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The size and structure of the socioeconomic metabolism are key for the planet’s sustainability. In this article, we provide a consistent assessment of the development of material flows through the global economy in the period 1900–2015 using material flow accounting in combination with results from dynamic stock-flow modelling. Based on this approach, we can trace materials from extraction to their use, their accumulation in in-use stocks and finally to outflows of wastes and emissions and provide a comprehensive picture of the evolution of societies metabolism during global industrialization. This enables outlooks on inflows and outflows, which environmental policy makers require for pursuing strategies towards a more sustainable resource use. Over the whole time period, we observe a growth in global material extraction by a factor of 12 to 89 Gt/yr. A shift from materials for dissipative use to stock building materials resulted in a massive increase of in-use stocks of materials to 961 Gt in 2015. Since materials increasingly accumulate in stocks, outflows of wastes are growing at a slower pace than inputs. In 2015, outflows amounted to 58 Gt/yr, of which 35% were solid wastes and 25% emissions, the reminder being excrements, dissipative use and water vapor. Our results indicate a significant acceleration of global material flows since the beginning of the 21st century. We show that this acceleration, which took off in 2002, was not a short-term phenomenon but continues since more than a decade. Between 2002 and 2015, global material extraction increased by 53% in spite of the 2008 economic crisis. Based on detailed data on material stocks and flows and information on their long-term historic development, we make a rough estimate of what a global convergence of metabolic patterns at the current level in industrialized countries paired with a continuation of past efficiency gains might imply for global material demand. We find that in such a scenario until 2050 average global metabolic rates double to 22 t/cap/yr and material extraction increases to around 218 Gt/yr. Overall the analysis indicates a grand challenge calling for urgent action, fostering a continuous and considerable reduction of material flows to acceptable levels.
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Global Environmental Change
journal homepage:
From resource extraction to outows of wastes and emissions: The
socioeconomic metabolism of the global economy, 19002015
Fridolin Krausmann
, Christian Lauk, Willi Haas, Dominik Wiedenhofer
Institute of Social Ecology (SEC), Department of Economics and Social Sciences, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Schottenfeldgasse 29, 1070
Wien, Austria
Material ow accounting
Sustainable resource use
Waste and emissions
In-use material stocks
Great acceleration
The size and structure of the socioeconomic metabolism are key for the planets sustainability. In this article, we
provide a consistent assessment of the development of material ows through the global economy in the period
19002015 using material ow accounting in combination with results from dynamic stock-ow modelling.
Based on this approach, we can trace materials from extraction to their use, their accumulation in in-use stocks
and nally to outows of wastes and emissions and provide a comprehensive picture of the evolution of societies
metabolism during global industrialization. This enables outlooks on inows and outows, which environmental
policy makers require for pursuing strategies towards a more sustainable resource use.
Over the whole time period, we observe a growth in global material extraction by a factor of 12 to 89 Gt/yr. A
shift from materials for dissipative use to stock building materials resulted in a massive increase of in-use stocks
of materials to 961 Gt in 2015. Since materials increasingly accumulate in stocks, outows of wastes are growing
at a slower pace than inputs. In 2015, outows amounted to 58 Gt/yr, of which 35% were solid wastes and 25%
emissions, the reminder being excrements, dissipative use and water vapor. Our results indicate a signicant
acceleration of global material ows since the beginning of the 21
century. We show that this acceleration,
which took oin 2002, was not a short-term phenomenon but continues since more than a decade. Between
2002 and 2015, global material extraction increased by 53% in spite of the 2008 economic crisis.
Based on detailed data on material stocks and ows and information on their long-term historic development,
we make a rough estimate of what a global convergence of metabolic patterns at the current level in in-
dustrialized countries paired with a continuation of past eciency gains might imply for global material de-
mand. We nd that in such a scenario until 2050 average global metabolic rates double to 22 t/cap/yr and
material extraction increases to around 218 Gt/yr. Overall the analysis indicates a grand challenge calling for
urgent action, fostering a continuous and considerable reduction of material ows to acceptable levels.
1. Introduction
Global population growth, industrialization and rising levels of
consumption have driven the demand for material resources and re-
sulted in fundamental changes in the global socioeconomic metabolism
(Krausmann et al., 2016). The global extraction (DE) of fossil and mi-
neral materials as well as of biomass has multiplied in the 20
(Krausmann et al., 2009). The environmental pressure arising from the
extraction of these materials and from their discard after processing and
use is threatening global sustainability (Steen et al., 2015;
Wackernagel et al., 2002). Results of recent material ow studies in-
dicate that after a period of slowed physical growth in the 1970s and
1980s, during which global material demand rose by and large with
population but much slower than GDP, growth of global DE accelerated
at the beginning of the 21
century (Schandl et al., 2017).
Economy-wide material ow accounting (MFA) provides a toolbox
to investigate the ow of material resources through economic systems
and indicators to measure the size and structure of the socioeconomic
metabolism (Fischer-Kowalski et al., 2011;Krausmann et al., 2017a).
MFA is a mass balanced approach which allows consistently linking
ows of materials into and out of a socioeconomic system. It is widely
used in sustainability science to investigate biophysical characteristics
of economic systems and in environmental policy to monitor and guide
progress towards a more sustainable use of resources (Bringezu et al.,
2009;Hashimoto and Moriguchi, 2004). So far, both at the national and
global scale, MFA has mainly been used to assess the extraction of and
trade with materials and to calculate indicators such as material con-
sumption (DMC) and material productivity (Fischer-Kowalski et al.,
Received 4 December 2017; Received in revised form 11 April 2018; Accepted 7 July 2018
Corresponding author.
E-mail address: (F. Krausmann).
2011). Several recent studies have investigated the development of
global material extraction in the last decades. A rst global assessment
of the long term development of global DE was published by
Krausmann et al. (2009) covering the period 19002005; Giljum et al.
(2014) presented an analysis of global material consumption and re-
source productivity for the period 19802009; Schaartzik et al. (2014)
analyzed the evolution of global material ows for world regions be-
tween 1950 and 2010 and most recently Schandl et al. (2017) discussed
direct material ows and material footprints for country groups from
1970/90 to 2010 on the basis of a new MFA database provided by
UNEP (2016). Only few studies have attempted to provide a mass ba-
lanced picture of both input and output ows of national economies;
noteworthy exceptions are the seminal studies published by the World
Resources Institute (Matthews et al., 2000) and more recently of Ščasný
et al. (2003) and Haas et al. (2015). Among the reasons why only few
studies have attempted to close the material balance is that data on
output ows are fragmentary and the system boundaries applied in
waste and emissions statistics are not fully consistent with those applied
in MFA. Closing the material balance is therefore dicult to achieve on
the basis of statistical data on wastes and emissions alone, but requires
consistent stock-ow modelling taking material accumulation within
socioeconomic systems (net additions to stock, NAS) into account. MFA
methods to quantify NAS and output ows are still in their infancy
(Eurostat, 2013;Moriguchi and Hashimoto, 2016) and far from the
level of standardization that has been achieved for DE and trade ows.
While MFA claims to link material inputs to outputs in a mass ba-
lanced way, this strength so far has rarely been exploited. Here we
present an innovative approach that traces global material ows from
extraction and use to the outow of wastes and emissions, using the
MFA framework combined with dynamic stock-ow modelling. We
signicantly expand the perspective of previous research which has
focused on global extraction of materials and for the rst time also
include in-use stocks of materials, net additions to stock and output
ows in a systemic and consistent way into one account. In addition to
the traditional classication of material ows by material character-
istics we show data by a typology of material use distinguishing e.g.,
food and feed, materials used to provide technical energy or to build up
stocks of manufactured capital. We quantify net additions to stock
(NAS) and domestic processed output (DPO) and present an expanded
and updated estimate of global stocks of manufactured capital, humans
and livestock. Finally, we demonstrate, how this approach can be used
to develop novel stock-driven scenarios of future material use. All re-
sults can be download at:
In the next section we briey introduce the methodological ap-
proach and the data sources we used. We then present the results for
DE, the development of stocks, NAS and DPO. We discuss how the size
and composition of material inputs, use and outputs has developed
since 1900 with a focus on the most recent developments in the 21
century. Based on the stock-ow relations revealed by our approach
and long term trends in material use we nally develop a scenario how
global material use might evolve until 2050, assuming convergence of
per capita in-use stocks of materials at the level currently prevailing in
industrialized countries and continuation of past eciency gains and
discuss the implications for sustainable development.
