According to a study conducted by the World Resources Institute (WRI), 21 countries have managed to grow their economy while downsizing their carbon footprint, with 19 of those countries even posting double-digit gains in GDP. WRI's findings are a promising sign that countries can reduce their impact on the environment without adversely affecting their economic growth.

Between 2000 and 2014, 21 countries across four continents—including the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Bulgaria, and Uzbekistan—have collectively reduced their CO2 emissions, amounting to over 1 billion metric tons on an annual basis. These countries also reported economic growth during the same period, according to data collected from BP statistical reviews and World Bank.

Slovakia, for instance, cut down greenhouse gas emissions by 22%, while achieving a GDP growth as high as 75%. The U.S., one of the two largest emitters in the world, posted a 28% gain in GDP with a 6% cut in greenhouse emissions during the same period.

image via World Resources Institute
image via World Resources Institute

According to WRI, the U.S. is the largest country included in the study where economic growth has concurred with a decline in emissions for several straight years. Between 2010 and 2012, energy-related carbon emissions declined 6% in the U.S., from 5.58 to 5.23 billion metric tons, while GDP increased 4% (from $14.8 trillion to $15.4 trillion). With the implementation of Obama's Clean Power Plan, the U.S. Energy Information Administration forecasts that the decoupling trend of economy and carbon emissions in the U.S. is likely to be sustained after 2020.

image via World Resources Institute
image via World Resources Institute

Among the 20 other countries experiencing the decoupling, 19 have seen their industrial output--a component of GDP-- decline between 2000 and 2013, suggesting a shift of economic focus away from emission-intensive, heavy industries. However, both Bulgaria and Uzbekistan have observed progress in their industrial sector while reducing carbon emissions from 2000 to 2013, signaling that economy-emission decoupling can be viable even in countries with burgeoning industrial activities.

It is still unclear whether the decoupling pattern of these 21 countries could expand to other parts of the world. However, the trend offers assurance that countries can address global climate challenges without sacrificing economic development.


Please see the full list of the 21 countries below:

image via World Resources Institute
image via World Resources Institute