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The Dematerialization Potential of the Australian Economy

Author

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  • Heinz Schandl
  • Graham M Turner

    (CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, Australia)

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Heinz Schandl & Graham M Turner, 2008. "The Dematerialization Potential of the Australian Economy," Socio-Economics and the Environment in Discussion (SEED) Working Paper Series 2008-13, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems.
  • Handle: RePEc:cse:wpaper:2008-13
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. 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.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kostas Bithas & Panos Kalimeris, 2017. "The Material Intensity of Growth: Implications from the Human Scale of Production," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 133(3), pages 1011-1029, September.
    2. Arnaud Diemer, 2012. "Technology and Sustainable Development: Myth or Reality?," Chapters, in: Blandine Laperche & Nadine Levratto & Dimitri Uzunidis (ed.), Crisis, Innovation and Sustainable Development, chapter 4, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    3. Andrew Leigh, 2021. "Putting the Australian Economy on the Scales," Australian Economic Review, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, vol. 54(1), pages 19-35, March.
    4. Raphael Asada & Tamás Krisztin & Fulvio di Fulvio & Florian Kraxner & Tobias Stern, 2020. "Bioeconomic transition?: Projecting consumption‐based biomass and fossil material flows to 2050," Journal of Industrial Ecology, Yale University, vol. 24(5), pages 1059-1073, October.

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    dematerialization; physical accounting; stocks and flows; resource productivity; material flows; Australia;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • Q01 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - General - - - Sustainable Development
    • Q57 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Ecological Economics
    • N57 - Economic History - - Agriculture, Natural Resources, Environment and Extractive Industries - - - Africa; Oceania

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