China announced its target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060 at the UN General Assembly last year. It also plans to peak carbon emissions by 2030, an important part of its commitments to the Paris Climate Agreement.
To achieve these goals, the reform of energy use is a priority, but the material field cannot be ignored either. Greenhouse gases are emitted during the production and use of some materials, which is one of the main causes of climate change. The use of some of these materials is increasing because human society cannot do without economic growth, which has not been able to decouple from material use.
It is clear that the larger the economy becomes, the more difficult it is to decouple its growth from its material impact. This does not mean that the decoupling is unnecessary or impossible. On the contrary, decoupling wellbeing from material throughput is vital if societies are to deliver a more sustainable prosperity.
A credible decarbonization strategy in line with the targets outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement will thus need to go beyond the current energy efficiency and renewable energy policies by adopting a more comprehensive approach aimed at decoupling material use from economic growth.
However, technology improvements mainly comprise advancements in energy efficiency, process efficiency and in the supply chain processes. It is difficult to predict the extent to which these improvements will reduce material consumption in the future.
This is an edited excerpt of an article originally published in Lifeweek on March 1
(Print Edition Title: Material Use)