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Innovative Strategies to Reduce Resource Consumption and Fossil Fuel Emissions

Alessio Mastrucci, Charlie Wilson, Volker Krey, and Felix Creutzig of the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) in Berlin, along with numerous collaborators from the IIASA-led CircEUlar and EDITS research projects, led a perspective piece that details novel approaches to reducing resource consumption and fossil fuel emissions. This piece was published in Nature Climate Change.

The study proposes an optimistic scenario for climate protection in which the usage of fossil fuels could be rapidly reduced.

New Materials, New Problems?

By phasing out fossil fuels, the production of raw materials is decreased as natural gas, coal, and oil extraction is no longer required. This also helps to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants. However, the crucial concern is whether the need for raw materials and land for renewable energy, electric vehicles, and sustainable transportation infrastructure will have extra social and environmental consequences.

Material extraction and waste streams, the construction of new infrastructure, the associated land use changes, and the provision of new types of goods and services related to decarbonization will create social and environmental pressures at local to regional levels, so-called rare earths are, for example, needed for wind turbines and electric cars, lithium and cobalt for batteries, and construction materials for green infrastructure.

Volker Krey, Principal Research Scholar, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Voler Krey leads the Integrated Assessment and Climate Change group at IIASA.

Helmut Haberl, Co-author from the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, added, “Our study provides an overview of the social, ecological, and geopolitical risks of these materials. These include the displacement of people from residential areas where the raw materials are extracted, health effects due to toxic emissions, injuries, and deaths due to occupational accidents, cartel structures, corruption, and other grievances.”

To address these issues, it is critical to maintain energy and resource needs as low as feasible through demand-side initiatives.

Our study shows that there is considerable potential to reduce energy and resource consumption without having to impose restrictions.

Felix Creutzig, Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change

Solutions for Both Sides

While the need for materials to support a clean energy infrastructure is substantial, it remains significantly lower than the demand generated by the ongoing reliance on fossil fuels.

Demand-side strategies, such as enhancing resource efficiency, substituting individual mobility with shared or public transportation, reusing or recycling existing materials, and thermal renovation of buildings, are critical.

The study focuses on methods that encourage shared mobility (including car and ride sharing), significantly decreasing the requirement for private vehicles. This results in considerable reductions in both material use and emissions.

Creutzig added, “Our study emphasizes the dual benefits of demand-side solutions in mitigating climate change and reducing material consumption. By focusing on efficiency and circular economy principles, we can achieve significant environmental and social benefits.”

To effectively deploy these demand-side approaches, the study team recommends expanded multidisciplinary collaboration and novel policy design concepts. They emphasize the need to incorporate such initiatives within global climate protection policies to achieve a comprehensive approach to sustainable development.

Journal Reference:

‌ Creutzig, F., et al. (2024) Demand-side strategies key for mitigating material impacts of energy transitions. Nature Climate Change. doi:10.1038/s41558-024-02016-z

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