Global patterns of material flows and their socio-economic and environmental implications: a MFA study on all countries world-wide from 1980 to 2009

This paper assesses world-wide patterns of material extraction, trade, consumption and productivity based on a new data set for economy-wide material flows, covering used materials for all countries world-wide between 1980 and 2009. We show that global material extraction has grown by more than 90% over the past 30 years and is reaching almost 70 billion tonnes today. Also, trade volumes in physical terms have increased by a factor of 2.5 over the past 30 years, and in 2009, 9.3 billion tonnes of raw materials and products were traded around the globe. China has turned into the biggest consumer of materials world-wide and together with the US, India, Brazil and Russia, consumes more than 50% of all globally extracted materials. We also show that the per-capita consumption levels are very uneven, with a factor of more than 60 between the country with the lowest and highest consumption in 2009. On average, each human being consumed 10 tonnes of materials in 2009, 2 tonnes more than in 1980. We discuss whether decoupling of economies’ growth from resource use has occurred and analyse interrelations of material use with human development. Finally, we elaborate on key environmental problems related to various material groups.