In terms of material intensities, industrialised economies are generally characterised by the lowest material intensities. With around 0.5 tonnes of material extraction per 1000 US $ GDP, both Europe and North America were the regions with the lowest intensities in 2013. Improvements were achieved over the past 30 years, as the respective intensity numbers were 0.8 and 1 in the year 1980. Two major drivers for this trend in industrialised regions are the use of new technologies with improved material and energy performance and structural change of economies towards service sectors characterised by less material input per economic output. However, also outsourcing of material-intensive economic activities to other world regions through international trade can decrease material intensity - this aspect is not covered with the data illustrated here, as trade in materials is not considered.
Asia with its very high share in global material extraction also has a significant impact on the global development of the material intensity curve. This world region lowered the material intensity of the economy from around 3 tonnes per 1000 US $ GDP in 1980 to 2.3 tonnes in 2001. However, since 2002, alongside rapid increased in material extraction, the material intensity curve started to point upward again, reaching 2.9 tonnes in 2013, a value almost similar to the one in 1980. Asia is also the main reason, why the global intensity development showed an upward trend since 2003, reaching 1.5 tonnes per 1000 US $ GDP in 2013.
The African economies are still characterised by the highest intensities, but improvement over the past 30 years were significant: from 5.2 tonnes per 1000 US $ GDP in 1980 to 3.9 tonnes in 2013.