Modelling scenarios towards a sustainable use of natural resources in Europe

Stefan Giljum, Arno Behrens, Friedrich Hinterberger, Christian Lutz, Bernd Meyer

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74 Citations (Scopus)


Issues related to the unsustainable use of natural resources are currently high on the policy agenda both in Europe and in other world regions. A large number of studies assessed past developments of material use and resource productivities. However, little effort has so far been devoted to forecasting future patterns of natural resource use and to provide ex-ante assessments of environmental and economic effects of different resource policies. This paper presents results from the international research project "MOSUS" (Modelling opportunities and limits for restructuring Europe towards sustainability), which was designed to fill some of these research gaps. In this project, a global economy-energy model system was extended by a worldwide database on material inputs, in order to run three scenarios for European development up to the year 2020: a baseline scenario without additional policy intervention and two so-called "sustainability scenarios", simulating the implementation of six packages of policy measures geared towards decoupling economic activity from material and energy throughput. These measures included, amongst others, taxes on CO 2 emissions and transport, measures to increase metal recycling rates, and a consulting programme to raise material productivity of industrial production. This paper presents the evaluation of the three scenarios with regard to the extraction of natural resources on the European and global level. In the baseline scenario, used domestic extraction within the EU remains roughly constant until 2020, while unused domestic extraction decreases (particularly overburden from mining activities). The stabilisation of domestic extraction, however, is accompanied by growing imports of material intensive products. This indicates that the material requirements of the European economy will increasingly be met through imports from other world regions, causing shifts of environmental pressures related to material extraction and processing away from Europe towards resource-rich countries. The implementation of the six sustainability policy measures applied in the sustainability scenarios results in a slight absolute reduction of domestic extraction in all European countries and significantly increased resource productivities. The results suggest that policy instruments aimed at raising eco-efficiency on the micro level can be conducive to economic growth. To limit rebound effects on the macro level, these instruments must, however, be accompanied by other policies influencing the prices of energy and materials. With regard to global resource use trends, the baseline scenario forecasts a significant growth of resource extraction, particularly in developing countries, reflecting the growing demand for natural resources of emerging economies such as China and India.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-216
Number of pages13
JournalEnvironmental Science and Policy
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Eco-efficiency
  • Integrated modelling
  • International trade
  • Material flow analysis
  • Sustainability policies

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