Urgent Transformation Needed to Avert Environmental Catastrophe, Warns UN Report

Report calls for dramatic shift in resource consumption to combat climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.

The world’s insatiable appetite for resources is pushing the planet towards “catastrophic impacts,” according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The report, unveiled at the UN Environment Assembly here on Friday, calls for an urgent transformation to sustainable resource consumption.

The report, titled “Global Resources Outlook 2024,” highlights the significant contribution of resource extraction and processing to a range of environmental issues:

  • 55% of greenhouse gas emissions
  • 90% of terrestrial biodiversity loss
  • 40% of the world’s health impacts related to particulate matter

University of Sydney researchers Dr. Mengyu Li and Professor Manfred Lenzen, who co-authored the report, played a key role in analyzing global supply chains and resource use. Their research reveals that material extraction has tripled in the past 50 years and continues to grow.

“This is clearly unsustainable and drives the triple planetary crisis: climate change, biodiversity decline, and pollution and waste,” Dr. Li said. “Our work assesses global material footprints, reflecting the primary materials needed to meet countries’ consumption, across various sectors like construction, mobility, food, and energy.”

Professor Lenzen emphasized the urgency of action, stating, “The longer we delay, the harder it becomes to address these challenges.” He outlined the necessity of a two-pronged approaches

Production-side changes: ending deforestation, increasing resource efficiency, and decarbonization.

Consumption-side changes: embracing a circular economy, promoting sustainable urbanization, and practicing resource sufficiency.

The report highlights the significant disparity in resource consumption between high-income and low-income countries. While high-income nations use six times more materials than low-income countries, they are also responsible for ten times the climate impact.

The report recommends a range of solutions, including reducing the resource intensity of essential sectors like food, mobility, housing, and energy. Decoupling economic activity from resource extraction through a circular economy, recycling, and resource sufficiency. Addressing both production and consumption patterns to achieve sustainable resource use.

The Global Resources Outlook and the work of the International Resource Panel are crucial for achieving Sustainable Development Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns. The material footprint analysis by Dr. Li and Professor Lenzen provides a critical tool for tracking progress towards achieving this goal, alongside Sustainable Development Goals 8 and 12.

The report serves as a stark warning, urging the world to embrace a sustainable future or face the consequences of environmental degradation.