UN calls for urgent rethink as resource use skyrockets
– Resource extraction has more than tripled since 1970, including a fivefold increase in the use of non-metallic minerals and a 45 per cent increase in fossil fuel use – By 2060, global material use could double to 190 billion tonnes (from 92 billion), while greenhouse gas emissions could increase by 43 per cent – The extraction and processing of materials, fuels and food contribute half of total global greenhouse gas emissions and over 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress
Rapid growth in extraction of materials is the chief culprit in climate change and biodiversity loss – a challenge that will only worsen unless the world urgently undertakes a systemic reform of resource use, according to a report released at the UN Environment Assembly.
Global Resources Outlook 2019, prepared by the International Resource Panel, examines the trends in natural resources and their corresponding consumption patterns since the 1970s to support policymakers in strategic decision-making and transitioning to a sustainable economy.
Over the past five decades, the population has doubled, and global domestic product has increased four times. The report finds that, in the same period, annual global extraction of materials grew from 27 billion tonnes to 92 billion tonnes (by 2017). This will double again by 2060 on current trends.
According to the report, “the extraction and processing of materials, fuels and food make up about half of total global greenhouse gas emissions and more than 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress”. By 2010, land-use changes had caused a loss of global species of approximately 11 per cent.
“The Global Resources Outlook shows that we are ploughing through this planet’s finite resources as if there is no tomorrow, causing climate change and biodiversity loss along the way,” said Joyce Msyua, Acting Executive Director of UN Environment. “Frankly, there will be no tomorrow for many people unless we stop.”
Since 2000, growth in extraction rates have accelerated to 3.2 per cent per annum, driven largely by major investments in infrastructure and higher material living standards in developing and transitioning countries, especially in Asia. However, the wealthiest countries still needed 9.8 tons of materials per person in 2017, mobilized from elsewhere in the world, which is also driving this trend.
More specifically, the use of metal ores increased by 2.7 per cent annually and the associated impacts on human health and climate change doubled during 2000-2015. Fossil fuel usage went from 6 billion tonnes in 1970 to 15 billion tons in 2017. Biomass increased from 9 billion tonnes to 24 billion tonnes – mostly for food, feedstock and energy. By using data from historical trends, the report projects into the year 2060. From 2015-2060, natural resource use is expected to grow by 110 per cent, leading to a reduction of forests by over 10 per cent and a reduction of other habitats like grasslands by around 20 per cent. The implications for climate change are severe, as there would be an increase in greenhouse gas emissions of 43 per cent.
The report says that if economic and consumption growth continue at current rates, far greater efforts will be required to ensure positive economic growth does not cause negative environmental impacts.
The report argues that resource efficiency is essential, though not enough on its own. “What is needed is a move from linear to circular flows through a combination of extended product life cycles, intelligent product design and standardization and reuse, recycling and remanufacturing,” it says.
If the recommended measures are implemented, it could accelerate economic growth, outweighing the up-front economic costs of shifting to economic models consistent with holding global warming to 1.5°C this century.
“Modelling undertaken by the International Resource Panel shows that with the right resource efficiency and sustainable consumption and production policies in place, by 2060 growth in global resource use can slow by 25 per cent, global domestic product could grow 8 per cent – especially for low- and middle-income nations – and greenhouse gas emissions could be cut by 90 per cent compared with projections for continuing along historical trends,” the Co-Chairs of the Panel, Izabella Teixeira and Janez Potočnik, wrote in the joint preface to the report.
Source: UNEP IRP
Global Resources Outlook 2019 – Implications for Business Leaders
This document highlights and contextualizes the key findings of the Global Resources Outlook 2019 (GRO) report for leaders in business and policy. It aims to provide a starting point for strategic decision-making for successful businesses in a sustainable economy.
