New Resource Productivity Opportunities Can Save World Up To US$3.7 Trillion Annually


apidly rising prices—metal up by 176 per cent, rubber by 350 per cent, and energy by 260 per cent since 2000—signal a potentially crippling trend of increasing costs as current consumption patterns rapidly deplete the world’s non-renewable resources, according to a new report released today.

Decoupling 2: Technologies, Opportunities and Policy Options, produced by the United Nations Environment Programme-hosted International Resource Panel (IRP), says the numbers demonstrate that the negative effects of unsustainable use of natural resources are already being felt, further backing the argument with a rise in volatility of food prices: 22.4 per cent from 2000 to 2012 compared to 7.7 per cent from 1990 to 1999.

The report says that harnessing existing technologies and appropriate policies to increase resource productivity could save up to US$3.7 trillion globally each year and insulate future economic growth from the harmful effects of resource scarcity, price volatility and environmental impacts.

Many decoupling technologies and techniques that deliver up to ten times more resource productivity are already available, allowing countries to pursue their development strategies while significantly reducing resource use and negative environmental impacts.

The potential to reduce energy demand through improved efficiency is around 50 to 80 per cent for most production and utility systems. Some 60 to 80 per cent improvements in energy and water efficiency are commercially viable in sectors such as construction, agriculture, hospitality, industry and transport.

Advanced furnace technology could achieve up to a 40 per cent reduction in energy intensity for zinc, tin, copper, and lead smelting and processing. The report argues that existing barriers to decoupling can be removed, notably subsidies for energy and water use, outdated regulatory frameworks and technological biases. Such policy change can create stable, successful economies over the long term.

“The worldwide use of natural resources has accelerated—annual material extraction grew by a factor of eight through the twentieth century—causing severe environmental damage and depletion of natural resources,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “Yet this dangerous explosion in demand is set to accelerate as a result of population growth and rising incomes.”

“Dramatic improvements in resource productivity are a vital element of a transition to a Green Economy that will lift one billion people out of poverty and manage the natural resources required for the wellbeing of nine billion people by 2050,” he added. “This requires an urgent rethink of current practices, backed by a massive investment in technological, financial and social innovation.”

The report builds on an earlier study, which warned that developed nation consumption patterns and increases in population and prosperity will put humanity on track to consume 140 billion tonnes of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year by 2050 unless economic growth is decoupled from resource consumption. This is three times the levels of consumption in 2000, and most likely exceeds all existing available resources and the limits of the planet to absorb the impacts of extraction and use.