Resource use - in depth

Natural resources are the basis for life on earth. However, rapidly growing consumption is pushing the earth's carrying capacity to the limit. Humans today extract and use around 50 percent more natural resources than they did only 30 years ago – around 60 billion tonnes a year. Given current growth trends, extraction of natural resources is expected to increase to 100 billion tonnes by 2030. At the current rate of use, the world's natural resources base is in danger of over-exploitation and collapse.

As the global population increases, and more people lead resource-intensive lifestyles, we are making ever-higher demands on the planet. This creates competition between different regions of the world, resulting in high resource prices which impact the poor, and competition between different uses of resources – for example whether land is dedicated to food or fuels.

Resource inequalities

Europe is a net importer of resources, dependent on resources from outside its boundaries, often from other poorer, lower-consuming countries. The current world trade system supports substantial inequalities in the distribution of natural resources, raising important questions relating to global justice. This has led to growing inequalities across the world and alarming levels of resource use by a small minority of the global population.

Is resource efficiency the answer?

Europe has made significant progress in improving its resource efficiency – the amount of a product it can make for one euro, pound or dollar – but this has not resulted in reduced consumption of natural resources. Increases in efficiency have been outweighed by rises in consumption.

Additionally, European environmental policy mainly focuses on the environmental impacts related to resource use, rather than addressing the overall levels of resource use. But Europe needs to reduce in absolute terms the amount of resources it consumes.

Reducing resource use

Decreasing Europe's overall use of resources is an opportunity for Europe to gain environmental, economic and social benefits, while reducing pressure on the world's natural resources.

Friends of the Earth Europe campaigns for the reduction of Europe's resource consumption. The first step towards achieving this is to look closely at the resources Europe uses, by measuring the land, materials, water and carbon we consume. We promote the development of footprint indicators for these four resources. This means measuring Europe's resource consumption from a life-cycle perspective, capturing both the direct resource use within Europe and the 'embedded' use of resources used to make products imported into Europe. These indicators need to be integrated into overarching economic policies and impact assessments of policy.

In a world of finite resources, we must address Europe's dependency on natural resources from overseas and reduce the environmental, economic and social impacts of Europe's resource use.