Exploring resource efficiency for energy, land and phosphorus use: Implications for resource scarcity and the global environment

Published on
December 8, 2015

The article of Maurits van den Berg, Kathleen Neumanna, Detlef van Vuuren, Lex Bouwman, Tom Kram and Jan Bakkes: Exploring resource efficiency for energy, land and phosphorus use: Implications for resource scarcity and the global environment has been pubished in Global Environmental Change, Volume 36, January 2016, Pages 21–34.



In this paper, we present four model-based scenarios exploring the potential for resource efficiency for energy, land and phosphorus use, and implications for resource depletion, climate change and biodiversity. The scenarios explored include technological improvements as well as structural changes in production systems and lifestyle changes. Many of such changes have long lead times, requiring up front and timely investments in infrastructure, innovative incentive structures and education. For simulating the scenarios we applied the IMAGE modelling framework, with a time horizon until 2050.

Our findings confirm a large potential for more efficient resource use: our (no new policies) baseline scenario shows a global increase, between 2010 and 2050, by 80% of primary energy use, 4% of arable land and 40% of phosphorus fertilisers. These numbers are reduced to +25% (primary energy), −9% (arable land) and +9% (phosphorus) in the global resource efficiency scenario. Baseline developments and resource efficiency opportunities vary strikingly among regions, resources and sectors. Phosphorus use, for example, is expected to increase most on croplands in developing countries, whereas the largest potential for phosphorus use efficiency lies in the livestock sector and urban sewage treatment in industrialised countries. Consequently, while resource efficiency resonates well as a general notion in policy thinking, concrete policies need to be region-specific, resource-specific and sector-specific.

Efficiency efforts on one resource tend to contribute to efficient use of other resources and to benefit the environment. There are also trade-offs, however, and the synergies analysed do not make problem-specific policies redundant: in 2050, the global resource efficiency scenario presents higher phosphorus use and higher use of fossil fuels than in 2010; greenhouse gas emission targets are met by half; and biodiversity loss slows down but is not halted. Moreover, part of the efficiency gains in land and phosphorus use is sacrificed when this scenario is combined with ambitious climate policy, due to the substantial resource requirements for the deployment of bio-energy—albeit much less than in a scenario without more efficient resource use.

Keywords: Integrated assessment; Resource efficiency scenarios; Resource depletion; Biodiversity; Climate policy