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Possible Target Corridor for Sustainable Use of Global Material Resources


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Many countries have started to develop policy programs for the sustainable use of natural resources. Indicators and targets can cover both a territorial and a life-cycle-wide global perspective. This article focuses on how a safe operating space for global material resource use can be outlined based on existing economy-wide material flow indicators. It reflects on issues such as scale and systems perspective, as the choice of indicators determines the target “valves” of the socio-industrial metabolism. It considers environmental pressures and social aspects of safe and fair resource use. Existing proposals for resource consumption targets are reviewed, partially revisited, and taken as a basis to outline potential target values for a safe operating space for the extraction and use of minerals and biomass by final consumption. A potential sustainability corridor is derived with the Total Material Consumption of abiotic resources ranging from 6 to 12 t/person, the Total Material Consumption of biotic resources not exceeding 2 t/person, and the Raw Material Consumption of used biotic and abiotic materials ranging from 3 to 6 t/person until 2050. For policy, a “10-2-5 target triplet” can provide orientation, when the three indicators are assigned values of 10, 2, and 5 t/person, respectively.
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Resources 2015, 4, 25-54; doi:10.3390/resources4010025
ISSN 2079-9276
Possible Target Corridor for Sustainable Use of Global
Material Resources
Stefan Bringezu
Wuppertal Institute, P.B. 100480, Wuppertal 42004, Germany;
Center for Environmental Systems Research, University of Kassel, Wilhelmshöher Allee 47,
Kassel 34109, Germany; E-Mail:
Academic Editor: Richard Kazmierczak, Jr.
Received: 9 October 2014 / Accepted: 4 February 2015 / Published: 11 February 2015
Abstract: Many countries have started to develop policy programs for the sustainable use
of natural resources. Indicators and targets can cover both a territorial and a life-cycle-wide
global perspective. This article focuses on how a safe operating space for global material
resource use can be outlined based on existing economy-wide material flow indicators. It
reflects on issues such as scale and systems perspective, as the choice of indicators
determines the target “valves” of the socio-industrial metabolism. It considers environmental
pressures and social aspects of safe and fair resource use. Existing proposals for resource
consumption targets are reviewed, partially revisited, and taken as a basis to outline potential
target values for a safe operating space for the extraction and use of minerals and biomass
by final consumption. A potential sustainability corridor is derived with the Total Material
Consumption of abiotic resources ranging from 6 to 12 t/person, the Total Material
Consumption of biotic resources not exceeding 2 t/person, and the Raw Material
Consumption of used biotic and abiotic materials ranging from 3 to 6 t/person until 2050.
For policy, a “10-2-5 target triplet” can provide orientation, when the three indicators are
assigned values of 10, 2, and 5 t/person, respectively.
Keywords: material footprint; safe operating space; resource efficiency; resource
consumption; indicators; resource policy
Resources 2015, 4 26
1. Introduction
In the first decade of the 2000s, several countries started to develop policy programs for enhanced
resource efficiency. Japan and Germany, both reliant on growing imports of raw materials and
experiencing high volatility in the price of commodities, pioneered this development in order to reduce
their dependence on foreign supply, spur innovation, enhance international competitiveness and
contribute to a more sustainable development both within and outside their countries. In 1998, Germany
defined a target to double abiotic material productivity from 1994 to 2020 in their draft for an
environmental policy focus program which was taken up in the sustainability strategy in 2002, since then
the progress towards the target is regularly reported [1] and ten years later a program for resource
efficiency (ProgRess) was set up [2]. In 2003, Japan introduced a target to enhance material productivity
of the economy in the first fundamental plan for establishing a sound material-cycle society, good
progress was made and the program was up-dated in their second fundamental plan in 2008 [3]. In 2005,
the European Commission stepped forward as another pace making actor with the “Thematic Strategy
on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources” [4] which was followed by the “Roadmap to a Resource
Efficient Europe” [5,6]. In 2014, the Seventh Environment Action Programme (2014–2020) was enacted
with the aim of shifting the EU towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy and safeguarding
human health. The nine priority objectives strive toward reaching the 2050 vision of living “well, within
the planet's ecological limits” [7]. Meanwhile many countries have also declared to aim at an increase
of resource productivity, with China, Austria and Italy also targeting quantitative proportions; while only
few countries such as China and Hungary also aim to reduce their absolute resource consumption [8].
In all the processes of preparing and implementing such policies, the question of appropriate targets
and indicators have played and still play a basic role. For that purpose, it was quite helpful that
methodological standards were provided on how to measure in particular economy-wide material flows
and productivity by Eurostat [9–11] and the OECD [12]. At the same time, many expert discussions on
indicators became somehow hampered by the observation that the availability of data to produce some
of the more comprehensive indicators regularly still needs to be improved. While this is certainly true,
policies depend on plausible goals and directionally safe long-term targets. Research and statistics can
then elucidate ways to deliver the required data. Otherwise, if policy design is confined to recently
available data, this tends to short-cut their impact in space and time, and opens the door to problem
shifts. Fortunately, a learning processes is ongoing whereby the knowledge base of problems and
perspectives provided by research institutes, the monitoring by statistics, and the development of the
policy framework in reflection of the actors’ interests in industry and NGOs through their interaction, is
leading to a stepwise expansion of perspective.
With regard to headline indicators of environmental performance, there seems to be a convergence
towards the “four footprints” (see e.g. [13]) materials, land, water and GHG emissions. The material use
can be determined on the basis of different, though nested indicators with more or less comprehensive
scope: direct material flows, raw material flows and total material flows indicators. The term “material
footprint” has been used differently so far: for instance, Wiedmann et al. [14] used it for Raw Material
Consumption of economies, whereas Lettenmeier et al. [15] used it for Total Material Requirement of
household consumption. The measurement of the GHG emission footprint is well established [16], the
Resources 2015, 4 27
methods of determining the water footprint are rather advanced [17], and the land footprint can be
quantified for certain critical land use types such as cropland [18].
This article will focus on the question of how a sustainability corridor of future development
of the input side of the socio-industrial metabolism can be delineated on the basis of the existing
economy-wide material flow indicators. It starts to explain why targets for global resource use would be
helpful in the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) as well as national resource policies.
The article will reflect on the question how a safe operating space of resource use can be defined; that it
depends on the scale of observation and the system perspective; biomass and mineral flows require the
consideration of specific aspects, and social acceptance of environmental conditions play a central role,
as well as international fairness when determining global targets. The global metabolic system is taken
as a basis to discuss potential “valve” indicators for human-induced resource flows which can be linked
to final consumption of countries. Existing proposals for global targets such as the Factor 10 concept
will be reviewed and partially revisited regarding their basic assumptions in particular the relation of
human induced and natural flows. Building on earlier work also from others, a potential corridor of a
safer and fairer use of natural mineral and biomass resources will be outlined. The result will be discussed
with regard to compatibility with other, substance specific target proposals, feasibility and further acceptance.
2. Why Targets for Global Resource Use?
Human induced material flows are rapidly growing. Between 1970 and 2008, the used extraction
from the natural environment has doubled [19]. While the world’s economic development in terms of
GDP has been increasingly decoupled from material resource use, it is highly probable that
business-as-usual will lead to a further increase in the coming decades [20]. As a consequence, the
related environmental burden and associated social conflicts must be expected to grow as well. At the
same time, material wealth and associated resource consumption is unequally distributed between and
within countries. Countries also differ with regard to their need to build up and maintain their
infrastructures. While developing countries have a surging need for constructing houses and transport
lines—and therefore need material resources—more developed countries use materials to supply high
tech production. Nevertheless, patterns of final consumption are converging all over the world, alongside
of average rise of income. While expertise is growing and examples are mushrooming on how more
wealth and a good life can be created with less resource consumption [21], there is no evidence yet
whether and when this will lead to an overall stabilization and subsequent absolute reduction of
resource consumption.
Against this background, the International Resource Panel [22] suggested as a Sustainable
Development Goal, the “efficient use of natural resources in an equitable and environmentally benign
manner for human well-being and future generations”. Two possible targets were proposed. Target A:
“to double the yearly rate of resource productivity increase”. As possible indicators, GDP in relation to
material flow indicators (RMC, TMR), global land use and GHG emissions were suggested. Target B:
“Decoupling economic growth rates from escalating use of natural resources to achieve the average
material intensity of consumption per capita of 6–8 tonnes/capita/year in 2050”. As indicator the material
footprint as measured by Raw Material Consumption was explicitly mentioned. Target B was formulated
to “highlight the equitable use of natural resources (by promoting equal access to and/or attribution of
Resources 2015, 4 28
resource consumption on a per capita basis) as well as ensure that socio-economic development will take
into account the available safe operating space. The expectation was formulated that setting such a target
“would set a direction where developing countries would achieve a rising share of global resources while
industrial countries would have to lower the intensity of their material consumption through significant
increases in resource productivity and changes in consumer behavior”.
Therefore, it seems worthwhile to have a closer look at how a safe operating space of material
resource use can be reasonably defined in terms of material flow indicators, what criteria and
rationale can underpin such or similar suggestions from a systems perspective, while considering
policy development.
3. How to Define What a Safe Resource Use Could be?
3.1. The Issue of Scale and a System Perspective
Whether an interference with the environment such as resource extraction and its consequences are
“benign” depends on the scale of observation and on value judgments.
Regarding scale, for example, Viglizzio et al and other colleagues-documented in [23]—showed for
agro-ecosystems in Argentina that at the local level nitrate contamination by intensive dairy and beef
production was assessed as critical, while at the regional level plant cover loss and shrub encroachment
were regarded most critical, and at the national level habitat and biodiversity loss, as well as carbon,
nitrogen and phosphorous losses together with cropland expansion were evaluated as most critical.
In general, analytical perspectives and the assessment of critical thresholds depend on the scale.
Parameters which are critical on the local or regional level need not be critical at higher scales.
