Reduce and reuse raw materials to slash waste and emissions, UN and think-tanks urge

The huge appetite for metals, sand, coal and other natural materials will see consumption of natural resources rise to 167 gigatonnes in 2060 from 90 gigatonnes today.

The rapid consumption of raw materials must be curbed to cut waste and carbon emissions, the United Nations and global think-tanks have urged, with resource consumption set to almost double by 2060, especially in developing economies.

In the 20th century, the world mined 34 times more construction materials than ever before, the International Resource Panel (IRP) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a report on Tuesday.

“We are using the planet’s resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished, while polluting our seas, air and countryside with the waste from our consumption habits,” head of UN Environment Erik Solheim said in a statement.

Governments, cities and companies have been under increased pressure in recent years to cut down on waste, including plastic, and to reach ambitious climate goals.

We are using the planet’s resources at a faster rate than they can be replenished, while polluting our seas, air and countryside with the waste from our consumption habits.

Erik Solheim, head, UNEP

In 2015, countries signing the Paris Agreement to curb global warming set a goal of limiting a rise in average world surface temperatures to “well below” 2C (3.6F) above pre-industrial times, while “pursuing efforts” to limit rising temperatures to 1.5C (2.7F).

Yet with two-thirds of people set to be living in cities by 2050, according to UN estimates, the use of raw materials is predicted to nearly double by 2060.

The huge appetite for metals, sand, coal and other natural materials will see consumption of natural resources rise to 167 gigatonnes in 2060 from 90 gigatonnes today, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) think-tank said on Monday.

A booming construction sector in fast-growing economies like India has lead to a surge in illegal sand-mining, where poor labourers risk all by diving into rivers to extract sand.

The climate-changing emissions released by the extraction and use of these materials will also nearly double to 50 gigatonnes by 2060, from 28 gigatonnes today, the OECD added.

But under a “circular economy” model, reusing these raw materials or repairing industrial products, like heavy machinery or car parts, would drastically cut down on waste, and slash carbon emissions by up to 99 per cent in some sectors, according to the IRP and UNEP report.

It would also boost green jobs and technology, and reduce the need to extract raw materials, the report added.

Currently, re-manufacturing accounts for about 2 per cent of production across the US and Europe, the report said.

“The traditional manufacturing model, where we make, use, and then dispose of a product is both wasteful and polluting,” UN Environment’s Solheim said in the report released at the World Circular Economy Forum in Japan.

“If we re-think this, and move towards a more circular model, where a product is used and then re-used, we retain the value of the materials and resources used to make that product,” Solheim added.

This story was published with permission from Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.

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