International Resource Panel pushes reduced resource use; new EU law triggers a ‘goldrush’

2 abril 2024

Written by: Perrine Fournier

International Resource Panel pushes reduced resource use; new EU law triggers a ‘goldrush’

“Reducing the resource intensity of food, mobility, housing and energy systems is the best and only way of achieving the SDGs, the climate goals, and ultimately a just and liveable planet for all”, says the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) International Resource Panel (IRP) in the second edition of Global Resources Outlook, 1 March 2024. The EU, however, has just adopted critical raw materials legislation that undermines these aims. 

If we do not take urgent action to change the way resources are used, the report argues, material extraction (fossil fuels, minerals, non-metallic minerals and biomass) could increase by almost 60% by 2060 from 2020 levels. It finds that increasing resource use is the main driver of the triple, interlinked planetary crises confronting humanity: climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. Ultimately, the way we extract and use natural resources affects our well-being and economic prosperity.  

Significant inequality surrounds material extraction and consumption, and who bears the impacts. High-income countries use six times more materials per capita than low-income countries. In 2022, the EU’s material footprint – the total amount of fossil fuels, biomass, metals and minerals it consumes, including embodied in imports – was 14.8 tonnes per capita: more than double the threshold deemed sustainable and just.  

The IRP insists on the need for stronger focus on demand-side (consumption) measures to complement supply-side (production) measures. Demand-side measures could significantly contribute to forest protection, reduce global inequality and avoid land conflicts with Indigenous Peoples and local communities who live on targeted lands, or depend on these resources for their livelihoods. For example, reducing overconsumption of animal proteins and reducing food waste can decrease the land needed for food by 5% by 2060, compared to 2020 levels. Soft mobility can reduce the need for materials (–50%), energy (–50%) and GHG emissions (–60%) by 2060, compared to current trends.  

The EU’s Critical Raw Materials Regulation (CRMR) runs counter to ‘sustainable and just use’ logic: it aims to increase the availability of raw materials deemed strategic for achieving the transition, e.g., in the transport sector. Electric vehicles will absorb a great quantity of these materials. The CRMR fails to include targets for binding reductions in the EU’s material footprint; in the mobility sector, for instance, a reduction in the number, size and weight of private cars is necessary, as are clear targets and funding for increases in public transport. 

The IRP report recommends ‘decoupling’: resource use must grow at a slower rate than the economic activity causing it (relative decoupling), or decline while the economic activity continues to grow (absolute decoupling). To show that it is possible to reduce per capita use while boosting income and well-being, the IRP refer to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s 2022 report, which found that demand-side (consumption) measures – diets with less animal protein, compact cities, more public transport – can reduce GHG emissions by 40%-70% by 2050. 

Decoupling is not a one-size-fits-all approach. For vulnerable populations and contexts, where resource use is expected to grow to enable dignified living, the aim should be to improve resource efficiency and limit the growth of resource use (relative decoupling). For population groups with the highest consumption footprints, policies and actions must lead to absolute decoupling, i.e., reduction of resource use from current levels. As adopted, the EU CRMR fails to even suggest reducing the EU’s unsustainable, unjust footprint.

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This article was edited by Nicole Gérard.

Categorias: News, Forest Watch, Critical minerals

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