Decoupling economic growth from resource use is one of the most critical and complex challenges facing humanity today. Doing so effectively will require policies that create a conducive environment for such change, social and physical infrastructure and markets, and a profound transformation of business practices along global value chains.
Extraction of raw materials in the developing world is supporting the consumption patterns of richer nations.
The "material footprint" of an economy refers to the total amount of raw materials extracted globally—across the entire supply chain—to meet that economy's final consumption demand. People rely on such materials to meet basic needs—for food, clothing, water, shelter, infrastructure and many other aspects of life. Across much of the developing world, an increase in the material footprint is required to enhance the living standards of growing populations. At the same time, it is important to decrease reliance on raw materials and increase their recycling to reduce environmental pressure and impact.
The per-capita material footprint of developing countries grew from five metric tons in 2000 to nine metric tons in 2017, representing a significant improvement in material standard of living. Most of the increase is attributed to a rise in the use of non-metallic minerals, pointing to growth in the areas of infrastructure and construction.
For all types of materials, developed countries have at least double the per-capita footprint of developing countries. In particular, the material footprint for fossil fuels is more than four times higher for developed than developing countries. Because fossil fuels directly impact the environment in various ways, the need to decouple their use from economic growth is key to achieving sustainable consumption and production.