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Limits to growth, sustainable development and environmental kuznets curves: an examination of the environmental impact of economic development

  • Matthew A. Cole

    (University of Birmingham, UK)

The nature of the relationship between economic development and the environment has been discussed since the 1960s, yet opinion remains divided. This paper provides a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between economic growth and environmental degradation and begins by reviewing the largely theoretical discussions from the 'limits to growth' debate of the 1970s to the advent of sustainable development in the 1980s. The paper then examines the recent studies that have subjected the growth - environment relationship to a statistical analysis through the estimation of environmental Kuznets curves (EKCs). The extent to which these studies indicate a decoupling of environmental damage from growth is considered and reasons are suggested why some environmental indicators appear to improve with growth whilst others deteriorate. In order to illustrate the need to interpret EKCs carefully, forecasts of global emissions are made, for the period 1990-2020, for two pollutants that EKCs suggest are being decoupled from economic growth. Policy implications are then discussed. Copyright © 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd and ERP Environment.

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Article provided by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. in its journal Sustainable Development.

Volume (Year): 7 (1999)
Issue (Month): 2 ()
Pages: 87-97

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Handle: RePEc:wly:sustdv:v:7:y:1999:i:2:p:87-97
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1002/(ISSN)1099-1719

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  1. Ekins, Paul, 1993. "'Limits to growth' and 'sustainable development': grappling with ecological realities," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 269-288, December.
  2. Ruttan, Vernon W., 1994. "Constraints on the design of sustainable systems of agricultural production," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(3), pages 209-219, August.
  3. Beckerman, Wilfred, 1992. "Economic growth and the environment: Whose growth? whose environment?," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 481-496, April.
  4. Grossman, Gene M & Krueger, Alan B, 1995. "Economic Growth and the Environment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(2), pages 353-77, May.
  5. Cole, M.A. & Rayner, A.J. & Bates, J.M., 1997. "The environmental Kuznets curve: an empirical analysis," Environment and Development Economics, Cambridge University Press, vol. 2(04), pages 401-416, November.
  6. Selden Thomas M. & Song Daqing, 1994. "Environmental Quality and Development: Is There a Kuznets Curve for Air Pollution Emissions?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 147-162, September.
  7. Shafik, Nemat, 1994. "Economic Development and Environmental Quality: An Econometric Analysis," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 46(0), pages 757-73, Supplemen.
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