2. Methods and data
2.1. Material ow accounting framework
Fig. 1 depicts the system boundaries and the stocks and ows re-
levant for accounting of global material ows in this study; Table 1
provides a brief nomenclature of MFA parameters. Closing the material
balance requires opening the black-box of the MFA framework and
shifting from a perspective of material properties towards a rough ty-
pology of material uses. Following MFA conventions, we consider three
types of physical structures of society (termed stocks): Humans, live-
stock and manufactured capital (i.e., all in-use artifacts). MFA accounts
for all materials (excluding water and air) that are extracted to produce
or reproduce these stocks or to provide services from them (Fischer-
Kowalski et al., 2011). On the input side we distinguish materials by
their material properties and further allocate these ows to ve major
use types (Fig. 1): We distinguish primary materials destined to be used
as feed for livestock, as food for humans, to generate technical energy,
for other dissipative use (e.g., seed, fertilizer minerals, salt) and to build
up and renew stocks of manufactured capital. Technical energy carriers
and materials for other dissipative use are considered to ow through
stocks of manufactured capital where they are converted and provide
services, but they do not add to stocks. Net additions to stock (NAS)
denote the material ow that corresponds to the year to year change of
stocks. Domestic processed output (DPO) comprises all materials that
leave the system as wastes and emissions or as deliberate applications
to the environment (e.g., fertilizers). In the case of the global system, no
import and export ows have to be taken into account, the extraction of
materials (DE) equals material consumption (DMC). DMC equals the
sum of NAS and DPO. In order to close the material balance also oxygen
uptake (e.g., through combustion, respiration) and water (e.g., changes
in water content of materials, water uptake by humans and livestock)
have to be taken into account as balancing ows. In this study we
present DE by material group and use type, stocks and NAS by stock
type and DPO by gateway or type. We propose a novel combination of
Fig. 1. Material ow accounting (MFA): System boundaries, stocks (grey boxes)
and ows (blue arrows) as considered in the global analysis of material ows.
Balancing ows (oxygen and water) are not shown (For interpretation of the
references to colour in this gure legend, the reader is referred to the web
version of this article).
Table 1
Nomenclature of main parameters of material ow accounting (MFA) used in
this study.
MFA parameter Denition
DE Used extraction of materials (excluding water and air). At
the global scale, in the absence of imports and exports,
extraction equals apparent material consumption (DMC)
and the sum of NAS and DPO*.
Stocks Physical structures of society: humans, livestock and
manufactured capital
All in-use artifacts (buildings, infrastructures, durable
NAS Net additions to stock; year to year change of stocks
DPO Domestic processed output of wastes and emissions
including deliberately applied materials (e.g., fertilizers)
DPO* DPO excluding balancing ows of oxygen and water, i.e.,
the fraction of DPO actually contained in DE
Balancing ows Oxygen taken up during combustion and respiration and
water uptake by humans and livestock.
Metabolic rate Material consumption per capita of population
Material intensity Material consumption per unit of GDP
F. Krausmann et al. 
accounting, mass balance based estimation procedures and top down
stock-ow modelling to advance the traditional MFA framework and to
quantify all stocks and ows of materials.
2.2. Material extraction and use
We updated the existing global DE series (Krausmann et al., 2009)
which distinguishes around 150 materials or material groups which are
aggregated to four main groups: biomass, fossil energy carriers, ores
and non-metallic minerals. We used the data sources and estimation
procedures described in detail in Krausmann et al. (2009) to update the
series to 2015, the most recent year for which all primary data were
available. We made several methodological improvements: the most
signicant adjustment was the inclusion of additional sand and gravel
used as subbase and base-course layer for roads and buildings in order
to reduce the systematic underestimation of DE of sand and gravel in
material ow accounts. Most available MFA studies only take sand and
gravel for concrete and asphalt production into account and therefore
underestimate the actual use of sand and gravel for construction
(Miatto et al., 2016). Based on coecients derived from Miatto et al.
(2016) and assumptions on the use of downcycled construction and
demolition waste used as substitute for primary materials (Krausmann
et al., 2017b) we quantied the amount of additional sand and gravel
extracted from the environment. This results in a ow of natural ag-
gregates of 6 Gt/yr or 7% of total DE in 2015 (Fig. S1). Other im-
provements were estimates of the raw materials extracted for the pro-
duction of bricks (clay) and of glass (silica sand, potash), which are not
or only fragmentarily reported in statistical sources (see SI).
Extracted materials were allocated to the ve types of material use
distinguished in Fig. 1 and in Table 2. The allocation of materials from
the MFA database to these use categories was made on the basis of
information from production and industry statistics, mainly FAOSTAT
commodity balances (FAO, 2017), IEA and UN energy statistics and
balances (IEA, 2016;UNSD, 2013); USGS mineral statistics (Kelly and
Matos, 2017) and previous work on material use (e.g. Krausmann et al.,
2008a,b). Table 2 provides an overview of the denitions of material
use types and the used sources.
2.3. Stocks
We distinguish three types of stock (Fig.1): Manufactured capital
(i.e., all in-use artifacts), livestock and humans. The material use da-
tabase provides the main input data for the Material Input Stocks and
Output (MISO) model (Krausmann et al., 2017b) used to quantify ma-
terials accumulated in stocks of manufactured capital, the corre-
sponding NAS and outows of waste from processing of stock building
materials as well as from discarded stocks at the end of their service life
time. The MISO model is a top-down, dynamic stock ow model (Müller
et al., 2014). The model and the assumptions made on losses, lifetime
distribution and recycling rates are described in detail in Krausmann
et al. (2017b). We expanded the model to also include glass and up-
dated the model input data to 2015 (the original study covered
19002010). The model now distinguishes 13 types of in-use stocks of
materials and the corresponding ows: Paper, timber, plastics, steel,
copper, aluminum, all other metals, concrete, asphalt, bricks, container
glass, at glass and natural aggregates. We further expanded the stock
estimate by including humans and livestock. To estimate these stocks
we used population and livestock numbers sourced from UN-DESA
(2017),Maddison (2013),FAO (2017), data collections of the IIA (e.g.,
1922) and assumptions on average live-weight (see SI). NAS were cal-
culated from the dierence between stocks in consecutive years.
2.4. Domestic processed output
DPO comprises all outows of solid and liquid wastes and emissions
as well as deliberate material applications to the environment. We
distinguish ve DPO ows: Processing (and manufacturing) waste (incl.
tailings and ashes), end of life waste (after recycling), excrements (from
humans and livestock), emissions (from human and livestock metabo-
lism and thermal energy generation), other dissipative use and water
vapor. Table 3 provides an overview of the dierent types of output
ows that result from the ve material use types distinguished in this
study and their allocation to DPO ows. In deviation from MFA con-
ventions we also accounted for waste deposited in controlled landlls
and excrements treated in sewage plant as DPO. We used statistical
data, model results and stoichiometry to quantify the DPO ows and to
close the mass balance of the material ow account.
Outows from livestock and humans comprise excrements, CO
emissions and water vapor. They are estimated on the basis of a
physiological model of the metabolism of humans and livestock that
takes digestibility and stoichiometry into account and consistently re-
lates the intake of food and feed to outows. Wastes and losses from the
production and distribution of agricultural products as well as food
wastes from households were estimated on the basis of waste data from
FAOSTAT (FAO, 2017) and coecients derived from Alexander et al.
(2017). Outows from thermal combustion of technical energy carriers
(fossils and biomass) comprise emissions as well as ashes and water
vapor. We distinguish three main types of emissions: CO
, SO
and N
We used information on the chemical composition of the reactants in
fuels and estimated the dierent outows as combustion products by
using stoichiometric equations. Details on the calculation of DPO ows
from humans, livestock and energy production are provided in the SI.
Waste ows related to the production and discard of manufactured
capital are results from the MISO model and calculated on the basis of
inputs of primary and secondary stock-building materials, material- and
time-specic lifetime distributions, as well as on assumptions on
Table 2
Materials by use type. Denitions and main sources used to allocate DE to use types.
Material use ow Composition Main source
Food Crops or parts of crops used to produce food for human consumption. Food products from
livestock production are considered an internal ow. They are not part of domestic extraction
but a ow from livestock to population.
FAOSTAT commodity balance (FAO, 2017)
Feed Crops or parts of crops used to feed livestock (market feed); forage crops (e.g. hay, silage);
crop residues used as feed; grazed biomass.
FAOSTAT commodity balance (FAO, 2017); global
feed balance (Krausmann et al., 2013)
Technical energy All fossil energy carriers (coal, oil, natural gas) used for energy generation; wood fuel and
crops for biofuel production.
FAO, 2017;IEA, 2016
Other dissipative use A small ow comprising a broad range of materials including seed, crop residues used for
bedding, fossil materials used as feedstock in the petrochemical industry (excluding stock-
building materials such as plastics and bitumen), fertilizer minerals, salt and other non-
metallic minerals excluding stock-building minerals.
FAOSTAT commodity balance (FAO, 2017), USGS
(Kelly and Matos, 2017), own calculations
Stock-building materials Industrial wood, ores, sand and gravel, raw materials to produce plastics, bricks, glass,
concrete and
See Krausmann et al. (2017b)
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processing and manufacturing losses and recycling rates. The MISO
model and the used data and assumptions are described in detail in
Krausmann et al. (2017b). Processing waste includes all losses during
the processing of primary and secondary materials used to produce
manufactured capital (including tailings from ore processing) as cal-
culated by the MISO model; end of life waste comprises solid waste
from discarded stocks, including hibernating stocks (i.e. stocks which
are not demolished but remain in place after the end of their service life
time). For other dissipative use we simply assumed that inputs equal
outputs. Due to lack of quantitative data, combustion of waste material
for energy generation (incineration) has not been considered; this re-
sults in slight overestimation of waste ows and an underestimation of
emissions. Assuming that 50% of all plastic and wood/paper waste in
2015 (0.48 Gt/yr) was incinerated would reduce end of life waste after
recycling by 2% and increase emissions by 1.6%.
Closing the material balance requires to take balancing ows into
account. These comprise oxygen input in thermal combustion and re-
spiration and contained e.g. in CO
emissions and to water taken up by
humans and livestock and contained in excrements. Balancing ows are
large and account for around 50% of total DPO. Hence, we present DPO
in two variants: DPO refers to the actual mass of outows e.g., CO
excrements at 7585% moisture content; DPO* refers to the part of DPO
that actually originates from DE inputs e.g., C contained in CO
excrements at the water content of food and feed inputs.
