We need natural resources like metals, minerals, forests, land, food, air and water for our prosperity and well-being, but we are using them up faster than they can be replaced. When we destroy animals and plants that keep our ecosystems in balance, we are storing up problems for the future. What can we do about it?
By 2050, if we follow our current path, we would be extracting five times more resources than we do today. That probably won't be possible. More than 60% of our ecosystems are already over-exploited, world fish stocks face grave threats, and we are endangering the quality of our water and air by cutting down too many trees.
As the world population heads towards 9 billion, we need to become a society that uses resources more efficiently – one that works to improve the environment rather than damaging it.
The EU has a long-term strategy to reduce the damage caused by the unsustainable use of natural resources. The aim is to create more value while using fewer resources, and substituting them with more environmentally favourable choices wherever possible.
We need to reduce the environmental impacts of production and consumption at every stage – from the extraction of raw materials to the use of the products they become and the waste they create when disposed of. The best way to do that is to improve the design of products and encourage manufacturing processes that use materials less wastefully.
When we reduce the amount of materials we use, and re-use and recycle, we recover valuable materials and help reduce emissions. Recycling aluminium saves around 95% of energy compared to extraction, for example. Likewise, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill reduces emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
We also need better information about what we are doing. GDP measures monetary values, but it doesn't measure things that aren't traded, like a clean environment. Additional indicators – which the Commission is trying to develop – would help us measure environmental, social and well-being issues better. This would help us understand the sort of changes we will need to be more resource-efficient.