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UN Report Puts Spotlight on Resource Use and the Need to Address it.

Updated: Mar 29


The UN Environment Programme Global Resources Outlook Report came out recently and paints an alarming picture of the impact of increasing resource use around the globe. According to the report:  

“The world is in the midst of a triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and waste. The global economy is consuming ever more natural resources, while the world is not on track to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.” 

The report is titled Bend the Trend - Pathways to a Livable Planet as Resource Use Spikes. 

The authors understand that such increased resource use is unsustainable in the long run. They acknowledge that efforts to “green” the global economy have focused on supply-side solutions (green energy) and that more effort is needed on the demand side (less material use, less consumption, more circular economic activities) to sufficiently address the issue.  

The main findings of the report are summarized below. 

  1. Increasing resource use is the main driver of the triple planetary crisis. 

  2. Material use has increased more than three times over the last 50 years. It continues to grow by an average of more than 2.3% per year. 

  3. Climate and biodiversity impacts from material extraction and processing greatly exceed targets based on staying within 1.5° of climate change and avoiding biodiversity loss. 

  4. Delivering on the SDG's for all requires decoupling so that the environmental impacts of resource use fall while the well-being contributions from resource use increase. 

  5. High income countries use six times more materials per capita and are responsible for 10 times more climate impacts per capita than low income countries 

  6. Compared to historical trends it is possible to reduce resource use while growing the economy, reducing inequality, improving well-being and dramatically reducing environmental impacts. 

  7. Speed up responsible and innovative ways of meeting human needs and promote social acceptance of the necessary transitions. 

  8. The prevailing approach we're focusing almost exclusively on supply side(production) measures must be supplemented with a much stronger focus on demand side (consumption) measures.  

  9. The scientific community is united around the urgency of resolute action and bold evidence based decisions that protect the interests and well-being of all including future generations.  


This report is one that investors, companies, and policymakers should all read. Our current economic models are largely blind to the impact that increasing resource use is having on our environment. Classical economics largely focuses on the inputs of labor and capital (machinery) to explain all economic activity. The inputs of energy and the negative externality outputs have been largely ignored.  

The need to include these factors in our understanding of how our economies work calls for a focus on more Ecological Economics to replace our old economic models. We need to factor resource use into our investment and production processes.  

The transition to a more sustainable world is becoming increasingly steep due to the slow pace of change to this point. The more time it takes to change to a lower resource footprint, the more chaotic and perhaps destabilizing this transition will be.  


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