2.5. Treatment of uncertainties
To assess the robustness of our results we conducted uncertainty
analysis for key components of the material ow system based on lit-
erature and informed assumptions. We estimated uncertainty for global
DE, derived from maximum upper and lower assumptions on the un-
certainty of model input data and coecients used in estimation pro-
cedures. For in-use stocks of manufactured capital and DPO from dis-
carded stocks we utilize uncertainty information based on systematic
error propagation via Monte Carlo Simulations developed in previous
work (Krausmann et al., 2017b). Additionally, we conducted a
sensitivity analysis for stocks of manufactured capital evaluating the
eect of systematic changes to lifetime distributions. For DPO ows
from energetic use and other dissipative use no specic uncertainty
analysis was conducted. We assumed that uncertainties are similar to
the corresponding input ows. Details are shown in the SI.
3. Results
3.1. Material extraction
Fig. 2a shows the increase of global DE since 1900. Over the 115-
year period observed, DE multiplied by a factor 12 and by 2015 had
reached 89 Gt/yr (or 82 Gt/yr if additional sand and gravel used for
subbase and base-course layers is excluded; see Fig. S1). The long term
evolution of global material extraction in the 20
century has been
discussed in detail in Krausmann et al. (2009); here we focus on the
more recent developments. Fig. 2a indicates that growth in global DE
has been accelerating since 2002. A comparison of growth rates during
dierent periods of industrial development (Table 4) reveals that after
the post-World War II (WWII) period of rapid industrialization
(19451972) with annual growth rates of DE of 3.7%, growth in ma-
terial use slowed down markedly to only 1.8%/yr between 1973 and
2002. Only after 2002, growth accelerated to an average of 3.3%/yr
until 2015. The acceleration can be observed for all four material
groups, biomass and ores even show higher growth rates than in the
1950s and 1960s. Also the metabolic rate (DE per capita of population)
is growing faster than in the post-WWII period at 2.1% per year and
rose from 9.3 to 12.1 t/cap/yr between 2002 and 2015 (Fig. 3). From
2014 to 2015 global DE remained stable and per capita rates even de-
In the period since 2002, after several decades during which the
global economy grew considerably faster than material extraction, re-
lative decoupling of economic growth and material use stalled. From
1945 to 2002 material intensity (MI; DE/GDP) declined at an annual
rate of -0.9% from 2.5 to 1.5 kg/$ (Fig. 3). Between 2002 and 2015 MI
remained rather stable, uctuating around 1.5 kg/$; only in the last two
Table 3
Overview of output ows related to the dierent types of material use, estimation procedures and allocation to domestic processed output ows (DPO). See SI for
Material use Outow Estimation procedure DPO
Food/population -Food waste (production, processing and household
-Calculation based on Alexander et al., 2017;FAO, 2017 -Processing
from respiration -Digestibility, metabolic reactions -Emissions
-Excrements (solid and liquid) -Digestibility, metabolic reactions -Excrements
-Water vapor -Moisture content change, respiration -Vapor
-Dead bodies -Mortality rate (UN-DESA, 2017) -End of life
Feed/livestock -Feed waste -Not considered (demand based feed estimate) -
and CH
from respiration and methanogenesis -Digestibility, metabolic reactions,
emissions from FAO, 2017
-Excrements (solid and liquid) -Digestibility, metabolic reactions -Excrements
-Water vapor -Moisture content change, respiration -Vapor
Technical energy
, SO
and N
O from fossil energy carriers -Mass balanced stoichiometric calculation based on material
composition and assumptions on combustion technology
-Ashes and soot from fossil energy carriers -Mass balanced stoichiometric calculation based on material
composition and assumptions on combustion technology
and N
O from biomass -See fossil energy carriers -Emissions
-Ashes and soot from biomass -See fossil energy carriers -Processing
-Water vapor from fossils and biomass -Moisture content of energy carriers plus oxidized hydrogen
based on stoichiometry
Stock building material/
manufactured capital
-Tailings from ore processing -MFA database (ore grades) -Processing
from calcination (cement) -Stoichiometric relations -Emissions
-Water vapor (brick production) -Moisture content of clay -Vapor
-Wastage and losses from processing/manufacturing of
wood, metals, plastics, glass, concrete and asphalt
-MISO model (Krausmann et al., 2017b) -Processing
-Discarded (end of life) stock (incl. hibernating stocks),
after subtraction of re- and downcycled material
-MISO model (Krausmann et al., 2017b) -End of life
Other dissipative use -Deliberate application,
dissipative loss/unknown use
-Input = Output -Dissipative use
F. Krausmann et al. 
years it declined again. When measuring MI in terms of real GDP (at
constant prices of 2011) instead of purchasing power parities (Fig. S5),
we even observe a considerable increase in MI (0.4%/yr) in the last 13
3.2. Material use
In Fig. 2b we show global material extraction by main use types. On
a very principal level we can distinguish two main types of material use:
Firstly, materials that are used in a dissipative way, that is, they are
consumed typically within a year after extraction. This use type com-
prises materials that are used as food for humans or feed for livestock,
as technical energy carriers for thermal conversion (fossil and biomass
materials) and other dissipative use (e.g. salt or fertilizer materials,
lubricants). Secondly, materials which accumulate in in-use stocks of
manufactured capital, such as in infrastructures, buildings, machinery
or other durable goods. These materials typically remain within the
system for more than a year up to several decades or more. We denote
these materials as stock-building materials which are used either for
building up or renewal of stocks of manufactured capital. Fig. 2b shows
that in the early 20
century the largest share of all extracted materials
has been used in a dissipative way. In 1900 these were 6 Gt/yr or 72%
of DE. Feed for livestock, mainly grazed biomass, accounted for the
largest share, followed by energy carriers, food and other dissipative
use. The share of materials used in a dissipative way continuously de-
clined and since 1993 stock-building materials dominate the global
socioeconomic metabolism. Until 2015 their share in global DE rose to
59% or 52 Gt/yr; however, roughly 9% of these stock building materials
(4.8 Gt/yr) are discarded shortly after extraction as tailings from ore
processing (Fig.2b). In 2015 the fraction of dissipative use had dimin-
ished to 41% of global DE: A material ow of 15.1 Gt/yr was used to
provide technical energy, 11.1 Gt/yr were used to feed animals and
4.3 Gt/yr to produce plant based food for humans; other dissipative use
amounted to 6.1 Gt/yr, the largest part being utilized in agriculture,
e.g., crop residues used as bedding material, seeds and mineral mate-
rials used as fertilizers. Per capita of population on average 0.6 t of
primary raw materials were used to provide food, 1.5 tons to feed li-
vestock, 2 tons to provide energy, 0.9 t for other dissipative use and
7.1 tons as primary inputs to stocks in 2015 (Table 5). In 1900 the
corresponding per capita ows were 0.4 t of food, 2 tons of feed,
Fig. 2. Global material ows in Gt/yr and stocks in Gt from 1900 to 2015. A: material extraction by main material group; B: share of major use types in total
extraction; C: yearly net additions to stock (NAS); D: stocks of humans, livestock and manufactured capital in Gt; E: the fraction of domestic processed output that
actually originates from DE (DPO*) separate from balancing oxygen and water F: DPO by main type including balancing oxygen and water.
Table 4
Average yearly growth rates of material extraction (DE) of main material groups, metabolic rate (DE/cap), material intensity (DE/GDP) and domestic processed
output (DPO*) for the periods 19001945, 19451973, 19732002, 2002-2015. GDP in international $ at constant prices of 1990, sourced from Maddison (2013) and
the World Bank (2017).
DE Biomass DE Fossils DE Ores DE Minerals DE Total DE/cap DE/GDP DPO*
1900-1945 0.9% 1.7% 2.1% 2.1% 1.2% 0.3% 0.9% 1.2%
1945-1973 1.6% 4.5% 5.5% 6.7% 3.7% 2.0% 0.5% 2.7%
1973-2002 1.2% 1.4% 2.1% 2.4% 1.8% 0.1% 1.3% 1.7%
2002-2015 2.1% 2.6% 5.7% 4.0% 3.3% 2.1% 0.5% 3.0%
F. Krausmann et al. 
0.9 tons of energy carriers and 0.5 t other dissipative use. Only 0.9 t
were use as stock building materials in 1900.
3.3. Stocks and net additions to stock
Our analysis has shown that in the 20
century socioeconomic
metabolism has changed from a throughput system in which most
materials are used shortly after extraction to a system in which mate-
rials accumulate in stocks. Currently more than half of all materials are
used to build up long living stocks of manufactured capital. In combi-
nation with technical energy, these in-use stocks provide essential
services such as shelter, mobility, supply and discharge or commu-
nication (Haberl et al., 2017;Pauliuk and Müller, 2014). Materials re-
main in use in stocks for a certain period of time until they are dis-
carded and either become end of life waste or they are reused,
remanufactured or re- or downcycled into secondary material inputs.
