UNEP Previews Global Resources Outlook 2019
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The Global Resources Outlook 2019 analyzes the demographic and socioeconomic forces driving the extraction and use of natural resources globally, and reports on how these drivers and pressures have determined our current state.

The report assesses the environmental and well-being impacts, and considers the distribution and intensity of the environmental and human health impacts resulting from the changing state of our environment.

It concludes that 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.

February 2019: The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has published the summary for policymakers (SPM) of a major global report on the status and trends of natural resource use and management, the ‘Global Resources Outlook 2019: Natural Resources for the Future we Want.’ The SPM and the underlying report will be presented at the fourth session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA-4).

The SPM is annexed to a document (UNEP/EA.4/22) released by the UNEP Secretariat in advance of UNEA-4.

Prepared by the International Resource Panel in response to UNEA resolution 2/8, the Global Resources Outlook 2019 analyzes the demographic and socioeconomic forces driving the extraction and use of natural resources globally, and reports on how these drivers and pressures have determined our current state. It assesses the environmental and well-being impacts, and considers the distribution and intensity of the environmental and human health impacts resulting from the changing state of our environment. Finally, it recommends a set of appropriate policy responses.

The analysis contrasts two potential futures. The ‘Historical Trends’ scenario assumes the continuation of historical trends and relationships, and projects resource use, economic activity, essential services and environmental indicators accordingly. The ‘Towards Sustainability’ scenario assumes that governments, the private sector and households will take actions to improve resource efficiency, decouple economic growth from negative environmental impacts and promote sustainable consumption and production (SCP). The results illustrate that “in order to realize our international goals,” including the SDGs, while staying within the planetary boundaries, we need an urgent and systemic transformation of how we use and manage natural resources. All countries are urged to consider innovative solutions to address the environmental challenges associated with natural resource use and more sustainable methods of consumption and production “to resource the future we want.”

An average person living in a high-income country consumes over 13 times what is consumed by someone in a low-income country.

Pointing to unsustainable patterns of industrialization and development, the report shows that, over the last 50 years, material extraction has tripled, with the rate of extraction accelerating since the year 2000. Newly industrializing economies are increasingly responsible for a growing share of material extraction, a situation largely due to the building of new infrastructure. Virtually none of the massive growth in materials consumption in the new millennium has taken place in the wealthiest countries; however, not much of it has taken place in the poorest countries either, which make up the group most urgently in need of higher material living standards.

Unsustainable patterns of resource use are exacerbated by unequal distribution of the benefits of resource use and its increasingly global and severe impacts on human well-being and ecosystem health. While extraction and consumption are growing in upper-middle-income countries, high-income countries continue to outsource resource-intensive production. An average person living in a high-income country consumes 60 percent more than someone in an upper-middle-income country and over 13 times what is consumed by someone in a low-income country. Overall, the extraction and processing of natural resources account for more than 90 percent of global biodiversity loss and water stress impacts and for approximately half of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

The report concludes that these trends can and must be changed. Modeling undertaken by the International Resource Panel shows that by 2060, with the right resource efficiency and SCP policies in place, growth in global resource use can slow by 25 percent, global gross domestic product (GDP) could grow by 8 percent – especially for low- and middle-income nations – and GHG emissions could be cut by 90 percent as compared with projections for continuing along historical trends. Such projections are based on the understanding that growth rates in emerging and other developing economies must be balanced by absolute reductions in resource use in developed countries.

Key messages highlighted in the SPM include:

  • The use of natural resources has more than tripled from 1970, and continues to grow;
  • Historical and current patterns of natural resource use are resulting in increasingly negative impacts on the environment and human health;
  • The use of natural resources and related benefits and environmental impacts are unevenly distributed across countries and regions;
  • 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;
  • Achieving decoupling is possible and can deliver substantial social and environmental benefits, including repair of past environmental damage, while also supporting economic growth and human well-being;
  • Policymakers and decision makers have tools at their disposal to advance worthwhile change, including transformational change at local, national and global scales; and
  • International exchanges and cooperation can make important contributions to achieving systemic change.

The International Resource Panel has 40 expert members drawn from a wide range of academic institutions and scientific disciplines. Its 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.

UNEA-4 will convene from 11-15 March 2019 in Nairobi, Kenya, on the theme, ‘Innovative Solutions for Environmental Challenges and Sustainable Consumption and Production.’ It will focus on food systems, resource efficiency through life-cycle approaches, and sustainable business development. It is preceded by the fourth meeting of the Open-Ended Committee of Permanent Representatives to UNEP (OECPR 4), taking place from 4-8 March 2019. The Global Resources Outlook 2019 will be launched on 12 March 2019. [Global Resources Outlook 2019: Summary for Policymakers] [International Resource Panel Website] [UNEA-4 Documents] [IISD RS Coverage of UNEA-4]


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