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01.12.2016 | Research | Ausgabe 1/2016 Open Access

Journal of Economic Structures 1/2016

Identifying priority areas for European resource policies: a MRIO-based material footprint assessment

Journal of Economic Structures > Ausgabe 1/2016
Stefan Giljum, Hanspeter Wieland, Stephan Lutter, Martin Bruckner, Richard Wood, Arnold Tukker, Konstantin Stadler
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The online version of this article (doi:10.​1186/​s40008-016-0048-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.


In the context of the transformation toward a “green economy,” issues related to natural resource use have rapidly increased in importance in European and international policy debates. The large number of studies applying economy-wide material flow analysis so far mostly produced aggregated national indicators, making the results difficult to connect to policies, which are often designed for single sectors or consumption areas. This paper provides a detailed assessment of the composition of EU’s material footprint in its global context, aiming at identifying the main product groups contributing to overall material consumption and specifying the geographical sources for the raw materials required to satisfy EU’s final demand. Based on multi-regional input–output (MRIO) modeling, we apply production layer decomposition to assess supply chains and their structural changes from 1995 to 2011. The global MRIO database used in this study is EXIOBASE 3, which disaggregates 200 products and 163 industries, of which 33 represent material extraction sectors. By that means, we increase the level of detail to a degree where policies can more easily connect to. We find that the generally growing material footprint of the EU was characterized by a dramatic shift regarding the origin of raw materials, with the share of materials extracted within the EU territory falling from 68 % in 1995 to 35 % in 2011. In 2011, raw materials extracted in China to produce exports to the EU already contributed an equal share to EU’s material footprint as material extraction within the EU itself. Import dependency is most critical for the material group of metal ores, with only 13 % of all metals required as inputs to EU final demand stemming from within the EU. Regarding product composition, construction was confirmed as the most important sector contributing to the material footprint, followed by the group of manufacturing products based on biomass. Materials embodied in service sector activities together contributed a quarter to the total material footprint in 2011, making services an important, but currently disregarded area for European resource policies. We also find that supply chain structures became more complex over time, with a growing part located outside the EU territory.

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Additional file 1: Full list of EXIOBASE products and product groups.
Additional file 2: Full list of EXIOBASE countries and regions.
Additional file 3: Technical details on the compilation of the global material flow database.
Additional file 4: Correspondence table between raw materials and EXIOBASE sectors.
Additional file 5: Detailed material footprint (MF) results.
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