19 January 2022

New tool monitors countries’ raw materials consumption

Software can track material footprint through science-based information.

Australian and European researchers working with the United Nations have developed a tool that tracks how many resources each country consumes.

The material footprint indicator monitors reporting done by each country on international material supply chains to deliver credible, science-based information on countries’ material footprints.

© Nicolas J Leclercq/Unsplash

The solution defines countries’ material footprint as the raw materials they consume domestically, showing where those resources come from globally. For example, materials used to make cars in Japan that are exported to Australia go into Australia’s material footprint.

In the module that analyses each country individually, data on their societies, and production and consumption systems are analysed through the lens of their use of raw materials such as biomass, fossil fuels, and minerals.

Additionally, information on the emissions produced within a country (domestic GHG emissions), is paired with data on the sum of all GHG emissions produced along the supply chains of goods and services consumed in a country. Both domestic emissions and the carbon footprint, thus, are understood as their 'global warming potential.'

Combining each country’s results in these areas and other areas such as air pollution, sustainable land use, and hotspots of unsustainable consumption and production, the researchers behind the tool estimate that the global material footprint has quadrupled since 1970 and it is not projected to decline significantly for decades.

‘The size of our global material footprint has consequences for climate mitigation, biodiversity, and waste and pollution outcomes,” Heinz Schandl, one of the researchers involved in the project and CSIRO’s group leader for urban and industrial transformations,’ said in a media statement. ‘Net-zero carbon can only be achieved if supported by a significant change in material composition reducing the share of carbon-intensive materials, for example, in construction and transport.’