The dynamics of scaling up or scaling down effects are often uncertain.
The assessment of the environmental effects of mining, quarrying, infrastructure building, and final
waste disposal is usually performed at the local level. There, the activities often transform natural settings
completely, and conflicts may arise from competing land use interests. On a regional scale, those
activities are often accepted, not only due to economic gains, but also because they occupy only a small
proportion of all land uses. In view of the growing magnitude of man-made mineral flows, nevertheless,
the question that arises is: to which order of magnitude can these flows grow without “the risk of
deleterious or even catastrophic environmental change at continental to global scales” as defined by
Rockström et al. [24]? One may not assume fixed thresholds or tipping points beyond which whole
regions would become devastated, rather than a continuous, steadily creeping change of the living
environment through a growing number and extent of mining, quarrying, construction and disposal
activities, so that the safe operating space might be determined rather by factors of societal acceptance
of such a change rather than earth science modeling.
Before tackling the question of how to assess specific risks associated with certain material flows, it
seems important to adopt a comprehensive systems perspective. Targets for sustainable resource use
need to consider the physical economy in its complexity and as a metabolic system, a system which
needs to be further developed while maintaining and improving its functionality. For the derivation of
material flow related targets, it seems worthwhile to recall some key observations. Figure 1 depicts the
major material resource flows as input to the production and consumption system and the subsequent
Resources 2015, 4 29
output of wastes and emissions. Environmental impacts are linked to both the extraction/harvest, and to
final waste disposal. The volume of input determines the volume of subsequent output; if the supply of
the economy is provided by higher internal recycling, the primary input will decline as will the outputs.
The resource flows such as fossil fuels, metal ores, industrial and construction minerals are each linked
to bundles of environmental impacts (landscape changes, hydrology and biodiversity changes induced
by resource extraction are often coupled, and as resource extraction becomes wastes and emissions
sooner or later, also bundles of output related pressures are linked to resource flows). Those bundles
seem to be relative similar, at least on the input side, for mineral resource flows on the one hand, and
biomass flows on the other hand [25]. With a given spatial pattern of resource supply and final disposal
and a certain technology used in manufacturing and final consumption, the bundles of environmental
impacts of material flows can be mitigated effectively only when input flows are reduced (e.g., by
increased material and energy efficiency and recycling). It was these insights, which led in the 1990s to
the development of a dual policy strategy: to continue control of emissions of specific hazardous
pollutants on the output side, and in addition develop instruments to enhance resource efficiency in order
to save natural resources [26].
Figure 1. Overview scheme of the socio-industrial metabolism with environmental impacts
and policy response triggered by resulting hazards, risks and societal conflicts.
In general, material flow related targets should be based on a perspective of a future metabolic system
that can operate within the global bio-geo-sphere for centuries to come. In other words, the supply of
materials and energy would have to be regenerative (not only-potentially-“renewable”) with minimal
inputs and outputs from and to the environment. Such a vision of a circular material flow system mainly
driven by solar energy has been outlined as an ideal of industrial ecology [27]. In a more systematic way,
the pre-conditions of a sustainable socio-industrial metabolism comprise the following aspects: (1) The
material supply is mainly fulfilled by internal recycling; (2) The energy supply comes from renewable
sources (solar, wind, geothermal, etc.); (3) The input (extraction/harvest) and output (emissions/waste)
Release to
Fossil fuels
Metal ores
Emission to
air / water
Climate change
Soil degredation
Extraction from
Resources 2015, 4 30
remain under critical thresholds and within a safe operating space; and (4) the technosphere must not
oust the natural systems. The latter criterion reflects the nexus of material flows and stocks and land use:
the housing and infrastructure stock cannot grow indefinitely on the given terrestrial surface without
jeopardizing the life-support systems, and agricultural fields and forestry plantations cannot expand
indefinitely without replacing biodiversity rich biomes, and their expansion should also be kept within
a safe operating space.
Globally, Rockström et al. [24] aimed at the implementation of the third criterion with the definition
of the safe operating space for three key output flows, namely GHG emissions, nitrogen and
phosphorous. Steffen et al. [28] supplemented regional targets for phosphorous.
What seems lacking, so far, is a sufficient understanding on the acceptable level of material resource
flows, i.e., the input side of the anthroposphere. Primary material use needs to be reflected by long-term
targets on a global scale, as a reference for countries to assess their consumption of biomass, metals,
industrial and construction minerals. The potential criteria for such an assessment shall be shortly
reflected for biomass and minerals flows. These considerations are by no means exhaustive but try to
focus on some essentials.
3.2. Aspects of a Safe-Operating-Space for Biomass Use
Mankind appropriates already about a quarter of global primary biomass production [29] and biotic
resources are often overexploited and thus degraded [30,31]. A determination of safe operating space in
terms of biomass mass flows seems difficult. Whether the production, harvest or catch can be continued
under sustainable conditions is usually determined by the performance of local management of farming,
forestry and fisheries. There are existing certification schemes, and theoretically one could use the
percentage of certified production used in countries’ consumption in order to indicate progress towards
safe operation in the use of food and non-food biomass. However, in agriculture the application of
certification for biofuel crops has been rather an example of misguided orientation, also due to the fact
that only a small part of the market is certified, and primarily due to the fact that the overall demand for
food crops grows with a speed which cannot be compensated by increased yields so that the expansion
cropland becomes unavoidable under business-as-usual conditions [23].
In general, it seems appropriate to define the SOS for agricultural biomass use with regard to the
highest environmental pressures. At the regional and continental level, nutrient overload of soils and
water bodies by agriculture are outstanding. Rockström et al. have indicated that nitrogen flows have
surpassed safe levels even at the global level and Steffen et al., point out the critical regional distribution.
Indeed, human induced nitrogen fixation has been a major cause of an acceleration of global nitrogen
flows and resulting eutrophication [32]. Based on the analysis of the “net anthropogenic nitrogen inputs
(NANI)” across 154 watersheds, Howarth et al. [33] suggested a possible threshold of nitrogen fluxes to
the oceans when NANI values are below 1070 kg N km
. As synthetic fertilizer is the largest
component of NANI in many watersheds, this would require agriculture production to become more
nutrient efficient. The Global Partnership on Nutrient Management and the International Nitrogen
Initiative request a 20% improvement of the full-chain nutrient use efficiency (base year 2008) for every
country which would lead to annual savings of 20 Mt of nitrogen worldwide by 2020 [34]. The full-
chain nutrient use efficiency is defined as the nutrients in food available for human consumption in a
Resources 2015, 4 31
country as a percentage of the total nutrient inputs to that country (sum of fertilizer inputs, biological
nitrogen fixation in crops and grass, import in fertilizer, and feed and food). Leach et al. [35] developed
a method to measure the nitrogen footprints of individual consumers with reference to specific country
conditions of production and transport. Those relative target values aim at absolute reductions of primary
nutrient input, in particular of nitrogen, associated with final product consumption, for instance by
fostering more healthy diet and less food waste—without formally relating to a global SOS reference.
There are, however, also other problems beyond nutrient flows induced by biomass use.
At the global level, land use change induced by agriculture belong to the biggest pressures, leading
in particular to high biodiversity losses [30]. For global cropland use by countries, monitoring methods
have been developed [18] and as mentioned above a target of 0.20 ha/person for 2030 has been suggested
by the International Resource Panel [23], arguing that the goal of the UN Convention on Biodiversity
can only be reached if the expansion of cropland into grasslands, savannahs, and forests will be halted,
proposing to limit the ongoing expansion until 2020 and then distribute its use (by final consumption of
products) equally amongst the world population of 2030.
At the same time, loss of topsoil by erosion represents also a huge threat, with approximately
2–5 Mha becoming severely degraded every year globally [23]. Soil erosion urgently needs to be reduced
to tolerable levels and degradation of soils needs to come to a halt. The attribution of soil erosion in
agriculture to the consumption of final products was conceptually developed by Schmidt-Bleek et al. [36]
within the MIPS concept, adopted in the economy-wide material flow accounting framework [9], but
sparsely practiced (e.g., [37–39]) due to the limited data availability.
For forestry, it is also quite a challenge to define a global safe operating space. Both deforestation
and forest degradation would need to be halted at an acceptable level. As an operational parameter, one
could use the net annual increment (NAI) of a given structure of forest composition as a reference which
should not be exceeded globally. The use of NAI by countries’ consumption can be determined and used
for the assessment of sustainable resource consumption [18,40].
For fisheries, the situation is even more complex, with marine and freshwater captures and aquaculture.
Globally, the overfishing of marine species and the continuous decrease of the trophic level harvested
seem to be the most pressing problems. Unused extraction in the form of by-catch aggravates the
pressure, as it is estimated to amount to between 20% and 40% of the marine extraction [41]. How fisheries
can be sustained is treated by other experts [42].
For the further deliberations on biomass in this article, which focuses on major resource flow
aggregates, the relations of used harvest are interesting. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries produced
8.7 Gt, 2.4 Gt, and 0.14 Gt, resp. in 2000, and 11 Gt, 2.4 Gt, and 0.17 Gt in 2010. Thus, agriculture and
its food production clearly dominate the use of biomass for final consumption.
3.3. Aspects of a Safe-Operating-Space of Minerals Use
A sustainable use of minerals has been primarily discussed under economic considerations of
“scarcity”. Barbier [43] and Daly [44] proposed management rules which meant—amongst others—that
non-renewable resources should only be used to the extent that a man-made substitute can be found, in
order to save natural capital. In case, natural resources would be regarded as non-substitutable by man-made
capital this would logically require to minimize the use of natural resources [45]. Such goal formulations,
Resources 2015, 4 32
however, were too abstract for supporting practice. Triggered by price spikes of metals in the 2000s, the
“criticality” of mineral resources caught attention in the sense of short- to midterm shortages of supply
and possible economic constraints resulting from the shortage [46,47]. Monitoring critical minerals
should inform industry for which elements substitutes would be particularly rewarding.
