Towards a sustainable use of natural resources
Stichting Natuur en Milieu, January 2001 H.Muilerman, H.Blonk.
Contents 1 2 3 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 4 4.1 4.2 5 6 7 8 Aim of the report Depletion of natural resources Sustainability of natural resource use Environmental impacts of natural resource use Ecological limits Social and economic sustainability: fair shares The challenge facing the Western world Indicators of the pressures on reserves of natural resources Type of indicators Consumption indicators for the Western world – the Netherlands as example Trends in natural resource use – the Netherlands as example Reduction targets and strategies Policy requirements References
At that time the emphasis was on the depletion of fossil and mineral resources. It was assumed that various important natural resources such as oil and various metal ores would be exhausted within a few decades. In fact, this turned out not to be true. Discoveries of new deposits, technological advances and falling energy prices have made possible the recovery of lower grade ores, and the estimated remaining lifetimes of some resources have been considerably extended. But this is no reason for complacency. Sooner or later, at the current rate of consumption, the reserves of certain resources will be exhausted. This may be a long way off for a number of fossil fuels and mineral ores, but other resources such as biodiversity and fertile soils are being used up so quickly there is a danger that critical thresholds will be crossed. The drain on biotic resources is particularly alarming; biodiversity and fertile soils are being rapidly used up. Research by WWF indicates that the ‘ health’of the world ecosystem, based on measurements of the loss of forest area and freshwater and marine animal species, has declined by 30% in 25 years (WWF 1998). Half the natural forest cover worldwide has already disappeared, 13% in the last 30 years. Europe only has 1% of its original forest cover left. And there is no sign of this attack on biodiversity diminishing.
Health of the world ecosystem § Area of natural forest § Freshwater ecosystem index § Marine ecosystem index Fertile soils § § § Africa Asia Latin America -30% in the last 25 years § -13% in the last 30 years § -50% in the last 25 years § -40% in the last 25 years -25% in the last 50 years § § § -30% -27% -18%
Continuing decline More rapid reduction
Same or greater reduction
Table 1: Some trends in the depletion of natural resources WWR, 1999, Anonymous 1999) 2
Poverty is an important underlying cause of further deforestation, of which about twothirds is carried out by small farmers clearing land for cultivation and to obtain wood for fuel. Commercial logging for timber is responsible for most of the rest. The pressure on the remaining forests is increasing as the numbers of people with a low income and worldwide demand for commercial timber products grow. The demand for food, and therefore for agricultural land, will also rise sharply as the world’ population rises and people’ diets s s contain more protein (Matthews 1999). Almost all the best agricultural land is already cultivated and so less suitable land is being brought into cultivation, leading to more soil erosion and loss of biodiversity. Fertile soil is the basis for agricultural production. In the last 50 years 25% of all fertile soils have been lost and/or degraded, and intensive efforts will be needed to prevent this process speeding up. The poorer countries are worst affected, and major problems are forecast in a number of important food producing areas in third world countries (PinstrupAndersen 1999)....