In 2015, countries around the world agreed on the key parameters of a sustainable economy in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), aiming to create a world of growing prosperity for all in a healthy environment. Global intergovernmental commitments further specify the most urgent environmental agendas, including the Paris Agreement to limit global warming to ‘well under’ 2°C, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
The Global Resources Outlook 2019 presents a comprehensive assessment of the connection between the most pressing environmental challenges and the extraction and processing of global resources. The report provides insights of unprecedented depth into the dynamics of resource use and impacts to date and projects two possible future scenarios – one based on historical trends, and the other envisioning transformations towards sustainability. Both are conditional upon our actions today.
The assessment reinforces the International Resource Panel’s central message that decoupling economic growth from resource use and its impacts must be the paradigm of a new economy that can achieve the SDGs and boost economic development. The scenarios show that concerted resource efficiency, climate mitigation and biodiversity protection measures can deliver on decoupling ambitions.
Businesses are not only key enablers in the transition to decoupling, but also need the decoupled economy for lasting business success.
The Implications for Business Leaders (IBL) supports businesses in using these latest findings about global resource use and impacts in strategic decision-making. It is based on consultation inputs from IRP Strategic Partners in the private sector and their members. The input of the contributing organizations is greatly appreciated: Confederation of Indian Industry, Circular Norway, Ecofys- a Navigant Company, Ellen MacArthur Foundation, Enel, Global Business Coalition, Umicore, United States Chamber of Commerce, World Business Council for Sustainable Development, World Economic Forum, and World Resources Institute. The development of Implications for Business Leaders was supported by SYSTEMIQ.
The GRO was requested by the Second Session of the United Nations Environmental Assembly (UNEA-2) and will be presented under the theme ‘Innovative solutions for environmental challenges and sustainable consumption and production (SCP)’ at the Fourth Session of the Assembly in March 2019. The full report was produced by the International Resource Panel (IRP), which aims to provide a consistent science base for decision makers by publishing updates to the Global Resources Outlook every four years.
This report has been produced for the International Resource Panel (IRP) hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment). It highlights and contextualizes the key findings from the Global Resources Outlook 2019 report, and is the result of the efforts and contributions of several experts: Antonia Gawel (World Economic Forum), Christian Hagelueken (Umicore), Elena Giotto (World Business Council for Sustainable Development), Gary V. Litman (United States Chamber of Commerce), Janneke de Vries (World Resources Institute), Jocelyn Blériot (Ellen MacArthur Foundation), Nandini Kumar (Confederation of Indian Industry), Luca Meini and Mario Ciancarini (Enel), Preeti Srivastav (Ecofys, a Navigant Company), Sebastien Louvet (Global Business Coalition) and Sofie Pindsle and Cathrine Barth (Circular Norway).
This report was written under the auspices of the International Resource Panel (IRP) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment). We thank Janez Potocnik and Izabella Teixeira, the co-chairs of the IRP and the members of the IRP and its Steering Committee.
We would also like to extend our thanks to the United Nations Environment Programme Secretariat of the International Resource Panel: Peder Jensen and, in particular, Hala Razian, for the assistance in the coordination and in the editing of this document.
Recommended citation for the full report: IRP (2019). Global Resources Outlook 2019: Natural Resources for the Future We Want. Oberle, B., Bringezu, S., Hatfield-Dodds, S., Hellweg, S., Schandl, H., Clement, J., and Cabernard, L., Che, N., Chen, D., Droz-Georget, H., Ekins, P., Fischer-Kowalski, M., Flörke, M., Frank, S., Froemelt , A., Geschke, A., Haupt , M., Havlik, P., Hüfner, R., Lenzen, M., Lieber, M., Liu, B., Lu, Y., Lutter, S., Mehr , J., Miatto, A., Newth, D., Oberschelp , C., Obersteiner, M., Pfister, S., Piccoli, E., Schaldach, R., Schüngel, J., Sonderegger, T., Sudheshwar, A., Tanikawa, H., van der Voet, E., Walker, C., West, J., Wang, Z., Zhu, B. A Report of the International Resource Panel. United Nations Environment Programme. Nairobi, Kenya.