The “depletion of resources” in the sense that certain scarce resources will be used up and be no
longer available in the future was also introduced to the LCA method framework. Still, there is no
generally accepted approach to measure, for instance, abiotic resource depletion potential (ADP). The
recent review of the existing methods by Rørbech et al. [48] showed that results vary considerably
between the method chosen, that ore grade quality methods are often hampered by limited resource
coverage, and that a comprehensive coverage of different resources would be essential to avoid problem
shifts. Moreover, the existing classifications would not systematically reflect environmental impacts.
This is understandable as neither the relative abundance of a mineral in relation to the concentration of
antimony in the earth crust [49], nor the change rate of metal ore concentration [50] carries much
information on environmental implications, while it seems clear that the extraction of valuable materials
will require more energy with declining quality of geological deposits [51], which can be measured by
other existing indicators. The accounting of exergy [52], indicates the potential of mechanical work,
useful heat and material production [53], but does not account for environmental impacts. Neither of
those methods accounts for the disruption potential of biotic structures or for the consequences of
resource nexus at the landscape level, when the magnitude of mineral extraction affects the hydrological
conditions and subsequently flora and fauna.
As LCA approaches to indicate resource depletion have limited information value, their inclusion into
an expanded definition of criticality [54] also might not lead much closer to a safer and fairer use of
mineral resources worldwide. The major reasons are the negligence of impacts bundled by mass
extraction at the landscape level, and their potential cumulative effects with growing flow volumes
within given environmental systems. Human transformation of the earth’s crust may extend from local
to global impacts on ecosystems [55].
The implications of mass extraction from the natural environment are neither limited to the
impacts which are quantifiable within the LCA framework, nor to environmental consequences. In
order to illustrate that point, one may look at the map of geological deposits in Germany
(; the map can be narrowed down to regions; to overlay restrictions click on
buttons from biosphere reservations to water protection areas). The country is rich of various mineral
resources so that there is no scarcity in the sense of physical occurrence. If the map, however, is overlaid
with others showing the various restrictions of land use for nature conservation and water protection it
becomes obvious that the main problem is the scarcity of conflict free access to those deposits. In other
words, the conflicting uses of natural resources are an important argument to reduce the extraction of
minerals to the necessary minimum.
It is the magnitude of the overall extraction which determines the magnitude of the resulting landscape
change and the associated impacts such as on the quantity and quality of ground and surface waters
which are often important for agriculture (for instance, half of Germany is used for agriculture) and
which goes beyond the directly disturbed surface area. Worldwide, the geological deposits are distributed
amongst various biogeographical zones with different rainfall and biodiversity. As a consequence, the
local impacts of a certain amount of mineral extraction may differ. At the same time, a certain amount
Resources 2015, 4 33
of a mineral use within a country is often coupled with a global supply pattern, which is determined by
the spatial occurrence of the mines depending on the deposits. Given the spatial pattern of supply, a
rising consumption of natural mineral resources (fossil fuels, metals, industrial minerals, construction
minerals) will lead to an increase of the associated bundles of impacts, distributed over the various
locations of origin. Vice versa, a reduction may be expected to lead to a reduction of the bundle of
impacts carried by resource mass flows, if no spatially explicit regulation is foreseen. Future research
might help to refine spatially explicit attribution of life-cycle-wide impacts of resource use to production
and final consumption, and certification of selected product chains may help to stir the supply pattern to
areas of potentially lower damage. However, the basic dependence on natural deposits will remain, the
interests of conflicting land use might expand, and certification of only parts of the mineral markets
might not be sufficient to control the overall magnitude of human induced mineral flows and the
associated environmental-social conflict potential. Against this background, the question arises at which
level it would be sensible to limit the use of mineral resources.
In order to reduce the expected burden and to mitigate uncertainties and risks, Schmidt-Bleek [56,57],
already in the 1990s, proposed to follow the precautionary principle and reduce the global resource
extraction (minerals and biomass) by half until 2050 and grant every person the same right to share it
(by adequate final consumption of products). For industrial countries, he estimated this would imply a
long-term reduction of their resource consumption by 90% (or a factor 10). The appeal was taken up by
renowned scientists in the “Factor 10 Club” (F10C) [58], who state that “very large flows of resources
occur naturally, either from volcanoes or land erosion or other biosphere processes. Together these flows
amount to some 50 billion tons per year, although more research is required to establish a precise
number”. They argued that “human induced flows of resources into the economy” should not exceed
natural flows by a factor of 2 and therefore should be reduced by a factor of 2. “Assuming seven billion
people on planet Earth (...) that would result in an allowance of about 6 to 8 tons per capita per year”.
When devising reduction strategies fossil fuels inducing climate change should be given priority, as well
as water flows in regions of critical scarcity. Since then, the number of 6 to 8 tonnes per person has
appeared in various publications and appeals, still without any specification of a measurable indicator,
although their definition would have drastic implications on the required reductions. Schmidt-Bleek [57]
himself has been convinced that all materials moved by technology from their natural setting should be
accounted for—as is the basis for the TMR indicator in the MIPS concept [59]—to represent the
associated pressure of primary resource use to the environment, thus including both used and unused
extraction, excavation, etc. The formulation of the F10C, “resource flows into the economy”, however,
could be interpreted as if only the used extraction should be considered as a basis for the 6 to 8 tonnes
per person limit, because unused extraction per definition remains outside the economy, while being
somehow linked to it. In addition, the reference to 50 Gt yearly resource extraction could be interpreted
in that sense, as globally used mineral and biomass extraction amounted 51 Gt in 2000. This confusion
is perpetuated by publications not specifying the indicator while addressing a target value (e.g., [60]).
Depending on whether only used extraction or all primary extraction is taken as a basis, the same target
value would imply that the required change could more than double.
In order to assess the validity of Schmidt-Bleek’s and the F10C’s proposals, one may shortly revisit
some of their basic assumptions. The transformation of the bio-geo-sphere by mankind has reached a
new dimension in earth history, indeed, and therefore, the ongoing era has been addressed as the
Resources 2015, 4 34
“anthropocene” [61,62]. Today, man-made resource extraction exceeds natural translocations on the
earth’s crust. The sediment load of large rivers transporting eroded material to the oceans was about
15 Gt/a before human activity [63]. The greatest known eruption of a single volcano, the Tamborra in
1815, excavated 140 Gt magma (equivalent to 50 km
solid rock); 71,000 people were killed and the
summer in South-East Asia failed due to the lasting dust in the atmosphere [64]. The global average of
magma production through volcanism in terrestrial systems is 27–31 Gt/a [65–67]. It would not seem
plausible to add up magma production and erosion, as the former represents an input to formation and
uprise of the continents, whereas the latter represents rather their decline and output to the oceans.
Therefore, the estimate of the F10C for the natural flows seems too high, although admittedly the data
basis for those estimated should be improved. As a consequence, the difference between anthropogenic
and natural flows might be even higher than assumed by Schmidt-Bleek and the F10C. In 2010, only the
used mineral extraction by the global economy was 52 Gt (incl. biomass 67 Gt) [68]. Including the
unused extraction of mining and quarrying as well as excavation for infrastructure the total mineral
extraction may be estimated to range between 135 and 150 Gt in 2010 (see below).
The comparison of natural and anthropogenic material flows is not straightforward, when
assessing the impacts associated with landscape changes through the translocation of earth crust material.
When looking at material movements which occur relative rapidly (within periods of months to year)
and lead to massive changes of local landscapes, then magma formation and its terrestrial eruption is
probably more comparable to mining, quarrying, construction and disposal activities rather than the
continuously occurring erosion. There is a lack of reference concerning the resilience of earth operating
systems associated with the translocation of earth crust material. Using data on volcanism as “natural
reference” is linked to the consideration that despite large translocations throughout human history with
sometimes catastrophic local consequences, earth operating systems have not been pushed beyond
tipping points, or in other words, have stayed within the Holocene. Today, the man-made mineral flows
exceed the level of those natural mass flows 4–5 times; if only the extrusive magma formation is
accounted for, the anthropogenic mineral translocations would be 68–75 times larger. A further growth
of the anthropogenic flows will increase the associated pressures and related uncertainty. In a thought
experiment, the reader may think of potential consequences if global magma streams were to increase
by a factor of 70 or 100.
In any case, given a certain geographic pattern of geological deposits and the bundle of impacts
associated with extraction and subsequent processes, the overall flow of primary minerals into the
anthroposphere is a basic carrier of–bundles of–environmental pressures. Their magnitude can only be
reduced when mitigating the yearly turnover of those resource flows.
3.4. Social Aspects of a Safe Resource Use
Whatever volume of resource use is regarded as acceptable or safe at the global level, the fair share
of each country will have to be determined. According to the equity principle, a fair distribution of
resource consumption amongst to current generation is usually operationalized by an attribution on a per
person basis, in order to enhance legitimacy of governance [69]. In addition, the intra- and
intergenerational equity calls for the consideration of two aspects. Firstly, “not to compromise the ability
of future generations to meet their own needs” [70]; the uncertainty to assess that ability and the risks
Resources 2015, 4 35
associated with current and expected resource use then requires to act in a precautionary way [71].
Secondly, the different development status of countries needs to be considered: while industrial countries
have grown rich in the past due to high resource consumption also for the built-up of their infrastructures,
developing countries still strive for decent living conditions which are hampered by lacking
infrastructures. Minimum standards on food security, clean water availability, access to energy, etc. need
to be fulfilled and may be regarded as part of a safe and just operating space [72]. On the one hand,
catching up with wealth and improving well-being will not require developing countries to fully adopt
the current technologies and consumption patterns of today’s rich countries, nor to rerun through the
whole history of their history, rather than to speed up technological and institutional development in
order to “leap-frog” faster into a more sustainable path, or to “tunnel through” the environmental Kuznets
curve [21,25]. On the other hand, some developing countries might indeed need to increase their resource
use at least over a certain period in order to build up their infrastructures. As a consequence, the
development status of countries will need to be considered when defining global policy targets of
resource use, a challenge which also relates to the assessment of the feasibility of any targets. In general,
a “contraction and convergence” of resource use could describe a sensible global development pattern,
as has been suggested for climate protection [73].