We nd that 961 Gt of materials had accumulated in in-use stocks of
manufactured capital in 2015 (Fig. 2d). Most of these materials were
non-metallic minerals used in construction (concrete, asphalt, bricks,
sand and gravel) but also 33 Gt of metals, 15 Gt of wood, 3 Gt of plastics
and 3 Gt of glass were employed in in-use stocks. In the last century
(and in particular after WWII) stocks of manufactured capital have
grown at an exponential rate (by a factor 27), much faster than DE and
at a similar pace as GDP. The stock of humans and livestock is very
small in comparison to manufactured capital and, therefore, not visible
in Fig. 2d. The mass of this stock has grown by a factor of 4 since 1900
to a total of 1.0 Gt in 2015 of which livestock accounted for 61%.
Year to year changes in the size of material stocks are captured by
the ow indicator NAS. The exponential growth in stocks of manu-
factured capital in the last century implies high NAS and indeed this
ow has increased tremendously. Around 1900 merely 0.5 Gt of ma-
terials were added to the stock of manufactured capital each year, by
2015 this ow had grown more than 69 fold to 31 Gt/yr (Fig.2c). In
contrast NAS of humans and livestock were small and increased only
three fold from 0.002 Gt/yr in 1900 to 0.006 Gt/yr in 2015. Overall,
NAS grew faster than GDP, in particular in the decades after WWII until
1973, a period, when the stock of buildings, infrastructures and ma-
chinery rapidly expanded, above all in the industrialized countries. In
this period NAS intensity of GDP grew from 0.2 kg/$ in 1945 to 0.7 kg/
$ in 1973. Since, it has gone down again and uctuates around 0.5 kg/
$. Non-metallic minerals account for by far the largest part of NAS, but
also 1.4 Gt of wood, metals, plastics and other materials were added to
in-use stocks per year in 2015, more than double the amount in 2002.
Overall NAS have been growing at a rate of 4.0%/yr in the period 2002
to 2015; the decline from 2014 to 2015 is mainly due to a reduction in
global cement production.
3.4. Domestic processed outputs
Fig. 2f shows that in 2015 almost 111 Gt/yr of material were re-
turned to the natural environment as DPO, up from 14 Gt/yr in 1900.
Only about half of the actual outow of wastes and emissions originates
from DE, the other half stems from oxygen taken up during combustion
processes and from water consumed by humans and livestock. DPO*
(Fig. 2e) comprises the fraction of DPO originating from DE only; it
equals the dierence between DE and NAS. With rising material inputs,
also the amount of DPO* has increased, but not to the same extent as
inputs (Fig. 3). While all materials used in a dissipative way are con-
verted into DPO shortly after extraction, the growing share of materials
used to build up stocks of manufactured capital means that an in-
creasing share of materials is returned to the environment with a con-
siderable time lag, often several decades after extraction. While in 1900
wastes and emissions still amounted to 94% of all inows, this share
went down to only 65% in 2015. Between 1900 and 2015 DPO*,
therefore, increased only 8 fold from 7 to 58 Gt/yr (Fig. 2e); with the
rise in DE after 2002, also the growth rate of DPO* increased and at
3.0%/yr was higher than in previous periods (Table 4). Fig. 3 shows
that in 2015 roughly 7.8 t/cap/yr were returned to the natural en-
vironment in the form of DPO* (up from 4.4 t/cap/yr in 1900) and
0.9 kg for each $ of GDP (down from 3.5 kg/$/yr in 1900). In 2015 the
largest part of DPO* was solid waste (processing and end of life waste)
with 35%, followed by emissions (25%) and excrements (13%). Mate-
rials that are deliberately applied to natural systems such as seeds or
fertilizer minerals amounted to 6.1 Gt/yr or 11% of DPO* in 2015.
3.5. Cumulative ows 19002015
The results in Fig. 2 show how global material ows have surged
during industrialization. The massive human draw on material re-
sources in this period becomes even more obvious from a cumulative
perspective. Since 1900 humanity has extracted a total of 3400 Gt of
materials; the Sankey diagram in Fig. 4 traces these ows through the
socio-economic system from extraction to use and discard to the en-
vironment: 1284 Gt of the extracted materials were biotic materials
harvested from the biosphere and 2120 Gt were mined from the litho-
sphere of which 632 Gt were of fossil origin, the reminder being ores
and minerals. Of all these extracted materials 925 Gt are still in use in
buildings, infrastructures and other artifacts (NAS), 904 Gt have been
used to feed humans and livestock and 713 Gt have been burnt to
generate energy. Overall, 2470 Gt or 72% of all materials extracted
since 1900 have been returned to the environment as waste and
emissions. 1160 Gt have been emitted to the atmosphere of which
515 Gt was water vapor and 643 Gt emissions, mostly carbon (98%).
The carbon from fossil fuels and partly also from biomass contributed to
rising atmospheric CO
concentrations and climate change. Of the
1315 Gt which have been released to terrestrial or aquatic ecosystems,
40% were of biotic origin and degradable and 60% from fossil and
mineral materials. These materials have been deposited in controlled or
Fig. 3. Development of material extraction (DE) and domestic processed output
(DPO*) per capita (right axis) and per GDP (left axis) from 1900 to 2015. GDP
in international $ at constant prices of 1990, sourced from Maddison (2013)
and The World Bank (2017).
Table 5
Domestic extraction in t per capita and year by material use type in 1900, 1950,
1973, 2002 and 2015.
Food Feed Technical energy Other dissipative use Stock building
1900 0.4 2.0 0.9 0.5 0.9
1950 0.5 1.7 1.4 0.5 1.8
1973 0.5 1.7 2.0 0.7 4.1
2002 0.6 1.5 1.7 0.6 4.9
2015 0.6 1.5 2.0 0.9 7.1
F. Krausmann et al. 
uncontrolled landlls, emitted to water bodies, have been applied or
lost by dissipative use or simply remain in place above- or belowground
as abandoned built structures. The size of these ows underlines that
humans have become a global geophysical force in the Anthropocene
(Steen et al., 2007).
4. Discussion
4.1. Uncertainty and robustness of results
We have presented a comprehensive account of the global material
ows in a long time series up to 2015. Our results are consistent with
ndings from other MFA studies, which investigated DE for shorter
periods and using country level data. A comparison of all available
estimates (Fig. S1a) shows that dierences in the trend, size and com-
position of extraction are small. The inclusion of sand and gravel used
as subbase and base-course layer increases global DE by 712% above
previous estimates for 2010 (Fig. S1b), which have so far under-
estimated the extraction of these materials (Miatto et al., 2016).
Overall, due to the high level of methodological standardization and the
good quality of statistical data, estimates of global DE and other me-
tabolic ows are considered robust (Fischer-Kowalski et al., 2011). Our
uncertainty assessment indicates that global DE could vary by ± 23% in
1900 to ± 16% in 2015; uncertainty is largest for non-metallic minerals
and lowest for fossil energy carriers (Fig. S2). Uncertainties for in-use
stocks are lower and range from ± 18% to ± 10% as a sensitivity
analysis and error propagation through Monte Carlo simulations show
(Fig S3). Our results on in-use stocks also agree very well with results
from previous studies investigating specic materials (see Krausmann
et al., 2017a,b). Uncertainties for waste from discarded stocks decline
from ± 20% in 1900 to ± 15% in 2015 (Fig. S4); all other DPO ows,
that is, wastes and emissions from food and feed, energy and other
dissipative use, are directly derived from input ows using process in-
formation and stoichiometry. We therefore assume that uncertainties
for these aggregate outows are in a similar range as for the corre-
sponding DE ows. Crosschecks with results from emission studies have
shown that dierences are small and range between 1% and 2% for
cumulative emissions of CO
and SO
over the observed period (see SI).
Overall we conclude that our results and the discussed trends over time
are robust.
4.2. Phases of the global metabolic transition
The long term perspective reveals that dierent phases in the global
metabolic transition can be discerned, periods of fast growth of
metabolic rates alternating with periods of slow growth or stable rates
(Table 4;Fig. 3). The most recent data on global material ows pre-
sented here indicate an acceleration of global material use since the
beginning of the 21
century. This acceleration, which took oin 2002,
was not a short term phenomenon but continues since more than a
decade; only in the last year we nd a stagnation of DE. Our results
show that the impact of the global nancial crisis and the recession in
2008 on global material extraction and use was only moderate and did
neither lead to a short term decline in DE nor to a long term decel-
eration of its growth. A cumulative perspective underlines the sig-
nicance of the observed acceleration: In the 13 years between 2002
and 2015 alone over 1000 Gt of materials were extracted, that is, almost
one third of the total extraction since 1900. Growth was fastest for non-
metallic minerals and metals, which relates mainly to the fast expansion
of the built environment occurring in China and other emerging
economies (Huang et al., 2013;Miatto et al., 2016;Schandl and West,
2010). In contrast, materials used to produce technical energy and in
particular fossil energy carriers were growing slower than in the 1950s
and 1960s, which may be related to a shift from coal towards oil and
gas, improvements in energy eciency motivated by climate change
mitigation and structural change in the economies (Jackson et al., 2017;
Voigt et al., 2014). Quite remarkably, also the per capita use of mate-
rials used to produce food and feed is on the rise after a long period of
slow decline, reecting mainly a new dynamic in the change of dietary
patterns towards a higher consumption of meat in emerging economies
(Tilman and Clark, 2014).
The acceleration in global material extraction since 2002 is mir-
rored in the rise of outputs of wastes and emissions, although the share
of DE that is returned to the environment in the form of DPO* has been
steadily declining, since an increasing share of DE accumulates in stocks
of manufactured capital. Overall, we nd that humanity has deposited
or emitted the huge amount of 2500 Gt of DPO* to the global en-
vironment since 1900 and 28% of this only between 2002 and 2015.
