Rapidly rising prices — metal up by 176 percent, rubber by 350 percent and energy by 260 percent since 2000 — signal a potentially crippling trend of increasing costs as current consumption patterns rapidly deplete the world’s non-renewable resources, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme.
Decoupling 2: Technologies, Opportunities and Policy Options, produced by the UNEP-hosted International Resource Panel, says the numbers demonstrate that the negative effects of unsustainable use of natural resources are already being felt, further backing the argument with a rise in volatility of food prices: 22.4 percent from 2000 to 2012 compared to 7.7 percent from 1990 to 1999.
The report says that harnessing existing technologies and appropriate policies to increase resource productivity could save up to $3.7 trillion globally each year and insulate future economic growth from the harmful effects of resource scarcity, price volatility and environmental impacts.
Many decoupling technologies and techniques that deliver up to 10 times more resource productivity are already available, allowing countries to pursue their development strategies while reducing resource use and negative environmental impacts.
The potential to reduce energy demand through improved efficiency is around 50 to 80 percent for most production and utility systems. Some 60 to 80 percent improvements in energy and water efficiency are commercially viable in sectors such as construction, agriculture, hospitality, industry and transport.
Advanced furnace technology could achieve up to a 40 percent reduction in energy intensity for zinc, tin, copper, and lead smelting and processing. The report argues that existing barriers to decoupling can be removed, notably subsidies for energy and water use, outdated regulatory frameworks and technological biases. Such policy change can create stable, successful economies over the long term, the report says.
UNEP is one of the major international backer of the Natural Capital Protocol — a framework aiming to standardize how the economic value of natural resources is accounted for and valued. According to report released by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants in conjunction with the protocol’s launch we are using 50 percent more natural capital each year than the earth can replenish.