In his original proposal, Schmidt-Bleek [56,57] suggested to halve global resource consumption while
at the same time change the distribution between industrial and developing countries from 80:20 to 20:80
in order to reflect the relations between populations. This would allow developing countries to double
their resource use within 50 years (increase it even 2.5 times within the first 40 years), while industrial
countries would need to reduce their resource consumption by a factor of roughly 10 (87.5%).
Against this background, the question arises which of the indicators developed to measure human
resource flows are adequate for target setting of a safe operating space. Those indicators can attribute
resource use to final consumption of products within countries. The subsequent considerations will focus
on economy-wide material flow indicators and their potential use as “valves” of the global
socio-industrial metabolism.
4. Material Flow Indicators and Target Valves
Economy-wide material flow accounting has developed a set of nested indicators [9–12], based on:
direct material flows (used extraction and flows crossing the country border);
raw material flows (used extraction within the country and upstream (indirect or upstream flows
comprise the material flows from resource extraction to the border of the importing or exporting
country along the whole production chain));
total material flows (used and unused extraction within the country and upstream).
Accordingly, there are three nested input-based flow indicators (Figure 2): (1) Direct Material Input
(DMI) comprises domestic used extraction and the amount of imports; (2) Raw Material Input (RMI)
comprises DMI plus indirect (upstream) flows of used extraction; and (3) Total Material Requirement
comprises RMI plus unused domestic and foreign extraction. These input flows serve as material
basis of the production of a country (including the manufacturing of exports), and related to GDP
Resources 2015, 4 36
(as nominator) material, raw material and total material productivity can be calculated. For instance, the
policy target in Japan is based on GDP/RMI [3].
For all three input indicators, the consumption oriented perspective can be determined by
subtracting the exports (and their indirect flows, without or including unused extraction, resp.), resulting
in Domestic Material Consumption (DMC), Raw Material Consumption (RMC), and Total Material
Consumption (TMC).
Meanwhile, direct material flows are regularly reported for EU [74], OECD and BRICCS
countries [75] countries. Statistical offices are working to cover also raw material flows
(e.g., Eurostat [76]), while total material flows are still subject to singular reports (e.g., EEA [39]).
The demand for those indicators is further triggered by high level policy makers, e.g., EREP [77]
requesting the EU to increase their raw material productivity (GDP/RMC) from 2008 to 2030 by at
least 30%. Any policy goal and its targets for material resource flows depends on how the indicators can
be interpreted.
Figure 2. Overview scheme of economy-wide material flow indicators (after [76]).
For the interpretation of the indicators it is important to consider the system boundary, which differs
between the indicators. DMI cuts at the political border, aggregating raw materials (used extraction) and
semi- and final products imported, totally neglecting upstream flows. As a result, shifts from national to
foreign resources may be overlooked when relying on this indicator.
RMI (and RMC) account for used extraction directly or indirectly linked to the domestic economy.
Used extraction means the amount of ores, minerals or harvest sold by mining, quarrying, farms,
foresters or fisheries for further processing in downstream industries. Those activities are characterized
Unused extraction
associated to
imported products
covered by legal base (Regulation No 691/2011 on European Environmental Economic Accounts)
estimated by Eurostat (aggregated EU27)
Unused extraction and TMR accounted
or USA, Japan, China, Brazil, EU-27, Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France,
Germany, Hungary, Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, UK, Venezuela by institutes and national
statistical services
Raw Material
Raw Material
Raw material
of exports
hidden flows
associated to
To t a l M a t er ia l
To t al
Unused Domestic extraction
Domestic extraction used
Raw material
equivalents of
imported products
Indirect flows
associated to imports
Resources 2015, 4 37
by processes which separate the desired used extraction from the “unused extraction”, i.e., the undesired
material which becomes mining waste such as over and interburden, concentration waste, or cuttings
which remain on the agricultural field or in the forest and the by-catch which is thrown back into the sea
(while being killed).
The question of whether unused extraction should be accounted for, and if so, aggregated together
with used extraction into one indicator, has been a matter of intensive discussion since the first
conceptual design of indicators such as TMR, formerly called Total Material Input [78]. It seems
important to note that there is no single solution which is either right or wrong, rather it depends on the
target question and whether one or the other category shall be accounted for within the headline indicator.
If one is interested in the input into the primary sector, the primary materials moved out of their
natural setting need to be accounted for, i.e., the total material requirement or the primary material input,
measured by the TMR indicator. As RMI is economically defined, it may be interpreted as an indicator
of economic use of (or dependence on) natural material resources. In contrast, TMR signals the overall
magnitude of resource extraction from the environment which stands for a generic pressure associated
with bundles of specific impacts and determined by the turnover of those flows within a given
environment. The magnitude of landscape changes by mining, the interference with hydrology, the
volume of production and after consumption wastes and emissions are all growing by and large with the
magnitude of TMR. This magnitude is to a certain extent independent from the chemical composition of
the extracted material. For instance, the extraction of a tonne of sand may have equal relevance to the
extraction of a tonne of crushed stone or a tonne of copper ore, depending on the natural landscape where
those masses are moved, thereby destroying vegetation and soils, expelling animals, changing water
courses, etc.
For the further considerations of global resource flow management, country borders will be neglected,
so that technically input and consumption indicators become identical. Nevertheless, it seems important
to distinguish biotic and abiotic resource flows (Figure 3). Understanding this material flow system
implies that monitoring devices indicate the throughput at certain points (the material flow indicators),
and that policy instruments can regulate this throughput (mainly indirectly by influencing production
and consumption patterns) while monitoring their effectiveness. Depending on which indicator is used
as a “target valve”, side streams may be induced, if essential flow positions are not covered.
Direct material flow and raw material flow indicators monitor both biotic and abiotic used extraction.
Measuring the combined flows at point (1), e.g., by RMI or RMC, could fail to see shifts between biotic
and abiotic flows, and increasing amounts of unused extraction. While used and unused extraction are
often technologically linked, this is not the case for abiotic extraction of mining and quarrying vs. the
excavation for infrastructure building and maintenance, although the environmental impacts may be
quite similar. For instance, based on given technology and geological conditions, the unused extraction
of mining grows with the used extraction. In contrast, the excavation of earth for building road dams,
for foundations of buildings, for laying water pipes, drilling tunnels, terrassing landscapes, and building
artificial islands depends more on the status of infrastructure development. Nevertheless, the impacts
due to landscape changes and mass translocations use to be similar in mining (and quarrying) and
infrastructure excavation.
Resources 2015, 4 38
Figure 3. Simplified scheme of the socio-industrial metabolism, distinguishing biotic and
abiotic resource flows. Indicators monitoring the flows at potential valve positions are
numbered. See text. Note: “Abiotic resources used” comprises fossil fuels, metals, and
industrial and construction minerals. “Unused abiotic resource extraction” contains the part
of total extraction of primary material during mining and quarrying which is left aside.
“Excavation” accounts for the earth and soil extraction and movement for road and
building construction (dams, foundation pits, etc.). These resource flows altogether
determine the pressure of landscape changes and associated impacts by mineral extraction.
“Biotic resources used” represent the harvest and use of primary biomass in agriculture,
forestry and fisheries. “Unused biotic resources” comprise cuttings left on the ground, or
by-catch. With a given structure between bio-based sectors, production technologies, and
land use pattern, these resource flows determine the bundle of specific environmental
pressures by biomass harvest and use.
Therefore, it might be appropriate to measure also the total minerals extraction, both used and unused,
including excavation at point (2) by TMC
. At the same time, it seems appropriate to monitor TMC
for the total biotic extraction or harvest (by agriculture, forestry and fisheries; indicated at 3a) , as long
as there are relevant differences to the used biotic input which could otherwise measured at point 3b.
Thus, the flow system and its potential monitoring valves are known. The next question is about the
target levels of those flows.
Mining and
ture building
facturing &
to air
biotic used
abiotic used
abiotic unused
** excavation
* biotic unused
Resources 2015, 4 39
5. Potential Targets
5.1. Existing Target Setting Proposals for Minerals and Biomass Extraction
After the first proposal of Schmidt-Bleek targetting human induced resource flows, various targets
have been suggested which by and large applied a similar rationale, although based on different
indicators (Table 1). In its study “Sustainable Germany” the Wuppertal Institute [26,79] adopted the
basic rationale of Schmidt-Bleek and suggested a reduction of the total material consumption by
80%–90% between 1995 and 2050 as a target which ought to be reached by a significant increase in the
total material resource productivity. Considering basically different challenges of biomass vs. mineral
resource use, [27] argued that the former may be targeted by land use based parameters while the latter
might be targeted by material flow based indicators. If Schmidt-Bleek’s rationale were adopted, this
would result in 5.6–6.1 tonnes per person TMC
as a long-term target (excluding biomass and erosion,
including used and unused extraction of fossil fuels, metals, industrial and construction minerals as well
as excavation). In view of the ongoing continuous increase of global resource extraction, the mineral
extraction reached by developing countries and their need to further develop their infrastructure,
Bringezu [80] concluded that it would already be a challenge to return to the level of global resource
extraction of 2000, and for that purpose suggested a target of 10 tonnes per person TMC
for the EU.
Bio Intelligence Services et al. [81] in a study for the EU Commission, proposed targets based on DMC,
suggesting 5 t/person DMC as target for 2050. The components of the DMC are differentiated, and the
consumption of biomass (based year 2005) is not targeted for reduction but a stabilization, while the
mineral components of DMC (metals, construction and industrial minerals, and fossil fuels) are meant
to be reduced by differentiated targets in the range of 50%–95%.
