Planet Will Need 180 Billion Tonnes Of Material Every Year By 2050 If Trends Continue


Rising consumption fuelled by a growing middle class has seen the amount of primary materials extracted from the Earth triple in the last four decades, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme-hosted International Resource Panel (IRP).

The dramatic increase in the use of fossil fuels, metals and other materials will intensify climate change, increase air pollution, reduce biodiversity and ultimately lead to the depletion of natural resources, causing worrying shortages of critical materials and heightening the risk of local conflicts, warns the report.

“The alarming rate at which materials are now being extracted is already having a severe impact on human health and people’s quality of life,” said IRP Co-Chair Alicia Bárcena Ibarra. “It shows that the prevailing patterns of production and consumption are unsustainable.

“We urgently need to address this problem before we have irreversibly depleted the resources that power our economies and lift people out of poverty. This deeply complex problem, one of humanity’s biggest tests yet, calls for a rethink of the governance of natural resource extraction to maximize its contribution to sustainable development at all levels.”

The information on material flows contained in the new report complements economic statistics, identifies the scale and urgency of global environmental issues and supports the monitoring of the progress countries are making towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The amount of primary materials extracted from the Earth rose from 22 billion tonnes in 1970 to a staggering 70 billion tonnes in 2010, with the richest countries consuming on average 10 times as many materials as the poorest countries and twice as much as the world average.

If the world continues to provide housing, mobility, food, energy and water in the same way as today, by 2050 the planet’s nine billion people would require 180 billion tonnes of material every year to meet demand. This is almost three times today’s amount and will likely raise the acidification and eutrophication of the world’s soils and water bodies, increase soil erosion and lead to greater amounts of waste and pollution.