Resource Use and Resource Efficiency in Emerging Economies: Trends Over the Past 20 Years

Giljum, S., Dittrich, M., Bringezu, S., Polzin, C., Lutter S. (2011)

This Working Paper provides the first comparative and quantitative assessment of material consumption and resource productivity of emerging economies between 1985 and 2005. 16 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America were selected for the analysis. To facilitate comparison, the emerging economies are divided into three different groups according to their dominant strategy of economic development since 1985: resource-based, industry-based and service-based economies. The study draws on the methodological framework of material flow accounting and analysis (MFA), as established by the OECD and EUROSTAT, and focuses on direct trade and consumption of materials applying the indicators Domestic Material Consumption (DMC) and Physical Trade Balance (PTB). The results show that nowhere in the world is resource consumption growing faster than in the emerging economies in terms of absolute terms. However, due to high population growth, per capita consumption increased only slowly from 4.4 tonnes in 1985 to 6.7 tonnes in 2005 and remains below the global average of around 8.5 tonnes. Today, this group of 16 countries, which is home to about half the world’s population, consumes about the same absolute amount of materials as the OECD countries which host 14% of the world’s population. Resource efficiency in emerging economies increased faster than the global average trend, albeit from a much lower absolute level. With regard to the dominant strategy of economic development in the different countries, the study shows that resource-based emerging economies tend to have higher per capita resource consumption, lower resource efficiency and are less dynamic in improvements of resource efficiency than industry- or service-based economies. Interestingly, these results change significantly when indirect material flows of extraction and trade are considered.

The results of our analysis are published in SERI working paper No.12 which is available upon request from Stefan Giljum (

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