Growth set to quadruple
Another 3 billion people are projected to be added to the 2011 total of 7 billion by 2060. At the same time, living standards are gradually converging across economies – growth rates are higher in emerging and developing economies than in the OECD.
By 2060, the global average gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is projected to reach the current level of the OECD. Population growth and income convergence together drive growth of the global economy.
The economy is changing, too. We will see a shift of demand from manufacturing and agricultural goods towards services. At the global level, the share of services is projected to increase from 50% to 54%.
The trends which will drive our resource use
Economic growth, investment, infrastructure and construction all drive a solid increase in global materials use. As the economy of a fast-growing country matures, so too does its use of non-metallic minerals and metals. We’ve seen this in China in the past two decades and it is projected to take place in many more Asian and African nations in the years to come.
Demand for services over industrial and agricultural goods will also lead to structural change. Services sectors have lower materials intensity.
Technology improvements are set to slow the growth in future materials use, despite production growth. These reductions in materials intensity are projected to occur in all major sectors of the economy, albeit at widely varying rates.
Motor vehicles and electronics have low total materials intensities, but are relatively large users of metals, and so drive the expected fast increase in metals use.
A doubling of global material use
Primary material use, and therefore primary material extraction too, is projected to double between 2011-2060, from 79Gt to 167Gt.
This would be even higher were it not for material use partially decoupling from economic growth over time.
Growth in material use won’t be evenly distributed – those linked to particular activities will increase the fastest.
Metals are projected to grow the fastest. Over the period to 2060, metals are projected to increase from 7 to 19 Gt per year.
The strongest rise in non-metallic minerals is projected for developing countries, while China faces a saturation in construction materials demand. In OECD countries, growth of non-metallic minerals is also likely to be stronger than for other materials groups.
The cost of extraction
The economic activities which drive demand for materials have environmental impacts, too. Greenhouse gas emissions are caused by extracting and processing primary materials. Using these materials has costs, such as air pollution from burning fossil fuels and disposing of them also causes a challenge, such as pollution from landfill waste.
These impacts can be severe and diverse.
Life-cycle analysis of global extraction and production of seven metals (iron, aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, nickel and manganese) and two construction materials (concrete, and sand and gravel) shows a wide range of environmental consequences. These include impacts on acidification, climate change, cumulative energy demand, eutrophication, human toxicity, land use, ozone layer depletion, photochemical oxidation, and aquatic and terrestrial ecotoxicity.
Copper and nickel tend to have the greatest per kilo environmental impacts, while iron and steel have the highest absolute environmental impacts due to the large volumes used.
The nine materials together represent almost a quarter of all GHG emissions and one sixth of cumulative energy demand.
No one-size-fits-all answer
The OECD believe that policy priorities should be determined by considering the links between the use of a specific material and its economic drivers, as well as its impacts on the environment and the criticality of its supply.
Countries at different levels of development use different material resources and have different opportunities to decouple materials use from economic growth. A granular approach is needed to understand which policy interventions may improve resource efficiency at the sectoral level, and how major environmental consequences can be avoided.
The desired objectives are clear: increasing recycling, increasing the share of secondary resources, reducing waste streams, boosting economic growth, boosting employment and avoiding environmental impacts.