Earth Today | Consumption trends a problem

Earth Today | Consumption trends a problem

THE PUBLIC’S attention is being called to the need for sustainable use and management of natural resources, in the wake of what has been described as ‘worrying trends and new challenges in resource consumption and production since 2019’.

This is according to the latest Global Resources Outlook, published by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) titled ‘Bend the trend: Pathways to a liveable planet as resource use spikes’.

“Since the 2019 edition of this report series was published, trends in global resource use have continued or accelerated: between 2015 (reference year of the 2019 edition) and 2023 there was no absolute decoupling of any environmental impact on the global scale, and all impacts increased in absolute terms with only a few temporary exceptions (such as a resource use decrease during the COVID-19 pandemic),” the 2024 report said.


At play, it said, are “recent events and changes in global geopolitics” which continue to have an impact on how resources are managed.

“In the last few years, the COVID-19 pandemic and recent global inflation have highlighted the vulnerability of the global supply chain of material resources (also referred to as ‘materials’), as well as the need to secure the supply of essential materials while reducing materials demand at the same time,” the UNEP report noted.

“This has been reflected in a surge of resource policy developments, particularly on energy use, plus business actions to restructure supply chains and reduce supply disruption risks. Companies and countries are investing in extraction and processing projects in producing countries,” it added.

“Alongside the vulnerability of supply chains, material demand (including materials classed as critical) is expected to continue increasing in the coming decades.This will be in order to feed an increasing population with changing models of consumption and to supply the materials required for goods, infrastructure and services,as well as for the deployment of the clean energy transition,” the report said further.

It is against this background, it noted, that the change in resource use and management is required.

“Improving resource use management can play a decisive role in increasing human security while meeting human needs for all. The resource agenda is not just an environmental agenda. It refers to the long-term capacity of natural systems to deliver secure well-being to all, which is essential for humanity to thrive in peace,” it said.

In order to deliver on the sustainable development goals, for example, the report suggests that resource use and management must be explicitly integrated at the core of efforts to address the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.


To get there, it said that concrete, immediate action is key. Decoupling has been championed as one of the ways to get there.

“Targeted and coordinated sustainability actions can decrease the amount of resources used and related environmental impacts, while delivering on continued socioeconomic well-being for all. This refers to the concept of decoupling human wellbeing from resource use, as well as decoupling resource use from environmental impacts,” the report said.

“This concept is not a one-size-fits-all approach. For the parts of the population with the highest resource consumption footprints (countries or fractions in a national population), actions must lead to absolute decoupling (reduction of resource use). In this this regard, IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2022) reports that consumption (demand-side) measures such as diets with less animal protein, compact cities and more public transport can reduce GHG emissions by between 40 per cent and 70 per cent by 2050,” the report added.

Of course, the report said, to successfully decouple will require adjustments.

“To deliver on decoupling, unsustainable patterns of resource use need to be reconfigured or replaced by sustainable modes of producing and consuming that respect the capacity of the planet, meet people’s needs and improve human dignity. This calls for a process of structural transformation. While transformation refers to the overall change or outcome of large-scale shifts in technological, economic and social systems, transition refers to the process towards the transformation,” it said.

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