Global economic and social development over the last two centuries has been largely achieved through intensive, inefficient and unsustainable use of the earth’s finite resources. Over the course of the 20th century global resource extraction and use increased by around a factor of 89. Global population grew around half as fast and GDP grew at a significantly higher rate (by a factor of 23). Given a world population that grows by 200,000 people each day and especially a rapidly growing global “middle class” associated with resource-intensive consumption patterns, the demand for natural resources will continue to increase. According to the Global Footprint Network, if current economic and production trends persist, we will need the equivalent of two Earths to support us by 2030.
The global challenge today is to lift one billion people out of absolute poverty and to set the pathway for meeting the needs of nine billion people in 2050 while keeping climate change, biodiversity loss and health threats within acceptable limits (“planetary boundaries”). For present and future well-being, there is a need to achieve sustainable resource management by decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from human well-being.
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