The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has released a comprehensive report investigating the environmental impacts of material production and consumption for economic use.
Titled “Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials,” the 2010 report provides a scientific look at policy relevance on the sustainable use of natural resources and the effects those activities have on the environment.
Produced by the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, the 112-page report uses three main global perspectives in looking at the economy: production, consumption and resources.
In most countries, household consumption, over the lifecycle of the products and services, accounts for more than 60 percent of all impacts of consumption.
Agriculture and food production are identified as one of the most influential drivers of environmental pressures worldwide, most notably habitat change, fish depletion, water use and toxic emissions.
Food production specifically is listed as the most significant influence on land use and the most important cause of greenhouse gas emissions in poorer countries.
Manufactured products, most notably electrical appliances, are in the top three most important contributors to the carbon footprint of rich countries. Their contribution to emissions rises as fast with wealth as that of mobility. And because they are traded globally, manufactured products and their contribution are often not assessed correctly due to complex supply chains.
Fossil fuel extraction is the most important material flow in terms of mass, as well as the most important source of environmental degradation.
A close second is agricultural materials, particularly animal products. More than half of the world’s crops are used to feed animals rather than people, causing significant environmental impact associated with raising animals for food and other products.
“More sustainable production and consumption will have to occur at the global level, not only the country level,” writes Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and executive director UNEP.
“We must start looking into our everyday activities if we truly want a green economy – for developed and developing countries.”