In a study for UNIDO and others, Dittrich et al. [20] formulated global targets for the sum of used
extraction of biomass and minerals, which on a worldwide level equals both DMC and RMI. They
suggest limiting global used extraction to 50 billion tonnes. Based on the variation of national DMC
accounts the authors select “best practice” consumption levels for the main material components of
DMC. Assuming that other countries could adopt those low levels of the target category without
additional needs of other resources, they differentiate DMC targets per person for biomass, fossil fuels,
metals and non-metallic minerals, which sum up to 8 t/person DMC.
Lettenmeier et al. [15] studied the TMR for consumption in Finnish households. They analyzed the
total material requirements for the areas of final demand such as food, housing and mobility. Selecting
“best practices” of those households in terms of low resource consumption they suggest a long-term
target of 8 tonnes/person TMC (= TMR of domestic consumption).
Although both Dittrich et al. [20] and Lettenmeier et al. [15] arrive at the identical value of
8 tonnes per person, the requirements for reduction differ at least by a factor of 2 due to the different
target indicators.
Resources 2015, 4 40
Table 1. Target proposals for material resource consumption of earlier studies following Schmidt-Bleek [56,57].
Resource Group or
Field of Final Demand
Targets (Short
to mid-Term)
Target Year
(Short to mid-Term)
Target Year
Wuppertal Institute
(2008) [26,79]
Primary Material Consumption minus 25% 2010 minus 80%–90% 2050 TMC 1995
Fossil fuels minus 25% 2010 minus 80%–90% 2050
Material resource productivity +4% to +6% p.a. 2010 GDP/TMR 1995
Bringezu (2009,
2011) [27,80]
Abiotic materials (used and unused)
10 t/cap 2050–2100 TMC
Net addition to stock 0 2050–2100 NAS 2000
BIO Intelligence
et al. (2012)
11 t/cap
(minus 30%)
5 t/cap
(minus 70%)
2050 DMC 2005
biomass plus/minus 0% 2020 plus/minus 0% 2050 DMC 2005
fossil fuels minus 30% 2020 minus 90% 2050 DMC 2005
minerals minus 50% 2020 minus 85% 2050 DMC 2005
metals minus 20% 2020 minus 50% 2050 DMC 2005
EMC > minus 30% 2020 > minus 70% 2050 EMC 2005
Dittrich, Giljum
et al. (2012) [20]
DMC, “freezing” a base year level 50 billion tonnes 2030 50 billion tonnes 2050 DMC
Suggested target: 8 t/cap 2030 DMC
Based on current best practices of
countries (10 t/cap):
biomass ca. 2.2 t/cap DMC 2008
fossil fuels 2–2.5 t/cap DMC 2008
minerals 4–5 t/cap DMC 2008
metals 0.8 t/cap DMC 2008
Lettenmeier et al.
(2014) [15]
Material footprint (TMR) * 8 t/cap 2050 TMR
Suggested cap for final demand:
food 3 t/cap 2050 TMR
housing 1.6 t/cap 2050 TMR
mobility 2 t/cap 2050 TMR
product consumption 0.5 t/cap 2050 TMR
leisure time 0.5 t/cap 2050 TMR
others 0.4 t/cap 2050 TMR
Note: * the authors address TMR which on a product and consumption level is identical with Total Material Consumption (TMC).
Resources 2015, 4 41
5.2. Outlining a Safe Corridor of Minerals and Biomass Extraction and Use
Against that background, and drawing from the earlier suggestions, a potential target corridor shall
be addressed. The potential target range is basically determined by the proposal of Schmidt-Bleek [57,58] to
half the global resource consumption (resulting in a low target value), and the suggestion to return to the
level of 2000 (resulting in a high target value). There is still no hard scientific evidence of causal
relationship between human-induced resource flows and the possible breakdown of life-supporting
functions at continental or global scale from which those targets could directly be derived. The basic
rationale still remains precautionary in the sense that bundles of environmental and subsequently social
stress associated with those material flows from extraction to final disposal which exert their pressure at
various locations should be limited. If—void of better alternatives—one accepts the approach of setting
such targets rather arbitrarily, while considering past experience and available knowledge, the question
is which targets for resource use could be defined in a sensible way. In search of a safe corridor, it will
be elucidated whether a combined target for abiotic and biotic resources can be defined reasonably, or
whether those resource flows should be treated separately, and which set of targets would be adequate
to control the key valves of the metabolic system as discussed above in Figure 3.
As a reference for global resource extraction and use, 2000 is taken as the base year, the values for
2010 and for an estimated BAU trend until 2030 are provided for comparison (Table 2, Figure 4).
The data for recent years on abiotic and biotic extraction (used and unused) are taken from the database [68]. The order of magnitude of global excavation was estimated to range
from 40 to 50 Gt in 2000. This was derived from 2.3 t/person in EU-27 [82], 9.4 t/person in Japan (the
1994 value provided by [37]), and 14.1 t/person in the USA [83]; these data were used to calculate a
weighted mean for the OECD which resulted in 8.15 Gt. In China, excavation was determined with
26.08 Gt in 2000, corresponding to 20.7 t/person [84]. If one assumes that the rest of the world ranged
between 2.0 and 4.6 t/person the calculation will result in a global total excavation between 41.6 Gt and
51.1 Gt [85]. Therefore, 40–50 Gt excavation were used as base level in 2000. Excavation after 2000
was estimated with values for OECD and China assumed constant (the available time series for Germany
and China until 2010 and 2008, resp., indicated a constant trend), while for the rest of the world growth
rates for both low and high base levels were adopted from abiotic used extraction. Erosion was not
included in the further considerations due to the insufficient data base.
In 2000, total mineral extraction amounted to 105–115 Gt, exceeding three times the used abiotic
extraction of 34 Gt. The relation of used abiotic to used biotic extraction was about 2:1, while the relation
of total minerals to total biomass was 5:1. The sum of used abiotic and biotic extraction was 51 Gt. From
2000 to 2010, the global material flows have already increased significantly; used abiotic extraction
grew by 54%, used biotic by 16%.
Business-as-usual data for 2030 were derived from [20]. Their projection started in 2010. Recent data
for that year (as shown in the table) exhibit only 87% of the projected level, so that an even steeper
increase would be assumed if their estimate for 2030 were adopted which was based on the assumption
that the world until then would have reached the mean OECD level. Here it is assumed that by 2030 the
world may have adopted 90% of the mean OECD level under business-as-usual conditions.
Resources 2015, 4 42
Table 2. Global development of raw and total material flows and potential target ranges.
2000 2010
BAU trend
Change required for
2030 BAU (%)
Return to
2000 level
Half 2000
high target low target high target low target
Abiotic extraction used 33.8 51.9 117.5 33.8 16.9 71 86
Abiotic extraction unused 31.7 40.8 92.3 31.7 15.8 66 83
Excavation 40 to 50 43 to 57 57 to 90 45.0 22.5 21 to 50 61 to 75
Sum minerals 105 to 115 135 to 150 267 to 300 110.4 55.2 63 79
Biotic used 17.1 19.9 27.7 17.1 8.5 38 69
Biotic unused 4.3 5.2 7.2 4.3 2.1 41 70
Sum biotic 21.3 25.2 34.9 21.3 10.7 39 69
Sum used min+bio 50.8 71.8 145.2 50.8 25.4 65 83
Sum total 127 to 137 160 to 175 302 to 335 136.7 65.9 59 78
] 6.12 6.88 8.42 9.55 Medium projection
Abiotic extraction used 5.5 7.5 14.0 3.5 1.8 75 87
Abiotic extraction unused 5.2 5.9 11.0
3.3 1.7 70 85
Excavation 6.5 to 8.2 6.2 to 8.3 6.8 to 10.7 4.7 2.4 30 65
Sum minerals: Abiotic plus excavation 17.2 to 18.9 19.7 to 21.8 31.7 to 35.6
11.6 5.8 68 82
Biotic used 2.8 2.9 3.3 1.8 0.9 46 73
Biotic unused 0.7 0.8 0.9
0.4 0.2 48 74
Sum biotic 3.5 3.7 4.1 2.2 1.1 46 73
Sum used min+bio 8.3 10.4 17.2
5.3 2.7 69 85
Sum total 20.7 to 22.3 23.3 to 25.5 35.8 to 39.8 14.3 6.9 64 81
Resources 2015, 4 43
Table 2. Cont.
2000 2010
BAU trend
Change required for
2030 BAU (%)
Return to
2000 level
Half 2000
high target low target high target low target
10.9 High projection
Abiotic extraction used 3.1 1.6
Sum minerals: Abiotic plus excavation 10.2 5.1
Biotic used
1.6 0.8
Sum biotic 2.0 1.0
Sum used min+bio
4.7 2.3
Sum total 12.6 6.1
8.34 Low projection
Abiotic extraction used 4.0 2.0
Sum minerals: Abiotic plus excavation 13.2 6.6
Biotic used
2.0 1.0
Sum biotic 2.6 1.3
Sum used min+bio
6.1 3.0
Sum total 16.4 7.9
Resources 2015, 4 44
(a) (b)
Figure 4. Overview of global resource flows since 2000, business-as-usual trend until 2030
and potential target corridor until 2050: absolute amounts (a) and per person (b). Values
from Table 2.
In order to delineate potential target ranges for 2050, a high target was defined as equal to the level
of 2000, while the low target was half of it. The major challenge of change towards this potential target
corridor is the rapid growth since 2000 and the expected increase in the coming decades.
Comparing the projected BAU 2030 level with the potential target range of 2050 indicates
requirements of reductions between 71% and 86% for used abiotic extraction, and 63%–79% for total
minerals extraction. In contrast, biomass used and total biomass extraction would need to be reduced
only by about 39%–70%. The reason for the significant difference is the ongoing much higher growth
for abiotic resource use compared to biomass.
