Green growth forms the core of sustainable development strategies in the Nordic countries, the rest of Europe, and the rest of the world. The central assumption is that economic growth can be continued while reducing resource use, emissions, environmental pressures, and impacts. In other words, resource use and environmental pressures can be absolutely decoupled from economic growth such that climate change and biodiversity loss can be halted without impacting economic growth. However, while there are several examples of relative decoupling, evidence on absolute decoupling is scarce, and it is unclear whether absolute decoupling is possible, especially in the long term or whether it is simply a pipedream that those who see economic growth as a societal priority can hang on to.
In 2020 the Nordic Council of Ministers’ steering group for Environment and Economy commissioned a literature study on decoupling and its feasibility in a Nordic context. The project was carried out by Norion Consult (then PlanMiljø) in collaboration with Gaia. The literature study led to the report ‘Is economic growth compatible with a Sustainable Nordic Future’ published in 2021. The report assesses, evaluates, and questions the arguments and evidence for and against decoupling as a realistic long-term solution to rapidly approaching environmental crises, aiming to raise awareness amongst Nordic policymakers and others as to the key issues and uncertainties in the green growth concept. To follow up on the report and continue the dialogue concerning this important topic, a conference was commissioned by the Environment and economy steering group. The conference was carried out by Norion Consult and was held on March 23rd, 2023, with the title Decoupling in the Nordics – Is economic growth compatible with a sustainable future. The conference was planned as a hybrid, allowing for the highest possible attendance across the Nordics.