The United Nations has called for an urgent rethink of the extraction and use of the world’s resources, after new data shows a fivefold increase in rate of mineral extraction and 45% increase in fossil fuel use since 1970.
According to trends, by 2060 the global material use could double from 92 billion tonnes to 190 billion tonnes, with an increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 43%.
The Global Resources Outlook 2019, released by the UN’s International Resource Panel, examined the trends in material consumption patterns since the 1970’s and aims to support policymakers in strategic decision-making.
According to the report, the extraction of materials, fuels and food contributes to an estimated half of all carbon emissions.
Additionally, the report has found that over the past five decades, the population has doubled and global domestic product has increased four times, while in that same period the annual global extraction if materials has grown from 27 billion tonnes to 92 billion tonnes, and will double again by 2060.
“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 Msuya, 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.
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.