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There is ample evidence that an unabated growth in material consumption is likely to pass the earth system’s source and sink capacities. In the face of limited resources, distributional questions increasingly gain importance. Material flow analysis allows establishing evidence on who consumes how many resources and on present resource use dynamics. But same as with climate justice, it wouldn’t be just to neglect the historic dimension of material consumption. Hence, at the core of our contribution we address the different developments of material consumption for world regions from WW II up to 2010. During this phase, the fossil fuel based industrialization triggered unprecedented growth in material consumption mainly in the wealthy world regions of Europe, Australia, Northern America and partly in the countries of the former Soviet Union.
Recent data show that the highly industrialized economies have stabilized their metabolic rates (albeit on a very high level). Emerging economies such as China or Brazil are rapidly converging towards an industrial pattern of material use, and material use in some of the least developed regions start to grow since 2000. One major goal in policies for these economies is decoupling of material consumption from economic growth. Apart from that, population growth in these countries is discussed as another problem linked to increasing pressure on the environment. However, broadening the focus to earlier time phases shows a clearly different picture.
By this visualization, we address the accumulated material wealth in world regions, and to what extent this wealth has been built up upon own resources, respectively by imports from other world regions. This reveals world regions of material intensive lifestyles or resource poverty in its dynamic development over the last decades. The results is displayed on global maps displaying cumulated consumption and trade flows in absolute terms as well as average annual per capita consumption. The latter analysis highlights regions with material intensive lifestyles, where an average life between 1950 and 2010 consumed more than 400 tons of matter. This analysis shows that it is not the rapidly growing giants who are the primary targets for dematerialization, but those economies that have already excessively consumed materials over the last decades.