chapter  2
38 Pages

Achieving Economic Growth and Reducing Environmental Pressures

In 1987, Our Common Future was one of the first books to argue that it was possible to reconcile environmental sustainability and economic growth, although at the time and since many questioned this position.2 This was despite the fact that, by the time Our Common Future was published, there were a number of significant examples of such decoupling. One of the first examples came as a result of the 1970s oil shocks, where, for seven years after 1979, the US economy grew by 27 per cent, with oil consumption falling by 17 per cent, and net oil imports from the Persian Gulf falling by 87 per cent. This led to the US oil intensity (barrels per dollar of real GDP) dropping by 35 per cent during 1977-1985.3 Since then, there have been many further decoupling successes at both global and national levels, including efforts to reduce air and water pollution, largely phasing out the use of ozone-depleting chemicals, as well as lead and asbestos, and significantly reducing sulphur dioxide (SO2) emissions. These success stories show that where there has been the political will, and the vested interests have been appropriately managed, effective and purposeful

policy responses and technical innovation have achieved significant reductions in pollution while maintaining strong economic growth.