EU resource efficiency improves but trend remains ‘volatile’

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Russia's ban on European food imports creates problems for Russian consumers and European farmers alike. [Shutterstock]

The European Union generates €1.60 of economic value for each kilogramme of material consumed, compared to €1.34 a decade ago, but progress towards resource efficiency remains “volatile”, according to the EU’s statistics office.

The data, released by Eurostat on Thursday (12 December), suggests that the European Union gradually ‘decoupled’ economic growth and its use of resources between the years 2000 and 2011.

The €0.26 gain in efficiency came because EU gross domestic product (GDP) grew faster than the average household’s consumption of materials.

“These divergent trends – GDP growing while DMC [domestic material consumption] falls – imply an absolute decoupling of economic growth from resource use in the EU between 2000 and 2011,” said the Eurostat report, ‘2013 monitoring report of the EU sustainable development strategy’.

Economic crisis reduces consumption

But the economic crisis may have had an impact on the figures, Eurostat said, as households began to cut down on waste and expenditure, whether they saw their income drop or not.

“Since 2007, EU resource use has dropped sharply, putting DMC below levels seen even ten years ago. However economic recovery indicates a trend reversal in 2011,” said the report.

Eurostat therefore defined resource efficiency as an area showing “volatile” progress, compared to other “sustainable development” indicators included in the report.

The resource efficiency part of the report only included materials which had entered the "formal" economy, such as food, cleaning products and fuel. Eurostat used data such as surveys, administrative sources and statistical estimations provided by EU countries.

The re-use, recycling or incineration of materials are ways to deliver increased economic value from each kg of material produced, the European Commission says.

Eurostat publishes the report every two years to monitor Europe’s progress towards its goals of sustainable development, defined as the improvement of the quality of life and well-being of each EU citizen.

Walter Radermacher, Eurostat’s chief statistician said the report, its fifth edition, was intended to contribute “on behalf of the European Union to the global debate on the future of sustainable development and the challenges lying ahead of us all – citizens, policy makers and statisticians”.

The other sustainable development indicators include socioeconomic development, public health, social inclusion and climate change and energy, among others.

The EU began referring to the concept of “sustainable development” already in 1997, when it became included in the Treaty of Amsterdam as a fundamental objective of the bloc.

European leaders launched the first sustainable development strategy at the Gothenburg summit in 2001. The text, based on a European Commission proposal, sought to lay out way in which the EU could both tackle unsustainable trends and to find ways of delivering economic, social and environmental policies in tandem.

The EU revised the text in both 2006 and 2009. The 2009 revision sought to underline the EU’s attempt to mainstream sustainability as a concept in a broad range of policies, such as in the fight against climate change and the promotion of a low-carbon economy.

The decoupling of economic growth and increased resource use is an objective of the European Union, according to the 2009 Lisbon Treaty.

Eurostat’s first monitoring report of the sustainable development strategy came in 2007.

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