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Decoupling: natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth

Decoupling: natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth

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By 2050, humanity could devour an estimated 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year three times its current appetite unless the economic growth rate is decoupled from the rate of natural resource consumption. Developed countries citizens consume an average of 16 tons of those four key resources per capita (ranging up to 40 or more tons per person in some developed countries). By comparison, the average person in India today consumes four tons per year. With the growth of both population and prosperity, especially in developing countries, the prospect of much higher resource consumption levels is far beyond what is likely sustainable if realized at all given finite world resources, warns this report by UNEPs International Resource Panel. Already the world is running out of cheap and high quality sources of some essential materials such as oil, copper and gold, the supplies of which, in turn, require ever-rising volumes of fossil fuels and freshwater to produce. Improving the rate of resource productivity (doing more with less) faster than the economic growth rate is the notion behind decoupling, the panel says. That goal, however, demands an urgent rethink of the links between resource use and economic prosperity, buttressed by a massive investment in technological, financial and social innovation, to at least freeze per capita consumption in wealthy countries and help developing nations follow a more sustainable path.
By 2050, humanity could devour an estimated 140 billion tons of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year three times its current appetite unless the economic growth rate is decoupled from the rate of natural resource consumption. Developed countries citizens consume an average of 16 tons of those four key resources per capita (ranging up to 40 or more tons per person in some developed countries). By comparison, the average person in India today consumes four tons per year. With the growth of both population and prosperity, especially in developing countries, the prospect of much higher resource consumption levels is far beyond what is likely sustainable if realized at all given finite world resources, warns this report by UNEPs International Resource Panel. Already the world is running out of cheap and high quality sources of some essential materials such as oil, copper and gold, the supplies of which, in turn, require ever-rising volumes of fossil fuels and freshwater to produce. Improving the rate of resource productivity (doing more with less) faster than the economic growth rate is the notion behind decoupling, the panel says. That goal, however, demands an urgent rethink of the links between resource use and economic prosperity, buttressed by a massive investment in technological, financial and social innovation, to at least freeze per capita consumption in wealthy countries and help developing nations follow a more sustainable path.

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Published by: United Nations Environment Programme on May 28, 2014
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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D
ECOUPLING
 N
 ATURAL
 R
ESOURCE
 U
SE
 
 AND
 E
NVIRONMENTAL
 I
MPACTS
 
FROM
 E
CONOMIC
 G
ROWTH
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Editor: International Resource PanelWorking Group on Decoupling
Lead authors:
Marina Fischer-Kowalski, Institute of Social Ecology Vienna, Alpen-Adria University, Austria, with the support of the Lebensministerium, Austria and Mark Swilling, Sustainability Institute, School of Public Leadership, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa
Contributing authors:
Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker (Chairperson of the Decoupling Working Group), Yong Ren, Yuichi Moriguchi, Wendy Crane, Fridolin Krausmann, Nina Eisenmenger, Stefan Giljum, Peter Hennicke, Rene Kemp, Paty Romero Lankao, Anna Bella Siriban Manalang, Sebastian SewerinJeff McNeely provided editorial support for the full report and summary brochure.The report went through several rounds of peer-review coordinated in an efficient and constructive way by Jeff McNeely together with the International Resource Panel Secretariat. Valuable comments were received from several anonymous reviewers in this process. The preparation of this report also benefited from discussions with many colleagues at various meetings. Special thanks go to Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker and Ashok Khosla as Co-Chairs of the International Resource Panel, the members of the International Resource Panel and its Steering Committee for their dedication and commitment.Janet Salem, UNEP, provided valuable input and comments; the International Resource Panel’s Secretariat coordinated the preparation of this report. Jaap van Woerden and Stefan Schwarzer of UNEP/DEWA/GRID–Geneva provided scientific data support in developing the figures.The main responsibility for errors remains with the authors.ISBN: 978-92-807-3167-5 Job Number: DTI/1388/PAThe full report should be referenced as follows:UNEP (2011) Decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth, A Report of the Working Group on Decoupling to the International Resource Panel. Fischer-Kowalski, M., Swilling, M., von Weizsäcker, E.U., Ren, Y., Moriguchi, Y., Crane, W., Krausmann, F., Eisenmenger, N., Giljum, S., Hennicke, P., Romero Lankao, P., Siriban Manalang, A., Sewerin, S. Copyright © United Nations Environment Programme, 2011This publication may be reproduced in whole or in part and in any form for educational or nonprofit purposes without special permission from the copyright holder, provided acknowledgement of the source is made.UNEP would appreciate receiving a copy of any publication that uses this publication as a source.No use of this publication may be made for resale or for any other commercial purpose whatsoever without prior permission in writing from the United Nations Environment Programme.Design/layout: L'IV Com Sàrl, Villars-sous-Yens, Switzerland.Cover photos ©: Oleg Romanciuk/Dreamstime and Don Hammond/Design Pics/Corbis.
Disclaimer
The designations employed and the presentation of the material in this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of the United Nations Environment Programme concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city or area or of its authorities, or concerning delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. Moreover, the views expressed do not necessarily represent the decision or the stated policy of the United Nations Environment Programme, nor does citing of trade names or commercial processes constitute endorsement.UNEP promotes environmentally sound practices globally and in its own activities. This publication is printed on FSC-certified paper, using eco-friendly practices. Our distribution policy aims to reduce UNEP’s carbon footprint.
Acknowledgements
UNEP promotes environmentally sound practices globally and in its own activities. policy aims to This publication is printed on FSC-certified paper, using eco-friendly practices. Our distribution reduce UNEP’s carbon footprint.
 
D
ECOUPLING
 N
 ATURAL
 R
ESOURCE
 U
SE
 
 AND
 E
NVIRONMENTAL
 I
MPACTS
 
FROM
 E
CONOMIC
 G
ROWTH

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