The environmental pressure resulting from these wastes and emissions
is large and contributes signicantly to pushing humanity beyond
planetary boundaries of a safe operating space (Steen et al., 2015).
The MFA approach provides a comprehensive perspective on all out-
ows to the environment. It reveals that emissions from fossil fuels,
which are one of the few outows well documented in the literature
(Boden et al., 2009;Smith et al., 2011), currently account for only 15%
of DPO*. The outow of solid waste from construction and demolition,
industry and households, for example, amounted to 20 Gt/yr or 35% of
DPO* in 2015 and was growing at a particularly fast pace (4.2%/yr)
since 2002. The large and growing DPO ows underline the need for
absolute reductions of resource inputs, which might be achieved via a
more circular economy which reduces wastes and the demand for pri-
mary inputs via recycling and improved resource eciency (Akenji
et al., 2016;Ghisellini et al., 2016).
We nd that stocks of manufactured capital are of particular sig-
nicance for the long term dynamics of global material ows. Stock
growth constitutes a major challenge for a reduction in the demand for
materials, since stocks of manufactured capital have a long service life
time and their maintenance and use induces constant ows of materials
and energy required to utilize them (Haberl et al., 2017;Pauliuk and
Müller, 2014). The rise in stock building materials has resulted in an
exponential increase in the size of global stocks of manufactured capital
in the last century. Between 2002 and 2015 stock growth has ac-
celerated from 19 to 31 Gt/yr. By 2015 roughly 961 Gt of materials had
accumulated in in-use stocks and 40% of the net addition to the global
stock of manufactured capital since 1900 occurred in the period be-
tween 2002 and 2015. Building and maintaining the growing stocks
and above all providing services like shelter, mobility, communication
or discharge from them requires large amounts of energy and causes
emissions (Müller et al., 2013;Pauliuk and Müller, 2014). Due
their long lifetime stocks built up today have an impact on future re-
source demand and can create lock in situations for resource
Fig. 4. Sankey diagram showing the cumulative ow of materials through the
global economy from extraction to use and output of wastes and emission from
1900 to 2015. Note that NAS of humans and livestock (1 Gt) are not visible.
F. Krausmann et al. 
requirements (Lin et al., 2017). Growing stocks impede the closing of
material loops since recycling ows cannot match input ows (Haas
et al., 2015), but the fast increase in stocks during the last decades also
implies that when these stocks reach the end of their lifetime, large
amounts of end of life waste will accrue. A previous study using the
MISO model has estimated that between 2010 and 2030 up to 240 Gt of
waste material from discarded stocks of manufactured capital may
become available, almost as much as in the whole 20
(Krausmann et al., 2017b). This imposes a challenge for waste treat-
ment and may constitute a major pressure for the environment. If ap-
propriate measures are taken, however, these materials could also be-
come available as secondary raw material substituting for primary
The acceleration of growth in material ows has stalled improve-
ments in material intensity of the economy. Per capita material use and
outows of wastes and emissions have been growing at a similar or
even higher pace as in the post WWII era, in which industrialization and
rising consumption in the industrialized core countries caused the
average global metabolic rate to rise (Schaartzik et al., 2014). The
recent growth in the metabolic rate is a result of economic development
in the emerging economies and above all in China, while domestic
material use in industrialized countries is stable or even declining
(Giljum et al., 2014;Schandl et al., 2017). An evaluation of country
level DMC data reported by UNEP (2016) shows that China alone ac-
counted for 61% of global gross increase in DMC of 21 Gt/yr between
2002 and 2010, followed by India with 8% and Brazil with 4%. Gross
growth of DMC is dened here as the increase in DMC between 2002
and 2010 in 165 countries which exhibited DMC growth in this period.
In major high income countries, in contrast, DMC declined, but global
gross decline (62 countries) in the same period was much lower than
gross increase. It amounted to 2.4 Gt/yr to which the USA contributed
43%, Japan 11% and Italy 9%. In spite of the recent catch up of
emerging economies it is important to keep in mind that high income
countries still appropriate a disproportionately high share of all mate-
rials. In 2010 OECD countries directly used 28% of all global DE; this
share even rises to 38% if indirect ows (material footprints) are taken
into account (UNEP, 2016). Most low income countries, in contrast,
have a very low level of material use per capita paired with very
moderate growth rates (Giljum et al., 2014). UNEP (2016) data show
that in around 50 countries of the Global South inhabiting a total po-
pulation of 1.4 billion DMC was below 4 t/cap/yr compared to a global
average of 10 t/cap/yr in 2010. Per capita DMC in these countries on
average grew by only 0.7%/yr in the period 20022010.
4.3. Towards a global convergence of material use patterns?
Our results suggest that the global economy may have entered a
new phase in the metabolic transition towards a global convergence of
resource use patterns typical for industrialized countries (Krausmann
et al., 2008b;Schaartzik et al., 2014). This raises the question if the
period of relative decoupling of economic growth and material use and
more or less stable global average metabolic rates in the 1980s and
1990s has come to an end. While such a convergence of metabolic
patterns can contribute to rising levels of material wealth in the
countries of the Global South, it also has the potential to drive up the
global demand for primary materials beyond a safe operating space of
material resource use, unless signicantly more material and energy
ecient ways to provide services from the extracted materials can be
established (UNEP, 2017). In order to provide a rough but empirically
grounded estimate of what such a global convergence of metabolic
patterns paired with a continuation of past trends in eciency gains
might imply for global material demand, we can use the information
from our material ow database and build a scenario of the develop-
ment of global DE until 2050. The comprehensive historical informa-
tion on global stocks and ows of materials allows to develop stock-
driven scenarios based solely on physical data, in which we estimate the
size of ows on the basis of the materials and energy required to build
up and maintain the physical structures of society and on assumptions
about the eciency with which services are provided from stocks. This
distinguishes our approach from the few existing scenarios which
simply combined per capita ows and population numbers (UNEP,
2011) or were based on a stock ow model using economic information
on capital stocks and ow intensities (Schandl et al., 2016). To estimate
the demand for primary materials in 2050 we made the following basic
assumptions, which are presented in more detail in Table S8 in the SI:
Population grows to 9.1 bio by 2050 (medium variant of the United
Nations (2015) population projection).
Food and feed: By 2050 global average per capita food supply
converges at the level prevailing in industrialized countries.
Extrapolating historic trends since 1961, we assume that the con-
version eciency of primary biomass into plant and animal based
food products improves by 12% and 30%, respectively.
Manufactured capital and stock building materials: By 2050 per
capita stock size converges at a level typical for industrialized
countries in 2010 (Krausmann et al., 2017b). This enlarges the
global in use-use stocks of manufactured capital to 3140 Gt by 2050.
Assuming that stock growth follows an exponential trend, un-
changed lifetime distribution of stocks and end-of-life recycling
rates, this implies an increase in the input of primary and secondary
materials for building up new stocks to 106 Gt/yr and for main-
tenance to 57 Gt/yr until 2050. We further assume that the share of
recycled materials in inputs to stock doubles to 20%, that the share
of processing and manufacturing losses of primary materials re-
mains constant and that the material composition of inputs to stocks
remains unchanged.
Technical energy carriers: The demand for primary energy carriers is
linked to building up and maintaining stocks of manufactured ca-
pital and to providing services from them (Pauliuk and Müller,
2014). Based on sectoral energy use data from IEA (2016) we as-
sume that 29% of global nal energy consumption is used for
building up and maintaining these stocks; 71% are used for pro-
viding services from these stocks (e.g., regulation of room tem-
perature, light, mobility, communication, supply and discharge). We
assume that trends of eciency improvements observed between
1971 and 2014 continue until 2050 following a power function. In
combination with a shift in the energy mix towards less material
(with respect to energy carriers) intensive energy forms (e.g. natural
gas, hydropower, photovoltaics) this results in a reduction of energy
intensity (nal energy per material input or in-use stock) by 41% to
Other dissipative use: Growth in the per capita demand for materials
for other dissipative use observed in the past decades continues,
following a linear trend.
Based on these assumptions we calculated the demand for primary
materials to provide food and feed, technical energy, to build up and
renew stocks of manufactured capital and for other dissipative use, i.e.
of global DE. The results of this global convergence scenario exercise
are presented in Fig. 5. While population is expected to increase by 34%
from 2015 to 2050, the yearly demand for crops rises by 44% and that
for forage by 95%, the extraction of fossil energy carriers increases by
90% and that of stock building materials even by 194%. Overall DE
increases by 140% to around 218 Gt/yr in 2050, resulting in a cumu-
lative extraction of 1000 Gt biomass and 4100 Gt fossil and mineral
materials in 35 years. Our scenario yields a considerably larger demand
for primary materials than previous scenario calculations estimated. A
very rough scenario assuming a global convergence of metabolic rates
at the level of industrialized countries in the year 2000 distinguishing a
high and a low population density trajectory arrived at 140 Gt/yr for
2050 (UNEP, 2011). A more sophisticated business as usual scenario
also based on a stock-ow modelling approach, but relying on monetary
F. Krausmann et al. 
information on capital stock formation and assumptions on investments
and resource intensities of capital stocks estimated global material de-
mand in 2050 at 180 Gt/yr (Schandl et al., 2016).
