This post presents some of the main findings from a recently published study called “Growth in environmental impacts embodied in trade: Resource efficiency indicators from EXIOBASE3“. The study followed the global development of consumption-based environmental impacts between 1995 and 2011 and examined the potential for decoupling of such impacts and economic growth. The full account of environmental pressures includes energy use, GHG emissions, material use, water use and land use.

Growth of environmental pressure

Globally, the average consumption-based GHG emissions have increased from 5.5 to 6.3 tCO2eq./cap between 1995 and 2011. The growth in energy consumption and GHG emissions are proportionate. This implies that a global decarbonisation of the energy supply was not achieved in this time period.

We observe regional substantial differences in growth rates. In China, the increase in emissions outpaced (rather than decoupled) the growth in energy use due to more carbon-intensive energy sources. The strong growth in material use also provides a cause for concern for future growth. Land and water resources are more directly subject to natural constraints and their consumption have increased the least.

Consumption hot-spots

The analysis on product level can point to the product hot-spots driving the change in environmental impacts.  The figure above shows the emission growth by consumption category for OECD and non-OECD countries. In OECD countries, the most rapid growth occurs for apparel with emissions rising by 20% between 1995 and 2011. This is likely due to higher volume of cheaper goods. Non-OECD countries share the trend of rising apparel consumption and emissions, but also strong growth in manufactured products, shelter and services.

Displacement of impacts

In terms of resource efficiency (GHG emissions per unit GDP), China and India have achieved the highest relative decoupling between emissions and GDP growth, or 0.6% of emission increase for one-percent of GDP growth. The global average was 0.9%. There has been a large displacement of environmental impacts from OECD to non-OECD countriesin all years. The share of global GHG emissions displaced through trade grew from 20% in 1995 to 24% in 2011. Our publication discusses potential policy implications.


You can contact the authors directly in case of questions.

Professor Richard Wood, Professor
Digital Lab Manager Konstantin Stadler, Digital Lab Manager
PhD Candidate Moana Simas, PhD Candidate


December 19, 2017


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