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How Rich Nations Outpace Low-Income Countries in Resource Consumption and Climate Impact

The Global Resource Outlook 2024 urges sustainable action for mitigating increasing resource extraction impacts, encouraging harmony with nature.

Shivam Dwivedi
Global Resource Outlook 2024: How Rich Nations Outpace Low-Income Countries in Resource Consumption and Climate Impact (Photo Source: European Parliament - European Union)
Global Resource Outlook 2024: How Rich Nations Outpace Low-Income Countries in Resource Consumption and Climate Impact (Photo Source: European Parliament - European Union)

Over the past five decades, the extraction of Earth's natural resources has surged threefold, driven by rampant infrastructure development and escalating material consumption, particularly in rich countries. However, this trajectory spells impending disaster for climate, biodiversity, pollution targets, as well as economic prosperity and human well-being, as revealed by a recent report- ‘Global Resource Outlook 2024’ released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-hosted by the International Resource Panel.

Projected Resource Use Growth and Its Implications

The report predicts a staggering 60% rise in material extraction by 2060, casting shadows on global sustainability efforts. Since 1970, resource usage has skyrocketed from 30 to 106 billion tonnes, translating to a significant environmental toll. Alarmingly, over 60% of planet-warming emissions stem from resource extraction and processing, while 40% of health-related air pollution impacts are attributed to this activity.

Sectoral Impact Analysis

The report underscores the disproportionate environmental impact of biomass, fossil fuels, metals, and non-metallic minerals extraction. Biomass extraction, chiefly from agricultural crops and forestry, accounts for 90% of land-related biodiversity loss and water stress, along with a third of greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, the extraction of fossil fuels and minerals contributes substantially to global emissions, exacerbating climate concerns.

Addressing Inequities in Resource Consumption

Fundamental inequalities in resource consumption persist, with high-income countries consuming six times more materials and generating ten times the climate impacts compared to low-income nations. Upper-middle-income countries have witnessed a doubling in resource usage over the past five decades, propelled by infrastructural expansion and the relocation of resource-intensive processes. Conversely, per capita resource consumption in low-income countries has stagnated since 1995.

Policy Recommendations for Sustainable Resource Management

The report advocates for comprehensive policy reforms to curtail the projected surge in resource utilization. Institutionalizing resource governance, redirecting finance towards sustainable resource use, and mainstreaming sustainable consumption options are highlighted as key strategies. Additionally, integrating resource-related considerations into trade agreements and fostering circular, resource-efficient business models are emphasized to mitigate environmental degradation.

Implementation of these policies is projected to revolutionize various sectors, including renewable energy adoption, decarbonization of material production, and reduction of food loss and waste. By 2040, resource extraction is expected to peak and subsequently decline, with significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and land use for agriculture. Moreover, a 3% growth in the global economy and a 7% improvement in the Human Development Index are anticipated, signifying enhanced well-being and prosperity.

Urgent Call for Action

Given the urgency of the triple planetary crisis and the failure to fulfill policy commitments, immediate action is imperative. The report underscores the importance of adhering to 'best available science' principles and advocates for swift, concerted efforts to steer humanity towards sustainable resource management.

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