The Limits of Consumption: Sustainable consumption taking into account planetary boundaries and global growth dynamics

Nachhaltiger Konsum

For decades, the use of natural resources has increased with growing prosperity and populations – the global extraction of raw materials has more than tripled since 1970, for example. This also increases pressures on the environment, as the earth's ecosystems have limits. If the pressure is too high in certain places, this can have irreversible consequences. The concept of planetary boundaries describes the ecological state of planet earth with nine dimensions, such as climate change and land use change. The discussion about the upper limits for consumption (and production) began as early as the 1970s, when the Club of Rome published the study "Limits to Growth". One of the central conclusions was that, if development remained the same, economic growth would reach ecological limits within a century. Numerous follow-up studies compared the trends calculated in computer simulations to actual growth and confirmed the results. Since then, researchers have looked at various options as to how consumption patterns change or have to be changed, for example in order to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Against the background of these developments and the concept of planetary limits, the project “The Limits of Consumption”, commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency, examines one question in particular: Based on the concept of planetary limits, is it possible to quantify specific, globally generalizable consumption levels that lie within the planetary limits? The study seeks to answer this question while taking into account the concept of planetary boundaries and with a view to different goods and services. To this end, the project will first work on the state of scientific research on consumption limits. It will then attempt to quantify consumption limits for Germany in the form of different consumption patterns and a comparison with global growth dynamics, especially in emerging countries. The research results will be presented at an international conference for the 50th anniversary of the publication of the report "Limits to Growth" and prepared in the form of target-group specific infographics.

As part of the project, adelphi will research and analyse the state of knowledge in the scientific literature, organise an international conference, prepare the results in a way that is appropriate for the target group and help disseminate them with civil society organizations.