Why resource protection equals climate action – European Resource Efficiency Forum 2016

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Gabi Kaiser, currently on a year-long sabbatical in Germany, shares her thoughts on this year’s European Resource Efficiency Forum – and the relationship between resource use and One Planet Living .

Bioregional has worked closely with Gabi over the last three years in her capacity as Sustainability Officer at Cherwell District Council on a number of projects in Bicester, including LEMUR. She plans to use her sabbatical to explore the lively and diverse community organisations in Berlin and better understand the German sustainability agenda and its stakeholders.

So this is it, my first environmental conference since I have taken off to Berlin for a one-year sabbatical. The German Environment Agency was hosting the third European Resources Forum (ERF) and around 400 participants from over 40 countries attended. Exciting to see what decision-makers and experts from the Netherlands, Czech Republic, UK, Belgium, France, and Italy to faraway places like the US, China and Japan had to say about resource efficiency.

Looking back, after the successful conferences in 2012 and 2014, the ERF has established itself as an important international platform for discussion on the issue of sustainable resource use by focusing on the political and scientific debate.

What are the experts saying?

The ERF 2016 focused on identifying the current European approach to resource policy and working out new drivers for a resource-efficient Europe. The conference was opened by the President of the German Environment Agency, Maria Krautzberger, who pointed out the close correlation between resource efficiency and climate action. She noted: saying: “The fewer raw materials we use the easier climate action becomes. Every tonne of copper that is recycled instead of being extracted new from the earth saves half the energy needed in processing. Every home built with recycled concrete saves energy and cuts greenhouse gas emissions. Resource protection is a form of climate action – and vice versa.”

The attendance of Dr Barbara Hendricks, Germany’s Environmental Secretary, highlighted the strong political backing for the conference and for resource efficiency. In her opening statement Ms Hendricks referenced 8 August 2016  as Earth Overshoot day , i.e. the day we began to use more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year.  Hendricks stated that limited natural resources, the need for reparability / standardization as well as modular and ecological design in products and services are fundamental in creating a sustainable resource efficient future for the world population not only in Europe but also in emerging countries.

Paul Ekins, Professor of Resources and Environmental Policy, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Resources, University College London, and Member of the UNEP International Resource Panel gave the  keynote, focusing on the new report Resource Efficiency: Potential and Economic Implications, mandated by the Group of Seven (G7) nations to promote resource efficiency as a core element of sustainable development. The report makes a strong case for increasing resource efficiency globally; the key messages of the report are:

  • With concerted action there is significant potential for increasing resource efficiency
  • Resource efficiency can contribute to economic growth and job creation
  • There are substantial areas of opportunity for greater resource efficiency
  • Substantial increases in resource efficiency are essential to meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
  • Improving resource efficiency is indispensable for meeting climate change targets cost effectively
  • Increased resource efficiency is practically attainable.      

Throughout the two-day conference it was obvious that political will and policy consensus exist. From the EU member states to G7 / G20 and to the UN the importance of ERF is recognized. Particular attention was given to the learning potential from international perspectives – such as the Spanish strategy “More food, less waste”: a platform to reduce food loss and waste” or fostering resource efficiency through procurement – the case of Dutch Circular Procurement Action to the German Ecodesign award as one option to incentivize resource efficiency in design.

An encouraging event – and all it needs now is to take action.

Gabi Kaiser

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