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The impact of modern economic growth on climate change (Spain, 1860-2020)

19th National Competition for Economic Research Grants

Economic history

Senior Researcher : Juan Infante Amate

Research Centre or Institution : Universidad de Granada


The economic transformations of the last two centuries have enabled most of the world's population to reach unprecedented levels of well-being. However, the environmental impact (especially on the climate) of the resources on which this new development model is dependent make scholars question the model's future viability. As a result, one of the top goals in the contemporary political and academic agenda is the design of 'decarbonized' productive systems—i.e. systems that will allow us to maintain our well-being levels while limiting climate impact.

Historical knowledge is key to better understand the dimension and causes of this phenomenon. Surprisingly, there is little research on the long-term evolution of the nations' carbon footprint, or the emissions generated as a result of their economic activity. This limitation in turn prevents the main historical accounts from incorporating evidence and analyses about the impact of our economic activity on the climate.

The goal of this research project is to provide the first long-term estimation of total greenhouse gas emissions—both territorial and consumption-based—for a national economy. Consequently, our project has a transdisciplinary nature that combines historiographic, economic, and environmental methodologies. The results will allow us to answer pending questions within economic history: What is the long-term evolution of the Spanish economy's carbon intensity, that is, the amount of emissions by GDP? Which specific economic activities and technologies are contributing to the increase in emissions, and which have led the process of decarbonization? What part of our emissions are outsourced to other economies and what does the rest of the world outsource to Spain? What have been the long-term causes of the growth of emissions?

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