Germany 2049: Transition to a sustainable use of raw materials. An agenda for action

18.05.2017
Die Rohstoffwende braucht spezifische Ziele und Maßnahmen

At this very moment, somewhere in Latin America mercury is being used to mine gold – with severe impacts on human health and environmental quality. Somewhere in Africa, warlords are using child soldiers to fight for coltan, a mineral contained in our mobile phones. In China, rare earths are being extracted in processes that leave radioactive sludges behind – often without any safe strategy to handle these wastes. All this is being done to sate the appetite for raw materials of countries such as Germany.

The Oeko-Institut reveals how Germany’s raw-material footprint can be reduced. The institute’s final report on its own project titled “Germany 2049: Transition to a sustainable use of raw materials” is now available, in which a team of experts at the institute has crafted an agenda for achieving the raw-material transition (Rohstoffwende) by 2049. The goal is to minimise the negative environmental and social impacts of demand for primary resources in Germany and worldwide.

Steps towards a raw-material transition

In its 3rd Policy Paper presented in late 2016, the project already showed that very specific goals and measures need to be adopted to realise the transition to a sustainable use of raw materials. This was underscored again at the institute’s 2016 Annual Conference. Goals and measures must be tailored to specific raw-material groups and their applications. The research team has devised ambitious measures and instruments that are capable of slashing demand for an initial set of raw materials such as gravel, neodymium and steel within the next few decades. These include a scheme providing for detailed audits of individual buildings, a tax on primary construction materials designed to reduce demand for materials sourced in Germany, and measures to advance recycling and introduce sustainability certificates that verify and assure responsible extraction of metals abroad.

The Oeko-Institut now urges that such specific goals, measures and instruments be defined for all relevant groups of raw materials. In this manner, tangible and verifiable milestones on the path towards a sustainable use of raw materials should be set by 2020. These are to be reviewed every four years and refined as needed. Regular monitoring underpins such reviews by tracking raw-material demand and further indicators such as population growth, advances in the transformation of energy and transport systems, developments in recycling and progress in technology. Two “great inventories” in 2025 and 2037 are to review comprehensively the development of raw-material-specific hotspots and the outcomes of the goals defined and measures adopted.

Players in a raw-material transition by 2049

To realise this agenda, policy-makers and private-sector decision-makers are the key players. It needs to be kept in mind that diverse levels of policy-making bear responsibility for the transition: local authorities and regional states must create and maintain the infrastructure for resource-conserving production and consumption, while the federal government must give broader impetus for improved raw-material efficiency. Policy instruments are equally diverse: they include the transformation of the land transfer tax into a land consumption tax designed to foster more compact building design, or rules making the use of recycled construction materials mandatory.

The European Union must also act: for instance, it can enter into international agreements designed to mitigate the negative social impacts of primary raw-material extraction. Moreover, by adopting Europe-wide rules, it can contribute to improving closed-loop materials management and recycling. Via its Ecodesign Directive, it can give greater weight to resource aspects in product design.

Last but not least, the Oeko-Institut stresses that private-sector companies should continue to advance the recycling of construction materials such as concrete and gypsum, and also of metals. Furthermore, companies are the drivers of technological and process innovations that will help to make raw-material use more efficient in future.

For its part, the Okeo-Institut will continue to play an active role in the raw-material transition – providing scientific support, advancing policies, framing proposals and giving fresh impetus.

Final report of the Oeko-Institut's own project "Germany 2049: Transition to a sustainable use of raw materials" (in German only)

Further information:

Press release on the 3rd Policy Paper on the Oeko-Institut's project "Germany 2049: Transition to a sustainable use of raw materials" - Goals and actions (focus on qualitative and quantitative goals for 75 raw materials)

Press release on the 2nd Policy Paper of the Oeko-Institut on "Oeko-Institut designs a roadmap for a sustainable use of raw materials" (focus on goals and actions for gravel and neodymium)

Press release on the 1st Policy Paper of the Oeko-Institut on "Transition to sustainable raw materials management needed in Germany" (focus on the social and environmental impacts of raw-material extraction, conditioning and processing in Germany and abroad)

Background information and agenda of the Oeko-Institut's 2016 Annual Conference, with the focal theme of "Germany 2049: Transition to a sustainable use of raw materials" (in German)

Further information on the Oeko-Institut’s projects on themes relating to raw materails and resources is available at www.ressourcenfieber.de.