Journal of Evolutionary Economics

, Volume 28, Issue 3, pp 565–590 | Cite as

Finance, energy and the decoupling: an empirical study

  • Zora KovacicEmail author
  • Marcello Spanò
  • Samuele Lo Piano
  • Alevgul H. Sorman
Regular Article


This paper investigates the empirical and theoretical basis of the decoupling between energy throughput and economic growth, with a critical view of the use of the decoupling concept as a policy priority. We provide an analysis of the historical trends of the metabolic pattern of European economies over a period of 18 years focusing on the changes in energy throughput and financial assets. The results show that energy consumption per hour of labor has remained constant, suggesting that no significant changes in production processes or technology have taken place in the productive sectors of the economy. The contribution of this paper is to establish a bridge between the economic analysis of financialization and the societal metabolism analysis of the economic process from a biophysical point of view. We argue that this bridge is crucial to draw attention to the biophysical consequences of financialization (a relative decoupling) and critically assess the pertinence of policies aimed at encouraging the decoupling in the context of increasing inequality.


Societal metabolism Energy intensity Financialization Delinking Inequality GDP 



The authors would like to thank Mario Giampietro, Jesus Ramos-Martin, Maite Cabeza and Kozo Mayumi for their comments on previous versions of the paper. We are grateful for the comments received from two anonymous reviewers and for the support from the editor.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institut de Ciencia i Tecnologia AmbientalsUniversitat Autonoma de BarcelonaBellaterraSpain
  2. 2.European Centre for Governance in ComplexityCampus UABBellaterraSpain
  3. 3.Department of EconomicsUniversity of InsubriaVareseItaly
  4. 4.Basque Centre for Climate Change (BC3)LeioaSpain

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