While the development of DE from 2015 to 2050 in the scenario
(Fig. 5) seems like a continuation of historic trends, the scenario is not
designed as a business as usual scenario, but assumes considerable
change in metabolic dynamics, since it implies that stock growth comes
to an abrupt halt in industrialized economies and further accelerates in
the Global South. The assumed global convergence in global metabolic
patterns results in a 2.4-fold increase of material extraction until 2050.
The global metabolic rate doubles to 22 t/cap/yr, which is more than
currently observed in most industrialized countries and far beyond the
global target corridor of 68 t/cap/yr, which has been proposed by the
International Resource Panel as a goal for 2050 in order to remain
within a safe operating space (IRP, 2014). The largest part of the
218 Gt/yr of primary materials that would be extracted in 2050 is sand,
gravel and rock. While these materials have a comparatively low re-
lative impact on the environment, the sheer amount of annual extrac-
tion is worrisome, and increasingly caveats are raised concerning local
scarcity, environmental and biodiversity impacts and social pressure
related to their extraction (Gavriletea, 2017;Torres et al., 2017). Also
pressure on global croplands, grasslands and forests would rise con-
siderably by increasing biomass harvest by 66% (Haberl et al., 2007).
The annual demand for fossil energy carriers would double; that of
metals even triple, exceeding extraction rates considered sustainable
(e.g., Henckens et al. (2014)). The outow of wastes and emissions
(DPO*) would double to around 112 Gt/yr, which is considerably less
than inputs, due to the massive expansion of stocks of manufactured
capital. Krausmann et al. (2017b) have estimated that such a devel-
opment could drive up cumulative CO
emissions by 53% to 542 Gt.
This exceeds the remaining global carbon budget assumed to comply
with a 50% probability that the 2 °C target can be met by 30132%
(IPCC, 2014). Not only the environmental but also social pressures as-
sociated with such a rise in material use are likely to exacerbate
(Muradian et al., 2012). Overall, we do not consider this a very feasible
scenario, unless the demand for primary materials and output of waste
and emissions can be drastically reduced through e.g., ambitious re-
source eciency measures, far reaching closing of material loops or
increases in the service live-time and more intense use of stocks
(Allwood et al., 2011;Hateld-Dodds et al., 2017;UNEP, 2017). Fi-
nally, rather than convergence, as assumed in the scenario, we
currently observe increasing inequality in resource use both across
(Duro et al., 2018;Hubacek et al., 2017) and within countries
(Wiedenhofer et al., 2017). The upward trend in global DE since 2002
results from infrastructure development and rising consumption in a
few countries only and large fractions of the global population hardly
participate in this development at all (Giljum et al., 2014).
5. Conclusion
During industrialization, humanity has become a geophysical force
on a planetary scale. Our data show, how the size of societies meta-
bolism has multiplied since 1900, resulting in a massive draw on ma-
terial resources from the biosphere and the lithosphere and corre-
sponding outows of wastes and emissions. We nd that biophysical
growth has been speeding up signicantly since the turn of the 21
century, with growth rates of material ows comparable to the decades
after WWII, a period which has been denoted as Great Acceleration
(Steen et al., 2007). Roughly one third of all materials that have been
extracted or discarded since 1900 have been mobilized between 2002
and 2015 only. This acceleration may be seen as heralding a newly
invigorated phase in the global metabolic transition towards an in-
dustrial metabolic prole. Such a convergence of metabolic patterns
might result in a further doubling of DE and DPO until 2050. Although
an agreement of what can be considered a sustainable level of global
material extraction is lacking, such a stark rise is clearly beyond a level
of below 100 Gt/yr considered as potentially sustainable (Bringezu,
2015). Such an increase also does not comply with urgently needed
eorts to phase out fossil fuels in order to mitigate climate change. Our
results underline that a sustainable pathway requires urgent action,
fostering a continuous and considerable reduction of material ows in
industrialized countries, as these countries directly and indirectly still
appropriate the largest and a disproportionally high share of key ma-
terials extracted globally (Giljum et al., 2014;Schandl et al., 2017). In
addition to that, less material intensive provision of essential services in
the emerging economies of the Global South, whose economic devel-
opment is a driving force behind the recent rise in global DE, is re-
quired. Incremental change and moderate eciency gains, such as
those achieved in the past, most likely will not be sucient to absorb
the demand for services from material use arising in the Global South
(UNEP, 2017).
The research was funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF),
Project Nr. P27590 and from the European Research Council ERC
(MAT_STOCKS, grant 741950).
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... Although the Circular Economy is still often referred to as the Zero Waste Economy, it has been already established that achieving the state of zero waste will not be sufficient to address the problem of resource scarcity (Zink and Geyer, 2017; Krausmann et al., 2018;Korhonen et al., 2018). In fact, the balance of material flow accounting on a scale of the European Union (Figure 1.1) clearly shows that at the current rate of primary resource use even if 100% of all waste mass would be brought back into the economy, it could only substitute 37,8% of the total mass currently used. ...
... Although the Circular Economy is still often referred to as the Zero Waste Economy, it has been already established that achieving the state of zero waste will not be sufficient to address the problem of resource scarcity (Zink and Geyer, 2017;Krausmann et al., 2018;Korhonen et al., 2018). In fact, the balance of material flow accounting on a scale of the European Union (Figure 1.1) clearly shows that at the current rate of primary resource use even if 100% of all waste mass would be brought back into the economy, it could only substitute 37,8% of the total mass currently used. ...
... All of these methods are data-intensive and require integration and semantic correspondence between a number of interdisciplinary data sets . Although model and data harmonisation between different SEM fields lately has been advanced (Krausmann et al., 2018), there is still no single nomenclature or formal ontology of the used terms and concepts (Sileryte et al., 2021a). ...
... 4 The unbridled extraction of non-renewable natural resources has further deepened environmental deterioration. 5 Humans have altered 75 per cent of the world's land surface and impacted 97.7 per cent of the oceans. 6 Estimates suggest that 33 per cent of the Earth's soil is already degraded, and more than 90 per cent of the planet's land area could be degraded by 2050. ...
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This research report is a product of the Environment of Peace initiative launched by SIPRI in May 2020. It sets out the evidence base that provided the foundation for Environment of Peace: Security in a New Era of Risk, a policy report published in May 2022. The report is published in four parts— Elements of a Planetary Emergency (part 1); Security Risks of Environmental Crises (part 2); Navigating a Just and Peaceful Transition (part 3); and Enabling an Environment of Peace (part 4). This part, part 4, examines the legal and institutional landscape within which the twin crises—and humanity’s responses to them—play out. Lead authors Hafsa Maalim, SIPRI Associate Senior Researcher, and Melvis Ndiloseh, CEO of the Foundation for Peace and Solidarity and Senior Lecturer at the International Relations Institute of Cameroon, identify policy options for change. Part 4 surveys the various international, regional and national-level agreements that link environmental safeguards to security concerns and identifies critical gaps.
... Earlier, papers related to biodiversity and economic growth focused on the relationship between the natural environment and people [5]. Sustained economic growth drives industrial expansion and accelerates communication and trade, which leads to the excessive consumption of materials [6] and energy [7]. The proliferation of fuel use has led to a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions [8] and climate change [9], with significant negative impacts on biodiversity [10]. ...
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The relationship between biodiversity and economic growth is a topic that still needs to be considered in a volatile global environment. Therefore, a bibliometric analysis of this topic can help scholars understand the current state of research and topical issues. Based on CiteSpace and Pajek, this paper fully does this study from the perspectives of authors, journals, countries, keywords, regions, and path analysis. Through this research, we find that: (1) the number of publications and citations in the literature about biodiversity and economic growth research have increased significantly; (2) scholars oppose unrestricted economic growth and advocate for the protection of the environment and biodiversity. Ecological environment protection and economic development are win-win relationships. (3) The keyword analysis revealed that a current research hotspot is the question of how to develop the economy while preserving ecological diversity. (4) Developed countries or regions are pioneers in studying the relationship between biodiversity and economic growth, and they have progressively led and driven the development of research in this field. The main purpose of this study is to provide guidance to researchers, and those interested in biodiversity and economic growth.
... After being extracted, processed and consumed, resources are cycled through various recovery loops such as repair, reuse, remanufacture, recycle etc. Ghisellini et al., 2016). At their end-of-use, resources are cycled back to nature either by being burnt and dissipated into the atmosphere, by being placed into landfills or by being thrown into the environment (Krausmann et al., 2018;Martinez-Alier, 2021a;Rammelt, 2020). ...
