Europe has become the world region shifting most of the environmental cost of resource use abroad. 4 materials from abroad (section 1.2.2). On the industry and business level, reducing material costs and avoiding material scarcity are increasingly important aspects for economic success (section 1.2.3). 1.2.1 | Environmental perspective: overconsumption Human societies have always built their (economic) development on the extraction and use of natural resources. However, since the industrial revolution and especially during the last six decades, worldwide material use has reached unprecedented levels (see section 2.1 for details). Only in the period from 1980 to 2007, worldwide resource extraction and resource use increased by 62%, reaching more than 60 billion tonnes of renewable and non-renewable resources extracted and used in the year 2007 alone in the global economy (SERI 2010). A number of recent environmental assessments (EEA 2010a, WWF et al. 2010) illustrate that already at today’s level of global consumption, the natural resource base our societies are built on is in severe danger of overexploitation and – potentially – collapse. At the same time, around 80% of the world population still lives on less than 10 US$ per day (Ravallion et al. 2008) and legitimately demands higher consumption in the future. The most prominent environmental problems are linked to human use of materials (including energy carriers); most notably climate change and the degradation of global ecosystems, as well as the ecological services they provide: fresh water reserves and forests are shrinking, many species are under threat of extinction and fertile land is being eroded. Environmental impacts occur across the whole life-cycle of material use: from extraction through processing to disposal. At every stage of this cycle, energy and water are used and emissions are released into the air, water and soil (Bringezu and Bleischwitz 2009). Extraction of large amounts of materials also impact land cover and biodiversity (EEA 2010b). As materials and products are increasingly traded internationally, the environmental pressures associated with resource use are distributed across the world (see Box 1.1). Europe has become the world region shifting most of the environmental cost of resource use abroad. From 1960 to 2005 the growth of traded goods has increased about 3.5-fold (in terms of weight), whereas the ecological rucksacks (or hidden flows) of those traded goods have multiplied by a factor of nearly 4.8 (Dittrich et al. forthcoming). Reducing natural resource use through increasing resource efficiency is therefore one of the key means to lowering the environmental impacts associated with production and consumption, both within Europe and abroad.
Box 1.1 | Problem shifting—what are the (hidden) costs of EU consumption abroad: the case of biofuels Using ‘green products’ may often appear to be an ‘environmentally friendly’ solution in the country of consumption. However, when the detrimental impacts are displaced abroad (often to the place of production) the net environmental impact may worsen. In the case of problem shifting the impacts of consumption are not seen by the end user as they occur elsewhere. Thus, there is no trigger to stop the behaviour causing the negative externalities. With globalisation, the scale of these negative externalities has increased. eco-innovation observatory Biofuels are a classic example of problem shifting from the EU to other countries. To meet the demand for food, feed, biofuels and biomaterials, the EU currently uses about 1/5 more agricultural land than what is domestically available within the EU (Helmut Schütz, personal communication). The growing use of biofuels, fostered by the aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from transport, is further increasing the EU’s demand for land abroad, both directly through imports and indirectly by displacing production elsewhere. Cropland expansion is the biggest cause of deforestation worldwide. It is a major contributor of biodiversity loss and may release significant amounts of carbon, completely negating the CO2 mitigation potential of biofuels. In the most extreme cases, driving a car with palm oil biodiesel produced on land that was converted from peat rainforest might release 2,000% more carbon than driving fossil-fuel based diesel (Beer et al. 2007). While biofuels currently provide around 3.4% of Europe’s transport energy demand (EurObserv’ER 2009), plans to increase this share have sparked intense debates about the above mentioned problem shifting of externalities as well as the problem of replacing one supply dependency (fossil fuels) with another (biomass). Addressing these (hidden) costs of EU biofuels consumption may include increasing the efficiency of biomass use (e.g. through cascades), reducing the overall land requirements of the EU (e.g. by improving the efficiency of the food supply chain), improving the energy and resource-efficiency of automobiles, and approaching mobility with more creative approaches. It is vital that future eco-innovations are examined from a life-cycle and systems perspective to prevent the resource curse of the green economy (see Box 5.3). One aspect of this is monitoring sustainable supply to determine how much land is actually available for sustainable use, and adjusting governance accordingly. See the visions chapter (7) for a depiction of a sustainable use of biomass. 1.2.2 | Political perspective: material security Photo: Katrin Bienge Of all world regions, the EU has the highest net imports of resources per person (EEA 2010c, SERI et al. 2009). In 2008, European imports of raw material amounted to 1,800 million tonnes, which is about 3.5 tonnes per person (EEA 2010c). Europe is substantially dependent on imports from other countries, in particular for fossil fuels and metal ores. According to the EEA (2010), European import dependency around the year 2007 was 47% Annual Report 2010 5