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The importance of being ‘(trans)-scalar’: a comment on geography and the environment-economy relationship

Luca Salvati, Rosanna Di Bartolomei, Adele Sateriano


The degradation of the environment is a global phenomenon induced by the interaction of several biophysical and socioeconomic factors. Although with a marked north-south divide, environmental degradation occurs in both developing and developed countries with increasing impacts on natural and agricultural ecosystems. Stylised facts indicated that many countries/regions have shown marked growth rates over the last century, but this experience may no longer be repeatable under the present (and future) social and ecological conditions. It was therefore questioned whether or not continued economic growth, without policy intervention, is a sufficient condition to reduce the human pressure on the environment. The hypothesis regarding the existence of a U-shaped relationship between environmental degradation and the level of income, the so called Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC), has garnered increasing interest from scientists and politicians for the (supposedly) beneficial role of rising income for environmental quality. Although the EKC hypothesis has received critical responses, this framework has contributed to the debate on the environment-economy relationship by underlining the (potentially positive) role of government policies that are usually more ambitious in high income areas. In this paper I discuss the role of geographical scale in EKC (and similar) approaches and suggest that geographically-disaggregated analyses at various scales (including the regional, local, and individual levels) may offer further insights compared to cross-country datasets and may indicate additional targets for multi-scale environmental policies.


Income, Region, Environmental Kuznets Curve, Geographical scale.

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