The global demand for cobalt and lithium for e-car batteries is expected to increase nearly 20-fold by 2050. Similarly, the development of a fossil-free power supply will lead to a doubling in the demand for copper, aluminum, and iron. Rare earth elements essential for wind turbines will also be needed in greater quantities. A recent study conducted by the Berlin-based climate research institute MCC sheds light on the expected rise in material consumption due to the climate transition.

While decarbonization will make the global economy less resource-intensive by phasing out coal, oil, and gas, the additional material requirements and waste flows associated with the climate transition pose significant ecological and social risks. These risks include threats to biodiversity, water requirements, health hazards, and political instability. For example, countries like Guinea, Congo, and China play a significant role in the production of raw materials like bauxite, cobalt, and semiconductor wafers.

The study emphasizes the importance of demand-side climate protection in mitigating the material demands of the climate transition. Solutions proposed include behavioral changes in mobility, housing, and nutrition, as well as the improvement of material circularity in the economy. In the transport sector, more pooled mobility can reduce material consumption, while the use of natural construction materials and the modernization of buildings can make the construction sector more sustainable. Additionally, reducing meat consumption in the food sector can lead to health benefits and lower material demand.

It is essential to make investments in infrastructure that encourage people to adopt climate-friendly behaviors. Positive incentives can play a crucial role in promoting sustainable practices. The study suggests that quantifying and categorizing potential savings in materials should be a priority for further interdisciplinary research. Integrated Assessment Models need to be updated to include the material dimension of a low-carbon and ultimately carbon-free global economy.

The transition to a climate-friendly economy will undoubtedly result in increased demands for certain raw materials. However, through innovative solutions and investments in sustainable practices, it is possible to mitigate these challenges. The study highlights the importance of addressing material consumption in the context of climate protection and calls for further research and policy action to create a more sustainable future for all.

Earth

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