Excessive, unregulated extraction of natural resources is the chief culprit in climate change and biodiversity loss, a new report released at the United Nations (UN) Environment Assembly has revealed.
The Assembly states that the situation will only worsen unless the world urgently undertakes a systemic reform of resource use.
“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, an agency of the United Nations that coordinates the organization’s environmental activities and assists developing countries in implementing environmentally-sound policies and practices.
“Frankly, there will be no tomorrow for many people unless we stop,” the Tanzanian-born expert warned.
The aforementioned report, dubbed ‘Global Resources Outlook 2019’, was prepared by the International Resource Panel, a scientific panel of experts that aims to help nations use natural resources sustainably without compromising economic growth and human needs.
It 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”.
The Global Resources Outlook shows that since 2000, growth in extraction rates have accelerated to 3.2% per annum, driven largely by major investments in infrastructure and higher material living standards in developing and transitioning countries.
More specifically, the use of metal ores increased by 2.7 percent 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.
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.
The analysis indicates that if the recommended measures are implemented, it could accelerate economic growth, outweighing the up-front economic costs associated with current trends.