Wealthy nations use six times more resources, cause tenfold climate impact: study

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The Earth’s appetite for natural resources has seen a dramatic threefold increase over the past five decades, driven largely by a global surge in infrastructure development and high material consumption rates, particularly in wealthier nations.

According to a recent report from the UN Environment Program’s International Resource Panel, this trend is not slowing down. By 2060, material extraction rates are expected to jump by another 60%, posing significant threats to climate goals, biodiversity, pollution mitigation efforts, and the broader aspirations for sustainable economic prosperity and human well-being.

The 2024 Global Resource Outlook, unveiled during the UN Environment Assembly’s sixth session, rings alarm bells while calling for comprehensive policy reforms.

These reforms aim to significantly curb the anticipated rise in resource consumption—by a third—while still fostering economic growth, enhancing quality of life, and minimizing environmental degradation.

The report paints a stark picture of the environmental toll exacted by our current resource usage: more than 60% of global emissions and 40% of air pollution-related health impacts can be traced back to the extraction and processing of natural resources.

Specifically, biomass extraction, which includes agricultural and forestry activities, is responsible for 90% of the land-related biodiversity loss and water stress, as well as a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Meanwhile, the extraction and processing of fossil fuels, metals, and minerals account for 35% of global emissions.

Inger Andersen, UNEP’s Executive Director, emphasized the interconnected crises of climate change, nature loss, and pollution as stemming from unsustainable consumption and production patterns.

Andersen advocates for a paradigm shift towards resource-efficient and low-impact solutions across various sectors, including mobility, housing, food, and energy.

The report highlights stark inequalities in global resource consumption, with low-income countries using six times fewer materials and generating ten times fewer climate impacts than their high-income counterparts.

Notably, upper-middle-income countries have seen their resource use more than double over the past 50 years, fueled by infrastructure growth and the outsourcing of resource-intensive processes from wealthier nations.

In contrast, resource use in low-income countries has remained relatively stable and low since 1995.

To reverse these trends, the report proposes several strategies, including institutionalizing resource governance, directing finance towards sustainable resource use, mainstreaming sustainable consumption, making trade a catalyst for sustainable resource management, and fostering circular, resource-efficient business models.

These recommendations aim to peak resource extraction by 2040 and reduce it to 20% above 2020 levels by 2060, significantly lowering greenhouse gas emissions and improving the Human Development Index.

This ambitious blueprint for sustainable resource management underscores the urgency of transitioning to more sustainable practices across all sectors of the economy.

By embracing these strategies, humanity can work towards a future where economic development and environmental stewardship go hand in hand, ensuring a livable planet for generations to come.

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