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The Circular Economy (CE) has recently become a popular concept in sustainability discourses for both the public and private sectors. The proponents of this idea often espouse many social, economic, and environmental benefits from the application of CE practices. Given current socio-ecological challenges to overcome resource scarcity, climate change, and biodiversity loss, all while reducing global poverty and inequality, the CE could provide key solutions and opportunities for a transition to a sustainable, fair, and resilient future. However, the CE faces many limitations to deliver on those expectations. The CE is very much a contested concept in the sustainability discourse, with many actors proposing different visions of a circular future based on their particular socio-economic interests. Moreover, the economic, social, political, and environmental implications of different circular discourses and policies remain poorly researched and understood. This thesis addresses this research gap by answering the following question: what are the main societal discourses and policies on the CE, how can they be critically analysed, compared, and understood, and what are their sustainability implications? To answer this question, this thesis uses an interdisciplinary mixed-method approach including critical literature review, content analysis, text-mining, and Q-method survey. The case studies are European Union CE policies, Dutch CE policies for plastics and tyres as well as the CE action plans of Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Glasgow. Results demonstrate the existence of a plurality of circularity discourses through history, which can be divided based on two main criteria. First, whether they are sceptical or optimist regarding the possibility of eco-economic decoupling, and second, whether they are holistic by including social justice concerns or have a segmented focus on resource efficiency alone. This leads to 4 core discourse types: Reformist Circular Society (optimist and holistic), Technocentric Circular Economy (optimist and segmented), Transformational Circular Society (sceptical and holistic), and Fortress Circular Economy (sceptical and segmented). Results from the selected case studies conclude that, although the CE discursive landscape is quite diverse, current policies focus on technical solutions and business innovations which do not address the manyfold social and political implications of a circular future. A technocentric CE approach is thus prevalent in the policies of the EU, the Dutch Government, and the city of Copenhagen. Results also find that the cities of Amsterdam and Glasgow have a more holistic approach to CE by acknowledging many social justice considerations. Yet the policies of these two cities remain limited in both their redistributive nature and their transformative potential. Moreover, results demonstrate that all the above case studies follow a growth-optimist approach, seeking to improve economic competitiveness and innovation to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation. However, this approach has key scientific limitations, as research has shown that absolute eco-economic decoupling is neither happening nor likely to happen on a relevant scale to prevent climate change and biodiversity collapse. This thesis’s research has also found that academics and social movements from the Global North and South alike have developed a wide range of alternatives to the growth-centric approach to circularity, such as steady state economics, degrowth, voluntary simplicity, ecological swaraj, economy for the common good, permacircular economy, doughnut economics, buen vivir, and ubuntu. All these alternative discourses can be grouped under the umbrella concept of a circular society. Circular society discourses are united in their objective to create a democratic, fair and sustainable socio-ecological system, which works in harmony with the natural cycles of the biosphere to improve human and planetary wellbeing for current and future generations. More pluralism and inclusiveness of these alternative approaches in the debate surrounding circularity could help co-design and implement sustainable circularity policies, which subordinate economic growth to planetary boundaries, resource limits, and social imperatives. This is key to ensure the political legitimacy, social relevance and scientific validity of the circularity policies that are implemented to create a fair, sustainable, and democratic circular society. Keywords: Circular economy; circular society; policy analysis; discourse analysis; sustainability; environmental governance; pluriverse; degrowth.
... Therefore, the past trends go in the opposite direction, as required to downsize the energy demand. This has to do with the increasing biophysical difficulties to further reduce energy intensity (Alcott et al., 2012;Blake, 2005), or with the process of rematerialization that is currently ongoing in the world, despite the declared commitment with sustainability of the international community (Fischer-Kowalski & Haberl, 2007;Krausmann et al., 2008Krausmann et al., , 2018. Thus, given the ineffectiveness of current policies and the scepticism about the stated ones (Nieto et al., 2018;Parrique et al., 2019;Spash, 2016), the combination of energy and industrial policy objectives could contribute to overcoming these difficulties and meeting climate goals. ...
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Input–output tables (IOTs) provide a relevant picture of economic structure as they represent the composition and interindustry relationships of an economy. The technical coefficients matrix (A matrix) is considered to capture the technological status of an economy; so, it is of special relevance for the evaluation of long‐term, structural transformations, such as sustainability transitions in integrated assessment models (IAMs). The A matrix has typically been considered either static or exogenous. Endogenous structural change has rarely been applied to models. The objective of this paper is to analyze energy intensity, a widely used variable in IAMs, and its role as a driver of structural change. We therefore identify the most relevant technical coefficients in the IOTs time series and estimate an econometric model based on the energy intensity of five different final end‐use energy sources. The results of this analysis show that energy intensity has a significant influence on the evolution of the A matrix and should therefore be taken into consideration when analyzing endogenous structural change in models.
Gesellschaft wird als Kopplung eines kulturalen Systems mit biophysischen Elementen verstanden und greift durch ihren Stoffwechsel und Arbeitsprozesse in die Natur ein. Veränderungen dieses Stoffwechsels, insbesondere seiner energetischen Basis, wirken als Veränderungen auf Gesellschaft zurück. Das wachstumsorientierte industrielle Regime basiert auf der Verwendung von fossilen Energieträgern, welche einen enormen Anstieg des materiellen Wohlstandes in Teilen der Welt erlaubten. Zugleich verändert das jedoch die natürliche Umwelt massiv und gefährdet langfristig den Weiterbestand der Menschheit. Es bedarf also einer tiefgreifenden sozialmetabolischen Transformation. Die Soziologie muss dafür ihren fachlichen Horizont erweitern und sich in den derzeit vorwiegend von Naturwissenschaftler*innen und Ökonom*innen geführten Diskurs über die Umgestaltung von Gesellschaft einbringen.
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This thesis builds upon the emerging field of "ecological macroeconomics" to study how dominant development patterns are constituted by and reproduce global inequalities and environmental degradation. Chapter 2 reviews and categorizes the available literature in ecological macroeconomics, noting its contributions to studying economy-environment dynamics. Chapter 3 critically assesses the ecological macroeconomics framework. It is argued that the field can better analyze environmental challenges by considering nature as inherently political: human-nature relations are regulated through social conflicts in ways that benefit some groups over others. This approach is applied in chapter 4, which uses a "Core-Periphery" (balance-ofpayments constrained growth) model to explore how global environmental inequalities are produced by 'green' sustainability initiatives. The increasing efficiency within a high-income Core region is shown to depend on displacing carbon-intensive activities to the low-income Periphery. Chapter 5 then extends the analysis to understand financialization, presented here as a global dynamic of environmental (re- )organization that supports accumulation in the Core at the expense of social and environmental stability in the Periphery. This dynamic is permitted by the subordination of Peripheral countries within the organization of global monetary, productive and environmental relations. Chapter 6 summarizes and concludes. The evidence presented throughout the thesis signal that for ecological macroeconomics to address contemporary challenges, it must adopt a political view of nature
Robotic construction is a powerful means of addressing labor shortages, low productivity, and low sustainability in the construction industry. Even though construction robots have attracted attention in research and practice, in a market condition where the technology and industry scale of the construction industry is yet unable to meet the scale of full automation, human–robot interaction (HRI) is a more adaptable working model. It is crucial to change the level of automation to the level of cooperation. This paper proposes an HRI construction method that aims to provide a new idea for existing robotic construction research, which combines the advantages of manual construction and automated robotic construction. This construction method allows an inexperienced layman to quickly complete the construction of complex timber structures with the assistance of a robot. Furthermore, this automated construction method's advantages, limitations, and potential pitfalls and the environmental, economic, and social sustainability aspects of design, production, and construction are also considered, providing a technical reference for the sustainable development of China's construction industry.
Resource‐use patterns may entail systemic risks and cascade effects, which consequently inhibit the ability to deliver socioeconomic services. Identifying resource‐use patterns exhibiting systemic risks and reshaping their combinations is a potential lever in realizing the transition to a sustainable, resilient, and resource‐secure system. Using an island context to assess the quantity and composition of resource throughput enables a more comprehensive analysis of these risks. This article presents the first mass‐balance account of socio‐metabolic flows for The Bahamas in 2018, to identify socio‐metabolic risks and cascading effects. Socio‐metabolic risks are systemic risks related to critical resource availability, material circulation integrity, and (in)equities in cost and benefit distributions. We utilize the economy‐wide material flow accounting framework to map the material flow patterns across the economy. In 2018, annual direct material input was estimated at 9.4 t/cap/yr, of which 60% were imports. High masses of waste (1.4 t/cap/yr) remained unrecovered due to the lack of recycling. Total domestic extraction (DE) were dominated by non‐metallic minerals with more than 80%, while marine biomass makes up barely 1% of total DE. Due to its linear, undiversified metabolism, and heavy imports dependency, the system is susceptible to socio‐metabolic risks and cascading effects including low levels of self‐sufficiency, high vulnerability to shocks, commodity price fluctuations, threats to sensitive ecosystems, health impacts, and economic losses, among others. A holistic resource management strategy and nature‐based solutions that consider the trade‐offs and synergies between different resource‐use patterns are critical when exploring potential plans for metabolic risk reduction.
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Today, prefabricated concrete elements are used in many construction areas, including in industrial, public, and residential construction; this was confirmed via questionnaire research. In the article, the prospects for precast concrete development are presented, and the factors determining the use of this technology are defined. Based on a review of the literature, it was shown that currently, higher-quality prefabricated elements are primarily created through the implementation of innovative materials and production technologies. For this reason, the lack of research regarding quality control in prefabricated elements based on statistical quality control is particularly noticeable. The quality control process is one of the most important distinguishing features in prefabrication due to the increasingly stringent expectations of customers; it helps to ensure that the desired durability of implemented constructions is achieved. Issues related to assessing the effectiveness of standard procedures presented in this paper were analyzed using statistical methods in the form of OC (operating characteristic) and AOQ (average outgoing quality) curves. Thus, a new approach was proposed because these methods have not been previously used in precast concrete. The shape of the curves obtained confirmed the significant dependence of the value of the acceptance probability on the defectiveness of production. In AQL control systems based on OC and AOQ curves, it is necessary to calculate the current average defectiveness, which should be treated as a basis for the decision to switch from one type of control (normal, tightened, or reduced) to another. In this respect, the standard requirements of quality control have been simplified, and it has not been considered necessary to determine the average defectiveness value in production processes. The examples included in this study, including the analysis of curb production data, clearly show the harmful effects of ignoring the actual process defectiveness. As a result of the calculations, it was found that the average actual defectiveness of the curbs produced could not be equated with batch defectiveness. The analyses carried out in this study prove that equating batch defectiveness with process defectiveness is not an appropriate approach, which was confirmed through the producer’s/customer’s risk analysis. The approach proposed in this study, the analysis of OC and AOQ curves, is an innovative solution in prefabrication and can be an effective tool for managing the quality of prefabricated products, taking into account economic boundary conditions.
