Material use and material efficiency in Latin America and the Caribbean

Different world regions have followed very different trajectories for natural resources use over the recent decades. Latin America has pursued a development path based largely on exports of primary resources. Adopting this path has characteristic environmental and social impacts. In this paper, we provide the first broad based estimate of material use and material efficiency for the region, beginning in 1970 and extending to the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. The results show a region with rapidly growing primary materials consumption, which is simultaneously becoming less efficient at converting those resources into national income. Using an IPAT framework, we found that population growth and rising per-capita incomes made comparable contributions to growing material use, while technological change as reflected in material intensity, did not moderate consumption. Increasing materials intensity, observed for the region as a whole, is also observed for most individual countries. This contrasts with some other world regions, and implies that many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean will confront higher environmental pressures than expected when expanding their extractive industries to take advantage of new demand from other world regions, while simultaneously supplying the requirements for their own domestic industrial transformations and urbanization.

Associated space

Latin America and the Caribbean