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Ecological Footprint Policy? Land Use as an Environmental Indicator


  • Jeroen C.J.M van den Bergh,

  • Fabio Grazi

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    • Address correspondence to: Fabio Grazi, Research Department, Agence Française de Développement (AFD), 5 Rue Roland Barthes, 75012 Paris, France. Email: Web:

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This article argues that policies aimed at sustainability need to address the spatial dimensions of environmental problems and their solutions. In particular, spatial configurations of economic activities deserve attention, which means addressing land use, infrastructure, trade, and transport. Unfortunately, good theory and indicators to support the analysis and design of spatial-environmental policies are not fully developed. One approach that has become very popular in the last decade is the ecological footprint (EF). It is both an environmental accounting tool and aggregate indicator, which is used by scientists, environmental organizations, and popular media. Despite criticisms of the EF method in the past, its popularity has only increased. In fact, an increasing number of publications with an application of the EF appear in scientific journals. We review the EF approach from indicator-methodology and welfare angles and assess its policy relevance. Our conclusion is that it does not offer any meaningful information for public policy.

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