The challenges of reduction towards more sustainable levels grow further when aiming at a fair
distribution amongst the increasing world population. Based on per person global average values, abiotic
used extraction in 2030 would need to be reduced 75%–87% to reach the potential target corridor.
Similar reductions of factor 4 to 10 would be required for total minerals extraction, though a bit lower.
For biotic resources, used and total, “only” 46%–73% would need to be reduced.
The question arises as to whether it would make sense to reduce the biotic resource extraction per
person to one-third of the 2000 level, as implied by the potential low target level. The supply of food
dominates the biotic resource flows. Around one-third of edible food is lost or wasted globally and could
be “saved” by improving supply chains and changing food waste behaviors [86]. At the same time, final
demand for food might grow 1.5 times with the world population from 2000 to 2050. Accordingly,
halving the absolute level of 2000 seems questionable; instead, as BioIntelligence et al. [81] have suggested
for direct material flows, a rather constant absolute amount of biotic resource flows may be targeted.
Equally distributed this would be around 2 t/person TMC
(comprising both used and unused, food
and non-food biomass, with used food dominating, timber representing about 10%–15% [87]). This
would be valid for low to high population projections.
For mineral resource flows, the target corridor between low and high level would range between
6 and 12 t/person TMC
(comprising both used and unused abiotic extraction and excavation), when
considering also the variation of population projections. On the one hand, the lower end level would
correspond to the goal that human-induced (mineral) flows should not exceed (somehow comparable)
Resources 2015, 4 45
natural flows more than twice (when considering continental input by volcanoes) and less than 30 times
(when considering only extrusive magma formation). On the other hand, the higher end level would
reflect that due to the high growth of mineral extraction after 2000 it would be already an enormous
challenge to return to that level. Correspondingly, the reduction corridor would range between a factor
4 and 10 (meaning a reduction towards one forth to one tenth).
Total material flows depend both on the consumption of manufactured products and conditions in the
primary sectors (e.g., technology and geologic conditions determining the ratio of used to unused
extraction) and–for total minerals flows–also on the infrastructure and building activities (determining
excavation). In contrast, raw material flows (used abiotic and biotic extraction) on the demand side are
only determined by the factors influencing manufacturing and final consumption. While data on total
material flows are literally farther away from the users, data on direct material flows and raw material
flows (at the global level identical) are closer and more easily available. Therefore, there is also an
interest to provide orientation targets for Raw Material Consumption (RMC) or Raw Material Input
(RMI), which are identical at the global level.
As discussed above, for 2050, the used biomass may not be targeted below the high level per person
in Table 2, which at a rounded one digit value would be 2 t/person (same order of magnitude as total
biomass extracted). Considering the potential target range of used abiotic resources and possible
variation of the world population, the sum of used raw materials would range 3–6 t/person RMC.
The aggregation of different resource flows, in particular mineral and biomass flows, into joint
targets, should be treated with caution. On the one hand, the aggregation assumes substitutability
between its components; and the option to substitute biomass for minerals had been one original idea to
define indicators such as the TMR at the beginning of the 1990s. On the other hand, it has become clear
in the recent twenty years, that, as described earlier, the extraction of biomass has already surpassed
thresholds of a safe operating space globally; therefore, indicators and targets should be designed in a
way that such a substitution is not further incentivized, and an increase in the level of global biomass
use is avoided.
In terms of environmental impact one could argue that one ton of biomass saved is more worth
than one ton of minerals saved, in particular when considering impacts on biodiversity through land
use change. This is another reason why the material flow targets should be complemented by land
use targets.
Nevertheless, a combination of mineral and biomass resource flows into one target value would have
the advantage of more easy communication, and in terms of productivity indicators (such as GDP/RMI,
GDP/TMR) would carry an important message: both the use of minerals and biomass must become much
more efficient and productive, if the corridor of more sustainable resource use shall be reached.
Orientation towards more sustainable resource use requires reference levels of absolute resource
consumption. Table 3 summarizes the potential material flow based target ranges per person for 2050.
For communication purposes, it is often much easier to convey concrete target values rather than
target ranges, which are scientifically more correct, but imply uncertainty which may lower incentives
for actors adopting it as a target. At the same time, it seems more important to induce appropriate change
measures in practice by providing long-term orientation, than to determine conditions and values for the
future with higher precision but no induced action, provided the direction of change is signaled in the
right way.
Resources 2015, 4 46
Table 3. Summary of possible target corridor of sustainable global resource flows and
suggested targets for communication (target year 2050).
Indicator Potential Sustainability Range (t/Person) Possible Policy Target (t/Person)
6–12 10
2 2
RMC 3–6 5
Therefore, and also considering some priorities, the ranges in Table 3 are also supplemented by
potential concrete policy targets. Resource use in 2050 could become safer and fairer, when following
the “10-2-5 target triplet” as a rule of thumb: TMC
should not exceed 10 t/person, TMC
2 t/person,
and RMC should be kept within 5 t/person. Those concrete values would keep the relation of 10:2
between TMC
and TMC
as of 2000, and thus avoid a further shift to overuse biomass. The
10 t/person TMC
would still lead to a lower level of global mineral extraction than in 2000, but keep
the challenge more manageable. Choosing the higher end of the corridor for RMC also intends to be
more realistic, and to keep the implicit relation of the contained biomass and minerals at least somehow
within balance.
6. Discussion
The combination of the three flow based indicators might provide better guidance than a single
indicator. RMC is regularly monitored at the global level (, and is going to be recorded
regularly also by statistical offices in a growing number of countries. When TMC
and TMC
addressed as target indicators and requested by policy makers, then statistics will strengthen their efforts
to monitor also unused extraction and excavation. If those parameters are not at least recorded in longer
time intervals (say 5 years), the risk would grow that a reduction of used raw materials consumption may
be compensated by a growth of those “ecological rucksacks”. Undesired side-streams may be the
consequence (see Figure 2).
The outlined potential target corridor would be compatible with–but not substitutable for–other
targets such as the long-term reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Fossil fuels constitute an essential
component of used mineral extraction which as an aggregate would be targeted to reduce by 75%–87%.
This could go hand in hand with a 90% reduction of fossil based carbon dioxide emissions [27], when
efficiency increases and savings of energy resources are combined with a shift, for instance, from coal
to less resource and emission intensive energy carriers such as natural gas [88]. Moreover, the transition
towards a climate friendly energy system could be combined with are more resource efficient production
and consumption system. Regarding potential targets to reduce nutrient pollution, in particular by active
nitrogen, the suggested target level of 2 t/person TMC
would also contribute to limit the need to use
fertlizer. In contrast, an orientation only towards climate protection and nutrient pollution control would
not suffice to keep the whole bundles of impacts of abiotic and biotic resource flows low level, and might
be prone to various problem shifts.
Regarding feasibility of reaching those potential targets, Lettenmeier et al. [15] have shown that some
Finnish households can cope with 8 t/person TMR (in this case equal to TMC) which comprises both
abiotic and biotic primary extraction so that 10 t/person TMC
should be no problem for comparable
Resources 2015, 4 47
conditions. However, one must be careful in the interpretation of the data of those resource light
households with current technologies may represent relatively poor households and uncomfortable living
conditions within their country. Nevertheless, when considering technological progress towards higher
resource efficiency, the order of magnitude of 10 t/person TMC
seems within reach.
In a similar vein, as Dittrich et al. [20] have argued certain countries can already manage with
2 t/person direct biomass use. The sum of DMC for those countries still amounts to 10 t/person,
indicating a challenge of a factor 2 in particular for the abiotic part of DMC also for those countries.
For EU member countries, Meyer et al. [89] modelled the impact of a policy mix which could
significantly increase total material productivity, and reduce TMC by about a quarter within 20 years.
Further research towards this end is ongoing in various projects.
The acceptance of such targets might grow in the future. Few countries will remain net exporters,
while most countries will become net importers of natural resources [20]. While the former will learn
how to become more independent from those exports and develop their own economy, the latter have a
growing interest to become independent of foreign supply, develop the circular economy and
increase resource efficiency. Some of these countries like Japan and Germany have started to develop
policies to enhance resource productivity. With increasing use of natural resources, the number of
socio-environmental conflicts will grow. Monitoring such conflicts, for instance by the Ejolt project
(, reveals that many if not most of them are associated with human induced material
flows, starting with mining and quarrying and refining of abiotic resources, or with biomass and land
use conflicts, up to waste management issues. The domestic TMR per person declines with growing
population density of countries [90] indicating that in particular mining and quarrying is evading social
conflicts and preferring less populated areas for resource extraction. In Germany, in the past 60–80 years,
75,000 people were resettled to get access to brown coal fields [91]. In the future, this will be no longer
acceptable to the domestic population. Coal and other resources are increasingly being imported.
It seems only a matter of time before the currently or potentially conflicting interests in the supplying
regions become more obvious. As the world is getting “fuller”, this might enhance the acceptance of
targets for natural resource use in order to mitigate the potential of socio-environmental conflicts.
7. Conclusions
This article started to observe that, in the context of the SDGs and for orientation of national and
regional governments, the question arises how progress towards an efficient, environmentally safe and
socially fair use of global resources can be measured. From a systems perspective on the
socio-industrial metabolism, the various bundles of environmental pressure associated with human
induced material flows—from resource extraction to final disposal—could be lowered to acceptable
levels by a reduction of primary input. The arguments reflected how an acceptable or safe operating level
of global resource flows could be delineated. Different criteria need to be considered for biomass and
mineral resource flows.
A central question was to which extent existing, economy-wide material flow indicators can be used
for target setting on global resource use. Earlier suggestions towards this end were reviewed, partially
re-visited and employed to outline potentially sustainable levels of biomass and mineral resource use.
Both the need to limit environmental burden and the basic feasibility of targets were considered.
