Resource conservation and environmental policy

shiny metal wasteClick to enlarge
Metal is a resource that is much in demand worldwide
Source: Petair / Fotolia

Resource use and the competition for scarce resources such as clean water, land and raw materials are on the rise worldwide, while at the same time worldwide environmental problems such as climate change, soil degradation and biodiversity loss are worsening. Hence resource stewardship and efficient resource use are one of the main challenges we face today and are a key environmental policy issue.

Resource conservation: an overarching aim of environmental policy

Resources such as raw materials, soil, water and air enable us to obtain the necessities of life and keep our society affluent. Resource use and competition for increasingly scarce resources such as raw materials, land and clean water are growing worldwide owing to a number of factors, among them unsustainable economic systems, the affluence of industrial nations, and the rapid economic growth of developing countries. Related to these factors are growing worldwide environmental problems such as climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss. The current production and consumption patterns of industrialized economies will soon reach the point where, with a projected world population of nine billion, the ecosphere will be overtaxed far beyond its limits.

Moreover, in light of Germany’s dependence on certain imported raw materials and products, resource stewardship should be seen in an international context and global aspects need to be factored into the equation; for as raw materials imports of industrialized nations like our own grow, the consequent environmental impact is being “exported” to the countries from which these products originate. So it is also necessary to avert the increasing resource conflicts that appear to be in the offing and ensure that raw materials are readily available. Hence reducing resource use and the environmental impact it provokes along the entire supply chain is one of the pillars of Germany’s environmental policy.

Resource stewardship: a multi-disciplinary field of action

Resource stewardship furthers the goal of creating an economy based on natural substance life cycles and minimum resource use that will be detrimental for neither other nations nor future generations. Hence resource stewardship can only be achieved holistically from the perspective of a life cycle comprising raw material production, product design and manufacturing, product marketing, product use, and recycling or disposal.

The policy goal in this regard is to create conditions that will promote efficient and environmentally sound resource stewardship, via a carefully constructed policy mix with just the right instruments for the tasks at hand. To this end, multi-facetted strategies for abiotic and biotic resources, as well as water, land, and energy need to be integrated into a coherent whole, and the political, social and economic spheres need to be intermeshed. Hence resource stewardship is a multi-disciplinary field of action and is one of the major issues facing environmental policymakers. A reliable social roadmap resulting from a political consensus and scientifically sound objectives will help to point all concerned in the right direction, particularly when it comes to decisions involving long term capital investments. We at the UBA lend a helping hand in all of these domains by developing instruments and strategic concepts, and by recommending ambitious goals, as well as indicators that will help to keep all concerned on track.

Strategies and programs

Resource stewardship has taken on ever growing policy importance over the past two decades. Ever since the 1992 UN conference in Rio de Janeiro, the widely held view has been that resource stewardship and sustainable development go hand in hand. In the EU, resource stewardship has moved into the upper echelons of the policy agenda thanks to the EU’s Europa 2020 strategy and the Resource-Efficient Europe Roadmap (2011). The German resource efficiency program known as ProgRess (2012) represents a major step toward implementation of our national sustainable-development strategy (2002), which sets the goal of delinking resource use and economic growth and doubling raw material productivity by 2020. The overarching goal of ProgRess is for resource use to become sustainable so as to substantially reduce the environmental degradation provoked by such use.

The UBA promotes the implementation of various resource stewardship strategies and works to optimize them. For in point of fact, doubling raw material productivity will not be enough in and of itself to counter the risks and threats entailed by resource use worldwide. What is also needed is to cut resource consumption by 90 percent at a minimum.