Global Resources Outlook 2019

March 22 2019

The International Resource Panel has recently published its “Global Resources Outlook 2019” with the subtitle: “Natural resources for the future we want”. The report presents the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic findings around global resource use.

The International Resource Panel was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) in 2007 to build and share the knowledge needed to improve our use of resources worldwide.

They provide advice and connections between policymakers, industry and the community on ways to improve global and local resource management.

The Panel includes more than 30 eminent scientists, highly skilled in resource management issues, and some governments from both developed and developing regions, civil society, industrial and international organizations.

The Panel is co-chaired by Janez Potočnik, a former European Commissioner for the Environment, and Izabella Teixeira, a former Environment Minister of Brazil.

The Panel’s goal is to steer us away from overconsumption, waste and ecological harm to a more prosperous and sustainable future.

With a forecasted human population of 9.2 billion by 2050 accompanied by continuing world economic growth, the International Resource Panel has the urgent task of helping to transform, how we use, and re-use, resources.

The Panel is confident, that it is possible to move to a new worldwide system of resource use, that is socially equitable, economically efficient, and environmentally healthy – a system called by some the ‘green economy’.

The Panel’s specific mission is to:

  • Provide independent, coherent and authoritative scientific assessments of policy relevance on the sustainable use of natural resources and, in particular, their environmental impacts over the full life cycle; and
  • Contribute to a better understanding of how to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation.

The Panel upholds the following principles:

  • Objectivity – critical, unbiased reviews of the best available science.
  • Integrity– Panel members uphold the integrity of the scientific process and identify any conflicts of interest.
  • Independence – Panel members yield to no political pressure and carry out independent and impartial scientific assessments.
  • Balance – the Panel includes a diversity of expertise, gender and cultural background.
  • Scientific Rigour – the Panel uses only robust, credible data and methodologies, and the best available science and technology.
  • Systemic and Holistic – the Panel addresses complex interactive risks.
  • Inclusive – the Panel is sensitive to prevailing global views on resource management and environment sustainability.

The IRP’s reports are founded on three qualities:

  • Relevance
  • Credibility, and
  • Legitimacy

The Panel emphasizes:

  • Systems thinking and a life-cycle perspective, that takes account of drivers, pressures, states, impacts and potential responses;
  • Policy relevance rather than policy prescription.

The new report has 6 leading authors and 35 contributing authors. A large peer review panel, coordinated by Hans Bruyninckx, Executive Director of the European Environment Agency, was established to ensure the scientific quality.

Some of the “Key Messages” in the report:

  • The global population has doubled, and global gross domestic product has grown fourfold since the 1970s. This continued rapid increasing population trend, especially in low income countries, is illustrated in a figure from the report:

In October 2001, in connection with a report from the Factor 10 Club to the UN RIO + 10 Congress in South Africa in 2002, I made, with present data from the U.S. Census Bureau, a similiar diagram illustrating the population trend from 1950 to 2050. In October 2001 the World population was 6.18 billion, and it was expected to rise to 9 billion in 2048 with 96% occuring in developing regions of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The 2001 estimation is in line with the new 2018 estimation.

These population and economic trends have required large amounts of natural resources to fuel economic development.

The use of natural resources has more than tripled from 1970 and continues to grow.

From 1970 to 2017, the annual global extraction of materials grew from 27 billion tons to 92 billion tons, while the annual average material demand grew from 7 tons to over 12 tons per capita.

Historical and current patterns of natural resource use are resulting in increasingly negative impacts on the environment and human health.

The extraction and processing of natural resources make up about half of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and more than 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress.

The consumption of water contributes to water stress, threatening the sustainable supply of freshwater to humans and ecosystems.

Agriculture is the main water consumer in the global economy, and the main driver of water stress and accounts for approximately 85 percent of global water stress.

Other impacts of agricultural resource use leading to biodiversity loss include eutrophication and eco-toxic effects caused by the overuse of fertilizers (and pesticides) in certain areas.

Estimated 11 per cent of existing species will become globally and irreversibly extinct due to global land use activities.

In emerging economies, the build-up of infrastructure plays an important role in resource-related climate change impacts.

The use of natural resources and the related benefits and environmental impacts are unevenly distributed across countries and regions.

Material footprints in high-income countries are around 27 tons per person; 60 per cent higher than the upper-middle income group in 2017; and more than 13 times the level of the low-income group.

Per capita impacts of consumption in high-income countries are, depending on the impact category, between three and six times larger than those of low-income countries.

In the absence of urgent and concerted action, rapid growth and inefficient use of natural resources will continue to create unsustainable pressures on the environment.

The decoupling of natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic activity and human well-being is an essential element in the transition to a sustainable future.

Policymakers and decision makers have tools at their disposal to advance worthwhile change, including transformational change at local, national and global scales.

International exchanges and cooperation can make important contributions to achieving systemic change.

There is some optimism in the conclusion of this important, impressive and recommendable report, because it finds that it is feasible and possible to grow economies, increase well-being and remain within planetary boundaries, through a combination of resource efficiency, climate mitigation, carbon removal, and biodiversity protection policies.

However, unfortunately that may be too good to be true, if the populations in low income countries continues to increase, and migration/displacement of large groups of people continues along with local catastrophic incidents, unrests, wars – and the ongoing climate change!

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