Resources 2015, 4 48
Altogether, one may conclude that the potential safe operating space of global resource use may be
better described by a range of target values (or a “corridor”), which may also serve as basis for further
delineation and critique by research, although for communication purposes concrete target values would
be preferable. In 2050, the potential sustainable corridor for total minerals resource flows could range
between half and full of the absolute global level in 2000, distributed equally among the future
population, i.e., 6–12 t/person TMC
. For biotic resource flows, which are dominated by food, a
reduction below the level of 2000 seems hardly possible, which for a population in 2050 would mean
2 t/person TMC
(same value for used biomass). For used minerals and biomass extraction, the
sustainability range could be around 3–6 t/person RMC in 2050. Policies could pursue the
“10-2-5 target triplet”: 10 t/person TMC
, 2 t/person TMC
, and 5 t/person RMC could be used for
long-term orientation towards 2050. These values and their relations have been derived also to reduce
the risks by substituting biomass for minerals. The target corridor on material resource consumption
would be compatible with as well as complementary to other, substance specific targets on climate
protection and nutrient pollution control.
The author is grateful for constructive comments of the reviewers, for suggestions and proof
reading by Meghan O’Brien who improved the manuscript significantly. He also thanks Stefan Giljum
and his team for providing the data of the BAU scenario of [12] and the biomass subcategories of
Conflicts of Interest
The author declares no conflict of interest.
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... • Material Footprint : is generally measured in terms of the Domestic Material Consumption (DMC), which represents quantity of raw materials (e.g., fossil fuels, metal ores, aggregate, etc.) extracted from nature to satisfy a country's consumptive demand (Swilling et al., 2018). including indirect loads and breaks the material footprints into three main categories-namely biotic, abiotic, and raw materials, with corresponding thresholds respectively being 2, 6 -12, and 3 -6 tonnes per capita per year (Bringezu, 2015;Swilling et al., 2018). This segregation could enable better management of natural resources at the urban scale and serve as a basis for reducing cities' environmental pressures in the five main categories of consumption (Bringezu, 2015;Sala et al., 2020). ...
... including indirect loads and breaks the material footprints into three main categories-namely biotic, abiotic, and raw materials, with corresponding thresholds respectively being 2, 6 -12, and 3 -6 tonnes per capita per year (Bringezu, 2015;Swilling et al., 2018). This segregation could enable better management of natural resources at the urban scale and serve as a basis for reducing cities' environmental pressures in the five main categories of consumption (Bringezu, 2015;Sala et al., 2020). ...
... 2) Sources : (Galli, 2015;Vigier, Moore & Ouellet-Plamondon, 2021;Zhang, Dzakpasu, Chen & Wang, 2017) 3) Sources : Bringezu, 2015; European Commission Statistical Office of the European Union, 2018) 4) Sources : (Aldaya, 2012;Gleeson et al., 2020;ISO, 2014;Li et al., 2020;Vanham, 2018) ...
Full-text available
Our global demand for resources currently exceeds the Earth’s carrying capacity (ECC), defined as the limit of anthropogenic pressure that our ecosystem can withstand within its regenerative and assimilative capacities. Representing a significant share of global environmental degradation, cities are seen as having the potential to catalyze a transition to a truly sustainable state in compliance with ECC. However, in order to do so, urban decision-makers must rely on robust measurement tools representing the complex dynamics or urban systems to guide their actions. This paper asks what tools exist to bridge this gap between theory and practice, what role urban planners are now giving to the ECC, and what the sustainability status of high-income reductionleading cities is in relation to the ECC. Ten assessment frameworks and four sustainability indicators were identified as compatible with the One Planet goal and adapted to measure key urban flows. Sustainability is primarily considered through the lens of climate at the urban scale, and existing assessment standards lack comprehensibility, leading to an overall underestimation of cities’ total environmental footprint. To select and analyze the leading cities in impact reduction, we used the following criteria : achievement of an absolute GHG emission reduction greater than 15 % over the period 1990-2020, and intentionality/commitment to sustainability through active membership in specific environmental knowledge transfer groups. Twenty-four cities were identified whose GHG reductions since 1990 range from 24-49 %, which is between 2-4 times lower than what is required by high-income cities by 2050 to reach the goal of living within ECC. To achieve a "one-planet life", cities must address their overconsumption using systemic tools that incorporate the notion of ECC and consider indirect emissions related to urban consumption. Various obstacles to this approach have been identified, of a practical, economic, cultural and geopolitical nature, and must be taken into account in order to promote the wider use of ECC as the ultimate goal of sustainability. Achieving a global state that respects ECC is everyone’s concern. Hence, the establishment of specific reduction targets, based on collaboration and effort-sharing approaches, must be promoted to ensure an environmentally efficient and socially just transition.
... Jäger (2014) also proposed to cap future global material use to match the extraction levels of beginning of the 21 st century. Similar material consumption rates were proposed by others (Schmidt-Bleek 2008;Ekins et al. 2009;IRP 2014), but as stressed by Bringezu (2015), they do not provide information on the indicator used. Other researchers such Dittrich et al. (2012) proposed to keep material extraction at the level of 1992, although they provided no basis to support that decision. ...
... Stricks et al. (2015), on the other hand, chose the 1970s as sustainable extraction levels given that it was only then that the ecological footprint of humanity surpassed the Earth's carrying capacity. Bringezu (2015) later revised the approach for target setting, but as he highlighted, there "is still no hard scientific evidence of causal relationship between human-induced resource flows and the possible breakdown of life-supporting functions at continental or global scale from which those targets could directly be derived" (Bringezu 2015, p. 41). For this reason, the targets he proposed are still driven by the principles used in the previous paragraphs. ...
... Examples include the extraction of fossil fuels (McGlade and Ekins 2015) and metals (Desing et al. 2020). Reference values related to the consumption of raw materials also exist (Schmidt-Bleek 1993;Bringezu 2009Bringezu , 2011Bringezu , 2015, but consumption of raw materials is commonly used as a proxy for environmental pressures (Steinmann et al. 2017) and is therefore not representative of the source functions of natural capital. ...
Countries lack resonant metrics to monitor environmental sustainability from a strong sustainability perspective. Building on the Sustainability Gap approach, which was developed in the late 1990s to address this indicator gap, this thesis formulates the Environmental Sustainability Gap (ESGAP) framework with a stronger focus on implementation. ESGAP comprises two novel indices of environmental sustainability: the Strong Environmental Sustainability Index (SESI) and the Strong Environmental Sustainability Progress Index (SESPI). SESI measures the performance of 21 natural capital indicators against science-based reference values of environmental sustainability that reflect whether the environmental functions provided by natural capital are threatened. Based on observed and desired trends, SESPI describes whether the country is making progress towards, or away environmental sustainability as defined by those environmental sustainability reference values. The analysis focuses on European countries due to good data availability. European countries perform quite poorly with SESI, which indicates that several environmental functions are threatened. Broadly speaking, European countries perform better in the functions related to the provision of natural resources and human health and welfare, but get lower scores in the functions associated with pollution and life support systems. As shown by SESPI, current trends are also insufficient to reach environmental standards by 2030, although relevant differences emerge depending on the countries and indicators. The results contrast with the generally high performance attributed to European countries in other environmental indices such as the Environmental Performance Index or the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Index. A qualitative assessment of the environmental SDG indicators suggests that the SDG indicators fail to represent strong sustainability, which can ultimately lead to misleading messages around environmental sustainability. Combined, SESI and SESPI can make the messages on environmental sustainability more digestible to relevant audiences, while complementing existing metrics, including those used in the context of the Beyond GDP literature.
... Fig. 1 illustrates the provisioning system framework used to organize the collected indicator and thresholds into an indicator system. This framework further incorporates concepts such as the transformation of resources into provisioning (Bringezu 2015), over-and under-consumption perspectives (Akenji et al., 2015), and the tied social and ecological connections to provisioning systems (Fanning et al., 2020;O'Neill et al., 2018). ...
... Lettenmeier et al. (2014) use of a micro-level life cycle assessment approach had an even higher estimate for Finnish households (at 25%). Using this allocation and the eight tonnes of material consumption threshold suggested by Bringezu (2015), Lettenmeier et al. (2014) suggested a mobility-related threshold of material consumption of two tonnes of material consumption per capita per year. This illustrates some of the potential challenges of applying thresholds at different levels, for example where sub-national EEIO models may not be available for many locations in their current state. ...
... Based on the planetary boundaries framework constructed by Steffen et al. (2015) and Rockström et al. (2009a, b), we narrowed the five boundaries-climate change, biodiversity, land system change, freshwater use, biogeochemical flow, and material footprint-on a per capita basis (O'Neill et al. 2018;Springmann et al. 2018;Bringezu 2015), and compared them with each other. ...
... Following O'Neil et al. (2018) and Fanning et al. (2022), we incorporate it into our analysis, as material use is an important indicator of environmental pressures imposed by socio-economic activities and an important bridge between society and the environment. We adopt analysis by Bringezu (2015), which uses higher population growth projections, suggests a per capita target value of 5 t for the year 2050, with a range of 3-6 t. ...
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Safe and Just Space (SJS) is a framework for determining the range where the use of natural resources within the Earth’s carrying capacity can maintain human well-being. However, there has been no systematic monitoring and evaluation of their sustainability across time and space. Here we developed and applied a model and a sustainable development human safe operation space (SDHSOS) index to assess the sustainability capacity and development path of 149 countries from 2000 to 2018. The results demonstrate that (1) The overall sustainable development capacity of all countries is at the middle or lower level and that it has increased over time. (2) The sustainability of natural and socio-economic dimensions and their degree of change show obvious geographic differences and income differences. (3) The national development path divided by income is characterized by a decline in natural environment dimensions and an increase in socio-economic dimensions, which mainly reflects a traditional development path model that promotes social welfare at the expense of the natural environment. This study suggests that nations can accurately identify development characteristics, expand their comparative advantages is the key to improving sustainable development capabilities.
