The macro-comparative decoupling literature has often sought to test the arguments made by the treadmill of production (TP) and ecological modernization (EM) theories. However, due to data limitations, these studies have been limited to analyzing the years after 1960. Given that both theories discuss historical processes operating before 1960, analyzing pre-1960 data is warranted to more comprehensively test the propositions made by both theories. We assess the long-term relationship between economic growth and CO2 emissions from 1870 to 2014 using a sample of global North nations. We use Prais-Winsten regression models with time interactions to assess whether, when, and how much CO2 emissions have decoupled from economic growth over time. We find that significant relative decoupling has occurred twice since 1870: during the last 30 years of the nineteenth century, the timing of which is contrary to what both the EM and TP theories might expect, and after 1970. We also observe that the relationship remained relatively stable from the turn of the twentieth century to approximately 1970, which aligns with the arguments made by the classical TP work. We conclude that shifts in the global organization of production have shaped the magnitude of the economic growth–CO2 emissions relationship and its changes over time, which has implications for climate mitigation policy.

You do not currently have access to this content.