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The Dematerialization Potential of the Australian Economy

  • Heinz Schandl
  • Graham M Turner

    ()

    (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia)

In this paper we test the long term dematerialization potential for Australia in terms of materials, energy, and water use as well as CO2 emissions, by introducing concrete targets for major sectors. Major improvements in the construction and housing, transport and mobility, and food and nutrition sectors in the Australian economy, if coupled with significant reductions in the resource export sectors, would substantially improve the current material, energy and emission intensive pattern of Australia’s production and consumption system. Using the Australian Stocks and Flows framework we model all system interactions to understand the contributions of large scale changes in technology, infrastructure and lifestyle to decoupling the economy from the environment. The modelling shows a considerable reduction in natural resource use, while energy and water use decrease to a much lesser extent because a reduction in natural resource consumption creates a trade-off in energy use. It also shows that trade and economic growth may continue, but at a reduced rate compared with a business-as-usual scenario. The findings of our modelling are discussed in light of the large body of literature on dematerialization, eco-efficiency and rebound effects that may occur when efficiency is increased. We argue that Australia cannot rely on incremental efficiency gains but has to undergo a sustainability transition to achieve a low carbon future to keep in line with the international effort to avoid climate change and resource use conflicts. We touch upon the institutional changes that would be required to guide a sustainability transition in the Australian economy, such as, for instance, an emission trading scheme.

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Paper provided by CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems in its series Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion (SEED) Working Paper Series with number 2008-13.

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Length: 32 pages
Date of creation: Oct 2008
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cse:wpaper:2008-13
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  1. Saunders, Harry D., 2000. "A view from the macro side: rebound, backfire, and Khazzoom-Brookes," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 28(6-7), pages 439-449, June.
  2. de Bruyn, S. M. & van den Bergh, J. C. J. M. & Opschoor, J. B., 1998. "Economic growth and emissions: reconsidering the empirical basis of environmental Kuznets curves," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 25(2), pages 161-175, May.
  3. Brookes, Leonard, 2000. "Energy efficiency fallacies revisited," Energy Policy, Elsevier, vol. 28(6-7), pages 355-366, June.
  4. Spangenberg, Joachim H. & Lorek, Sylvia, 2002. "Environmentally sustainable household consumption: from aggregate environmental pressures to priority fields of action," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(2-3), pages 127-140, December.
  5. Heinz Schandl & Franzi Poldy & Graham M Turner & Thomas G Measham & Daniel Walker & Nina Eisenmenger, 2008. "Australia’s Resource Use Trajectories," Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion (SEED) Working Paper Series 2008-08, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.
  6. Selden Thomas M. & Song Daqing, 1994. "Environmental Quality and Development: Is There a Kuznets Curve for Air Pollution Emissions?," Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, Elsevier, vol. 27(2), pages 147-162, September.
  7. Ayres, Robert U. & van den Bergh, Jeroen C.J.M., 2005. "A theory of economic growth with material/energy resources and dematerialization: Interaction of three growth mechanisms," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 55(1), pages 96-118, October.
  8. Stockhammer, Engelbert & Hochreiter, Harald & Obermayr, Bernhard & Steiner, Klaus, 1997. "The index of sustainable economic welfare (ISEW) as an alternative to GDP in measuring economic welfare. The results of the Austrian (revised) ISEW calculation 1955-1992," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(1), pages 19-34, April.
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