growth at the European level, absolute decoupling, i.e., maintaining economic development while absolutely reducing resource use and associated environmental impacts. Changing behavioural, institutional and organisational structures that lock-in unsustainable resource use is, thus, a formidable challenge as existing world views, social practices, infrastructures, as well as power structures, make initiating change difficult. Hence, policy mixes are needed that will target different drivers in a systematic way. When designing policy mixes for decoupling, the effect of individual instruments on other drivers and on other instruments in a mix should be considered and potential negative effects be mitigated. This requires smart and time-dynamic policy packaging.
This Special Issue investigates the following research questions: What is decoupling and how does it relate to resource efficiency and environmental policy? How can we develop and realize policy mixes for decoupling economic development from resource use and associated environmental impacts? And how can we do this in a systemic way, so that all relevant dimensions and linkages—including across economic and social issues, such as production, consumption, transport, growth and wellbeing—are taken into account?
In addressing these questions, the overarching goals of this Special Issue are to: address the challenges related to more sustainable resource-use; contribute to the development of successful policy tools and practices for sustainable development and resource efficiency (particularly through the exploration of socio-economic, scientific, and integrated aspects of sustainable development); and inform policy debates and policy-making.
The Special Issue draws on findings from the EU and other countries to offer lessons of international relevance for policy mixes for more sustainable resource-use, with findings of interest to policy makers in central and local government and NGOs, decision makers in business, academics, researchers, and scientists.