... Based on the availability of data, both PHDI and PIHDI were estimated for 1990-2016 and 2010-2016, respectively. (Dittrich et al. 2012;Bringezu 2015) has been taken as a safe operating space for material consumption globally, for 2030. ...
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The human development index (HDI) was an important step toward a more human-oriented assessment of socioeconomic prosperity. Nevertheless, at the onset of the anthropocene, the environmental pillar of sustainable development is indispensable. This work aims to understand this conundrum of human development and its environmental cost or pressure through the use of the planetary pressures-adjusted human development index (PHDI) as well as introduce another modified version, planetary pressures, and inequality-adjusted human development index (PIHDI). PHDI incorporates two biophysical consumption-based indicators (CO 2 emissions and material footprint, MF) as a proxy of environmental pressures into traditionally socioeconomic development-focused HDI. This work spans 164 nations and 27 years (1990-2016). Various statistical techniques such as Pearson's correlation, hierarchical clustering (HCA), generalised additive modelling (GAM), data envelopment analysis (DEA), linear regression, and ARIMA forecasting have been used to explore interrelationships, non-linearity, efficiency analysis, and future projections (up to 2030) and delve into two scenarios: high human development and for human development permitted only within the two planetary boundaries (PBs) (viz. climate change and material footprint) and their consequences when exceeded. Though most of the countries with high PHDI and PIHDI scores are from the global north and have a high income, it is also possible to attain human development (i.e. increase PHDI and PIHDI scores) without overexploiting biophysical resources. From 2016, human development scores could increase by 55-63% (climate change) or 30-46% (material consumption) within a safe operating space in 2030. Without the required focus on the environment, aiming for a superior score in PHDI and PIHDI could result in 43-58% (CO 2 emissions) or 57-58% (material footprint) of countries that would exceed PB. Based on the outcome of this work, it can be recommended that governments and policymakers that it is well within the limits of feasibility as well as necessary to make human socioeconomic development aspire to sustainability to address the needs of humanity, while respecting the well-being of the surrounding biosphere.
... Indeed, as early as 1993, the Business Council for Sustainable Development reported that: "Industrialised world reductions in material throughput, energy use, and environmental degradation of over 90% will be required by 2040 to meet the needs of a growing world population fairly within the planet's ecological means" (BCSD, 1993, 10). Several recent estimates of necessary rich country reductions fall within the same ballpark (e.g., Bringezu, 2015;IGES, 2019). (These analyses typically fail to explore the need for population reductions.) ...
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The human enterprise is in overshoot, depleting essential ecosystems faster than they can regenerate and polluting the ecosphere beyond nature’s assimilative capacity. Overshoot is a meta-problem that is the cause of most symptoms of eco-crisis, including climate change, landscape degradation and biodiversity loss. The proximate driver of overshoot is excessive energy and material ‘throughput’ to serve the global economy. Both rising incomes (consumption) and population growth contribute to the growing human eco-footprint, but increasing throughput due to population growth is the larger factor at the margin. (Egregious and widening inequality is a separate socio-political problem.) Mainstream approaches to alleviating various symptoms of overshoot merely reinforce the status quo. This is counter-productive, as overshoot is ultimately a terminal condition. The continuity of civilisation will require a cooperative, planned contraction of both the material economy and human populations, beginning with a personal to civilisational transformation of the fundamental values, beliefs, assumptions and attitudes underpinning neoliberal/capitalist industrial society.
Die Bauindustrie ist der Industriesektor, der in der Wirtschaft für die höchsten Umweltbelastungen, in Form von Treibhausgas (THG)‐Emissionen und der Nutzung natürlicher Ressourcen, verantwortlich ist. Die Umsetzung ambitionierter Maßnahmen im Bausektor für mehr Klimaschutz und Ressourceneffizienz ist daher ein zentrales Thema der Umwelt‐ und Nachhaltigkeitspolitik, das weltweit höchste Priorität hat. Die derzeit vorhandenen Bewertungssysteme für Nachhaltigkeit im Baubereich betrachten bereits den Klimaschutzaspekt, jedoch erfolgt die Berücksichtigung der Ressourcennutzung, insbesondere von Rohstoffen und Wasser, bisher nur in Ansätzen. Um Synergien zu nutzen und mögliche Zielkonflikte zu minimieren, müssen daher geeignete Methoden, Indikatoren und Instrumente zur Messung von THG‐Emissionen und Ressourcenaufwendungen entwickelt und zur Anwendung gebracht werden. In diesem Beitrag wird die ökobilanzielle Methodik zur Bewertung der Nutzung natürlicher Ressourcen Material, Energie und Wasser in Relation zur Klimawirkung mit verfügbaren ökobilanziellen Datenbanken für den Bausektor präsentiert. Der methodische Ansatz wird anhand verschiedener Anwendungsbeispiele für Baumaterialien, Bauteile, Gesamtkonstruktionen, Technologien und Bauprojekte gezeigt.
Technical Report
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Report identifies publicly accessible data relevant to input requirements of a modular and agnostic analytical framework developed by the CE-Hub to test the impacts and opportunities of different circular economy configurations and map and track pathways to realise these. A summary is available at this link, as is more information on the CE-Hub:
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The definition of ambitious life cycle-based benchmarks and target values to limit the GHG emissions of buildings is seen as one of the most important steps in pushing the construction and real estate sector in significantly reducing its contribution to global warming. Especially target values are no longer only developed from a bottom-up perspective. There is now an interest by governments and sustainability assessment system providers in supplementing bottom-up approaches with science-based top-down approaches as part of their responsibility to respect planetary boundaries. The creation of GHG emission budgets in combination with target values, as well as the introduction of strict enough legal binding requirements already today is critical for achieving a climate-neutral building stock. Achieving these tasks requires tackling still open methodological issues. Following the work of IEA EBC Annex 72 and current developments in Germany, the paper presents main questions, key steps, modelling aspects that can cause variation and uncertainties, as well as clarifies key terms and definitions. It is highlighted that although a net zero emission requirement is a universal benchmark, information on system boundaries and calculation rules are still necessary to provide evidence of its fulfilment.
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Despite rising awareness concerning climate change, global anthropic impacts on the environment are forecasted to increase in the overcoming years, exceeding our planet’s ecological limits. The accelerating pace of climate degradation calls for a quick and efficient response from our societies, should we have a chance to limit the impacts of global warming. Being main nodes of over-consumption and pollution, thus having a high potential for footprint reduction, cities are crucial actors for climate mitigation. Hence, to successfully achieve a transition towards real sustainability, knowledge transfer needs to happen from the cities that are aiming towards life-respecting planetary boundaries to other urban regions worldwide. Although gaining momentum in the literature, a life respecting Earth’s Carrying Capacity (ECC) is not yet explicitly nor widely set as the ultimate goal for cities wanting to realistically face climate change. This article’s purpose is to reflect on the identification of cities actively aiming for ECC and point out the various obstacles to this goal. A misrepresentation of cities’ impact, both induced by misused sustainability terms and incomplete assessment methodology, is found to be hindering cities from reducing their footprint with the efforts needed to adequately face climate change. To that extent, it is crucial that ECC becomes a wider used target for cities, and that compliant assessment methods along with more holistic indicators are used to evaluate and monitor their progress. Finally, other technical issues regarding the incompleteness of standards, accessibility, and representativeness of qualitative data must be addressed.
Technical Report
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Ziel des Arbeitspapiers ist die Darstellung, Analyse, Bewertung und Hierarchisierung der in internationalen, europäischen und nationalen Strategien, Programmen und Initiativen und in relevanten europäischen und nationalen rechtlichen Regelungen genannten qualitativen und quantitativen Ziele mit Bezug zu den im Deutschen Ressourceneffizienzprogramm (ProgRess) adressierten Ressourcen.
Minerals are part of virtually every product we use. Common examples include copper used in electrical wiring and titanium used to make airplane frames and paint pigments. The Information Age has ushered in a number of new mineral uses in a number of products including cell phones (e.g., tantalum) and liquid crystal displays (e.g., indium). For some minerals, such as the platinum group metals used to make cataytic converters in cars, there is no substitute. If the supply of any given mineral were to become restricted, consumers and sectors of the U.S. economy could be significantly affected. Risks to minerals supplies can include a sudden increase in demand or the possibility that natural ores can be exhausted or become too difficult to extract. Minerals are more vulnerable to supply restrictions if they come from a limited number of mines, mining companies, or nations. Baseline information on minerals is currently collected at the federal level, but no established methodology has existed to identify potentially critical minerals. This book develops such a methodology and suggests an enhanced federal initiative to collect and analyze the additional data needed to support this type of tool. © 2008 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Environmental and resource economics do not give the emphasis to ecosystem functions and the natural world that their importance to human welfare and the economy warrant. Insights from ecological economics, in contrast, suggest that the overall material throughput of the economy, in addition to the wastes it emits to air, sea and land, need to be greatly reduced. While environmental economics suggests that market-based instruments would be an efficient means of achieving both resource and environmental objectives, there are in fact many reasons, revealed by Public Choice analysis, why these are not implemented. Notwithstanding, it seems likely that, to address the pressing resource and environmental challenges facing humanity, policies will need to be implemented at both the international and national levels. This paper suggests that existing climate policy, based on international targets and national policies to meet them, could be supplemented by a similar policy on resource use, involving: either a global level of taxation to meet resource use targets, with transfers to poorer countries to aid their resource-efficient development; or a global resource permit trading scheme, with diminishing resource allowances over time. The latter could begin with a small group of larger, industrialised countries, which encouraged others to join the group by imposing taxes on imports from non-members equivalent to their own self-imposed resource surcharges. Coupled to a regime of Sustainable Commodity Agreements, to promote environmentally sound resource extraction, such a system could lead over time to the globally sustainable development which has as yet quite eluded the global community.