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Study Finds Indicators Of Economic Growth Without Environmental Harm

Above photo: Dusk on the Yangtze River. Andrew Hitchcock / Wikimedia Commons.

Developments reported by researchers could influence other sustainability challenges around the world.

A recent study conducted by researchers from China, France, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Britain, and South Africa has found evidence of separation between economic growth and environmental degradation in China’s most economically significant lake basin.

The Yangtze River Delta, which was studied by the team, accounts for only 4 percent of the country’s land area but a quarter of its gross domestic product (GDP). Some of China’s major industries, including chip, electric vehicle, robot and battery manufacturers and developers in software and artificial intelligence are concentrated in the delta.

According to a report from the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the research team “us[ed] evidence from socioeconomic records, sedimentary DNA analysis and climate models…”

Although the separation, or “decoupling,” has only just appeared, researchers highlight it as a positive development, particularly given the delta’s status as what researchers called “one of the world’s most densely populated and intensively modified landscapes.”

The research paper, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April, mentions, “[a]s a harbinger of China’s development, the Yangtze River Delta region has witnessed unprecedented social progress and economic prosperity accompanied by critical environmental degradation.”

Zhang Ke, study author and a researcher at the Nanjing Institute of Geography and Limnology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, also mentions how this development can influence the future of sustainability efforts in other parts of the world.

According to the SCMP report, Zhang said, “The transformation of the Taihu watershed was ‘unprecedented’ because of China’s rapid economic and social development.”

The SCMP report also mentions the decoupling of economic growth and environmental degradation in other countries including Germany and Japan. “Countries such as Germany and Japan have seen their own decoupling between carbon emissions and economic activity. The dissociation between emissions and rise in GDP has been steadily occurring since the 1990s in the European Union, and this century in Japan.”

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