Real world policy mixes: Comparative analysis

Citation: Fedrigo-Fazio, D., Mazza, L., ten Brink, P., Watkins, E. (2014): Comparative analysis of policy mixes addressing natural resources. Learning from real world experiences - DYNAMIX Delivrable 3.2, London/Brussels: Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP).

This report compares 15 case studies of past and existing policy mixes in different sectors and assessed how effective they have been in spurring decoupling of resource use from economic growth. Key results are:

Relative decoupling is being achieved in Europe, though at different rates across countries and resource issues. Examples include fossil fuels use in Sweden and Denmark; local municipal waste in Slovakia; and land take in England and Germany.

Evidence of absolute decoupling is less frequent and related to specific resources and countries. Examples include Denmark’s fertiliser use, the UK’s use of aggregates, Ireland’s plastic bag use and Japan’s ‘sound material cycle society’. In Iceland, absolute decoupling within resource limits has been achieved for some fish species.

Our review suggests that effective policy mixes…

  • …focus on a specific resource or sector.
  • …achieve transformation because they match the type and level of ‘lock-in’ in the sector.
  • …are informed by a clear understanding of limits and thresholds.
  • …address global impacts of resource use, particularly imports from overseas.
  • …have clear targets and address all phases of the policy cycle, including built-in monitoring, review and response mechanisms.
  • …struck the right balance between effectiveness and acceptance.
  • …have predictable effect, thereby increasing efficiency.
  • …include information instruments to increase awareness, but do not use them in isolation, because information alone fails to deliver the scale of change required for decoupling.

There is no obvious trend between the absolute number of instruments in a policy mix and its effectiveness. Rather, instruments can play different roles:

  • Regulation is often the driving instrument and has proven fundamental for meeting critical environmental objectives, particularly by driving innovation.
  • Market-based instruments (MBIs) as core instruments have led to both relative and absolute decoupling.
  • Voluntary instruments are weaker, but can be useful as a bridge to more ambitious instruments.

Main shortcomings in policy design include:

  • A lack of policy coherence or conflicting policy objectives.
  • Gaps and loopholes, for example through exemptions.
  • Rebound effects are not taken into account.
  • Targets and objectives not fit for purpose (e.g. not defined in achievable terms).
  • International impacts are often not fully integrated, risking leakage.