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UN calls for urgent rethink as resource use skyrockets

11 April 2019

Rapid growth in extraction of materials is the chief culprit in climate change and biodiversity loss – a challenge that will only worsen unless the world urgently undertakes a systemic reform of resource use, according to a new report, prepared by the International Resource Panel and UN Environment.

Global Resources Outlook 2019 examines the trends in natural resources and their corresponding consumption patterns since the 1970s to support policymakers in strategic decision-making and transitioning to a sustainable economy.  According to the report, “the extraction and processing of materials, fuels and food make up about half of total global greenhouse gas emissions and more than 90 per cent of biodiversity loss and water stress”. More specifically, the use of metal ores increased by 2.7 per cent annually and the associated impacts on human health and climate change doubled during 2000-2015. Fossil fuel usage went from 6 billion tonnes in 1970 to 15 billion tons in 2017. Biomass increased from 9 billion tonnes to 24 billion tonnes – mostly for food, feedstock and energy.

The report argues that resource efficiency is essential, though not enough on its own. “What is needed is a move from linear to circular flows through a combination of extended product life cycles, intelligent product design and standardization and reuse, recycling and remanufacturing,” it says.

This transition can be accelerated through changes at the level of regulations, technical standards, planning and procurement policies that act to progressively lower resource intensity of economic activity while maintaining or improving the services or amenity provided. In the case of procurement, impact can be achieved through the application of green, socially responsible and circular policies at the specifications, criteria or clauses level. Get to know more through ICLEI's Sustainable Procurement Resource Centre.

If the recommended measures are implemented, it could accelerate economic growth, outweighing the up-front economic costs of shifting to economic models consistent with holding global warming to 1.5°C this century.

Read the full report here.

Read the summary for policy makers here.