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Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fossil fuels and industry comprise ~90% of all CO2 emissions from human activities. For the last three years, such emissions were stable, despite continuing growth in the global economy. Many positive trends contributed to this unique hiatus, including reduced coal use in China and elsewhere, continuing gains in energy efficiency, and a boom in low-carbon renewables such as wind and solar. However, the temporary hiatus appears to have ended in 2017. For 2017, we project emissions growth of 2.0% (range: 0.8%−3.0%) from 2016 levels (leap-year adjusted), reaching a record 36.8 ± 2 Gt CO2. Economic projections suggest further emissions growth in 2018 is likely. Time is running out on our ability to keep global average temperature increases below 2 °C and, even more immediately, anything close to 1.5 °C.
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Global climate change and inequality are inescapably linked both in terms of who contributes climate change and who suffers the consequences. This fact is also partly reflected in two United Nations (UN) processes: on the one hand, the Paris Agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change under which countries agreed to hold the increase in the global average temperature to below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and, on the other hand, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals aiming to end poverty. These agreements are seen as important foundation to put the world nations on a sustainable pathway. However, how these agreements can be achieved or whether they are even mutually compatible is less clear. We explore the global carbon inequality between and within countries and the carbon implications of poverty alleviation by combining detailed consumer expenditure surveys for different income categories for a wide range of countries with an environmentally extended multi-regional input–output approach to estimate carbon footprints of different household groups, globally, and assess the carbon implications of moving the poorest people out of poverty. Given the current context, increasing income leads to increasing carbon footprints and makes global targets for mitigating greenhouse gases more difficult to achieve given the pace of technological progress and current levels of fossil fuel dependence. We conclude that the huge level of carbon inequality requires a critical discussion of undifferentiated income growth. Current carbon-intensive lifestyles and consumption patterns need to enter the climate discourse to a larger extent.
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Between 1900 and 2010, the global volume of natural resources used in buildings and transport infrastructure increased 23-fold (1). Sand and gravel are the largest portion of these primary material inputs (79% or 28.6 gigatons per year in 2010) and are the most extracted group of materials worldwide, exceeding fossil fuels and biomass (2). In most regions, sand is a common-pool resource, i.e., a resource that is open to all because access can be limited only at high cost. Because of the difficulty in regulating their consumption, common-pool resources are prone to tragedies of the commons as people may selfishly extract them without considering long-term consequences, eventually leading to overexploitation or degradation. Even when sand mining is regulated, it is often subject to rampant illegal extraction and trade (3). As a result, sand scarcity (4) is an emerging issue with major sociopolitical, economic, and environmental implications.
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Fundamental changes in the societal use of biophysical resources are required for a sustainability transformation. Current socioeconomic metabolism research traces flows of energy, materials or substances to capture resource use: input of raw materials or energy, their fate in production and consumption, and the discharge of wastes and emissions. This approach has yielded important insights into eco-efficiency and long-term drivers of resource use. But socio-metabolic research has not yet fully incorporated material stocks or their services, hence not completely exploiting the analytic power of the metabolism concept. This commentary argues for a material stock-flow-service nexus approach focused on the analysis of interrelations between material and energy flows, socioeconomic material stocks ("in-use stocks of materials") and the services provided by specific stock/flow combinations. Analyzing the interrelations between stocks, flows and services will allow researchers to develop highly innovative indicators of eco-efficiency and open new research directions that will help to better understand biophysical foundations of transformations towards sustainability.
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The international industrial ecology (IE) research community and United Nations (UN) Environment have, for the first time, agreed on an authoritative and comprehensive data set for global material extraction and trade covering 40 years of global economic activity and natural resource use. This new data set is becoming the standard information source for decision making at the UN in the context of the post-2015 development agenda, which acknowledges the strong links between sustainable natural resource management, economic prosperity, and human well-being. Only if economic growth and human development can become substantially decoupled from accelerating material use, waste, and emissions can the tensions inherent in the Sustainable Development Goals be resolved and inclusive human development be achieved. In this paper, we summarize the key findings of the assessment study to make the IE research community aware of this new global research resource. The global results show a massive increase in materials extraction from 22 billion tonnes (Bt) in 1970 to 70 Bt in 2010, and an acceleration in material extraction since 2000. This acceleration has occurred at a time when global population growth has slowed and global economic growth has stalled. The global surge in material extraction has been driven by growing wealth and consumption and accelerating trade. A material footprint perspective shows that demand for materials has grown even in the wealthiest parts of the world. Low-income countries have benefited least from growing global resource availability and have continued to deliver primary materials to high-income countries while experiencing few improvements in their domestic material living standards. Material efficiency, the amount of primary materials required per unit of economic activity, has declined since around 2000 because of a shift of global production from very material-efficient economies to less-efficient ones. This global trend of recoupling economic activity with material use, driven by industrialization and urbanization in the global South, most notably Asia, has negative impacts on a suite of environmental and social issues, including natural resource depletion, climate change, loss of biodiversity, and uneven economic development. This research is a good example of the IE research community providing information for evidence-based policy making on the global stage and testament to the growing importance of IE research in achieving global sustainable development.
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Sand is an indispensable natural resource for any society. Despite society’s increasing dependence on sand, there are major challenges that this industry needs to deal with: limited sand resources, illegal mining, and environmental impact of sand mining. The purpose of this paper is twofold: to present an overview of the sand market, highlighting the main trends and actors for production, export and import, and to review the main environmental impacts associated with sand exploitation process. Based on these findings, we recommend different measures to be followed to reduce negative impacts. Sand mining should be done in a way that limits environmental damage during exploitation and restores the land after mining operations are completed.
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Losses at every stage in the food system influence the extent to which nutritional requirements of a growing global population can be sustainably met. Inefficiencies and losses in agricultural production and consumer behaviour all play a role. This paper aims to understand better the magnitude of different losses and to provide insights into how these influence overall food system efficiency. We take a systems view from primary production of agricultural biomass through to human food requirements and consumption. Quantities and losses over ten stages are calculated and compared in terms of dry mass, wet mass, protein and energy. The comparison reveals significant differences between these measurements, and the potential for wet mass figures used in previous studies to be misleading. The results suggest that due to cumulative losses, the proportion of global agricultural dry biomass consumed as food is just 6% (9.0% for energy and 7.6% for protein), and 24.8% of harvest biomass (31.9% for energy and 27.8% for protein). The highest rates of loss are associated with livestock production, although the largest absolute losses of biomass occur prior to harvest. Losses of harvested crops were also found to be substantial, with 44.0% of crop dry matter (36.9% of energy and 50.1% of protein) lost prior to human consumption. If human over-consumption, defined as food consumption in excess of nutritional requirements, is included as an additional inefficiency, 48.4% of harvested crops were found to be lost (53.2% of energy and 42.3% of protein). Over-eating was found to be at least as large a contributor to food system losses as consumer food waste. The findings suggest that influencing consumer behaviour, e.g. to eat less animal products, or to reduce per capita consumption closer to nutrient requirements, offer substantial potential to improve food security for the rising global population in a sustainable manner.
Absolute reductions in global resource use are a precondition for sustainability. Yet, many countries must increase their resource use in the process of economic development and industrialization. In this dilemma, efficient contraction and convergence is viewed as a potential solution: Per capita resource use must internationally converge below the currently high level of industrial countries in order to contract global resource use; improved resource efficiency safeguards economic prosperity and growth. We have conducted an analysis of the international inequality in material use and of the role of material intensity and affluence as explanatory variables for a sample of approximately 100 countries between 1960 and 2010. During the period of explosive growth of global material use by 20 billion tons between 2000 and 2010, international inequality no longer decreased. Efficiency gains do not suffice to offset increasing affluence. We are not on the pathway of ‘efficient contraction and convergence’. The developments of the early 21st century constitute a structural break in material resource use and inequality. Our findings lead us to conclude that in order to tackle the most challenging of environmental problems, we must fundamentally revise the common narrative about the compatibility of sustainable resource use and affluence.
The growing extraction of natural resources and the waste and emissions resulting from their use are directly or indirectly responsible for humanity approaching or even surpassing critical planetary boundaries. A sound knowledge base of society’s metabolism, i.e., the physical exchange processes between society and its natural environment and the production and consumption processes involved, is essential to develop strategies for more sustainable resource use. Economy-wide material flow accounting (MFA) is a framework that provides consistent compilations of the material inputs to national economies, changes in material stocks within the economic system, and material outputs to other economies and the environment. We present the conceptual foundations of MFA and derived indicators and review the current state of knowledge of global patterns and trends of extraction, trade, and use of materials. We discuss the relation of material use and economic development and the decoupling of material use from economic growth in the context of sustainable resource use policies. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Environment and Resources Volume 42 is October 17, 2017. Please see for revised estimates.