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    Growth in global materials use, GDP and population during the 20th century2009

    EISENMENGER N., ERB K.H., FISHER-KOWALSKI M., GINGRICH S., HABERL H., KRAUSMANN F.Journaux et Revues (scientifiques)

    lca / lcia / slca / lcc / lcsa / mfa

    Ecological Economics
    Volume 68, Issue 10, 15 August 2009, Pages 2696–2705

    The growing industrial metabolism is a major driver of global environmental change. We present an assessment of the global use of materials since the beginning of the 20th century based on the conceptual and methodological principles of material flow accounting (MFA). On the grounds of published statistical data, data compilations and estimation procedures for material flows not covered by international statistical sources, we compiled a quantitative estimate of annual global extraction of biomass, fossil energy carriers, metal ores, industrial minerals and construction minerals for the period 1900 to 2005. This period covers important phases of global industrialisation and economic growth. The paper analyses the observed changes in the overall size and composition of global material flows in relation to the global economy, population growth and primary energy consumption. We show that during the last century, global materials use increased 8-fold. Humanity currently uses almost 60 billion tons (Gt) of materials per year. In particular, the period after WWII was characterized by rapid physical growth, driven by both population and economic growth. Within this period there was a shift from the dominance of renewable biomass towards mineral materials. Materials use increased at a slower pace than the global economy, but faster than world population. As a consequence, material intensity (i.e. the amount of materials required per unit of GDP) declined, while materials use per capita doubled from 4.6 to 10.3 t/cap/yr. The main material groups show different trajectories. While biomass use hardly keeps up with population growth, the mineral fractions grow at a rapid pace. We show that increases in material productivity are mostly due to the slow growth of biomass use, while they are much less pronounced for the mineral fractions. So far there is no evidence that growth of global materials use is slowing down or might eventually decline and our results indicate that an increase in material productivity is a general feature of economic development.

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