Structural Changes and Sustainability. A Selected Review of the Empirical Evidence

45 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2018 Last revised: 13 Feb 2019

See all articles by Maria Savona

Maria Savona

University of Sussex

Tommaso Ciarli

SPRU, University of Sussex

Date Written: January 1, 2019


The paper offers a review of selected topics in the empirical literature on structural change and sustainability. We focus on aspects of structural change that directly affect emissions and energy intensity: changes of the sectoral composition of economies, trade and international fragmentation of production, technological change and innovation, and demand. We identify several empirical facts. First, only a few countries have experienced a decoupling between growth and emissions, due to proportionately faster growth rather than greater energy efficiency. Second, the long-term shift from manufacturing to services has not led, in all cases, to the de-materialisation of economies and a lower environmental burden. Exploitation of energy efficiency increases depends on the ability of the service sectors to incorporate technical changes to reduce energy intensity. Third, global trade and energy and emissions intensity trends support the pollution haven hypothesis, which predicts displacement of the environmental burden from developed to emerging countries. The pursuit by developing countries of a long-term strategy of trading jobs for emissions is likely to exacerbate the asymmetry related to emissions intensities between developed and less developed economies. The review should inform debate on environmental policy within the broader context of innovation and development policies.

Keywords: Structural change, sustainable development, tertiarisation, de-materialisation, pollution haven hypothesis

JEL Classification: O3, O44, Q55

Suggested Citation

Savona, Maria and Ciarli, Tommaso, Structural Changes and Sustainability. A Selected Review of the Empirical Evidence (January 1, 2019). SWPS 2019-04, Available at SSRN: or

Maria Savona (Contact Author)

University of Sussex ( email )

Sussex House
Brighton, Sussex BNI 9RH
United Kingdom

Tommaso Ciarli

SPRU, University of Sussex ( email )

Jubilee Building
University of Sussex
Falmer, Brighton, Sussex BN1 9SL
United Kingdom

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics