11 April 2022   Leave a comment

The Lancet has published a peer-reviewed article entitled “National responsibility for ecological breakdown: a fair-shares assessment of resource use, 1970–2017“. The study is highly innovative and uses a measure of resource consumption that uses “an equal fair-share basis, in keeping with the principle of ecological commons”. First, the study establishes a level of resource consumption that is sustainable over the long run (it calls that level a “sustainability corridor”–a wretched term):

“Industrial ecologists have proposed that a sustainable boundary for global resource use might be around 50 billion tonnes per year. Global resource use exceeded this level in 1997. This level is generally considered to be an upper-limit boundary; Bringezu proposes a target sustainability corridor of about 25–50 billion tonnes per year (Gt/a).  Global resource use exceeded 25 Gt/a in 1970.”

The study then divides total global resource consumption by the population of each country.

These assumptions are highly contestable, starting with the assumption that everyone in the world shares the same definition of a desirable standard of living. Furthermore, the study ignores the political significance of territorial boundaries which has a powerful effect on how resources are determined to be “ours” or “theirs”. But the study is only interested in assessing what a “fair” consumption level might actually be assuming that everyone ought to have an equal claim to global resources. As such, the study offers a provocative way to think about resources consumption.

The study is certainly consistent with a globalist view of resource consumption: the rich consume much more than the poor.

“Nearly 2·5 trillion tonnes of materials were extracted and used globally from 1970–2017, with high-income and upper–middle-income countries using the vast majority of the resources. Of this, 1·1 trillion tonnes were in excess of the sustainable corridor. High-income countries (according to the World Bank classification) were collectively responsible for 74% of cumulative excess material use, and upper–middle-income countries were responsible for 25% of cumulative excess material use. Lower-middle-income countries and low-income countries were collectively responsible for less than 1%.”

The chart below shows how egregious the difference between rich and poor actually is (one has to look closely for the consumption of the low-income states in yellow–that value can be seen in the lower left-hand corner of the graph as a smidgen).

The conclusions of the study are stark:

“The fair-shares approach articulated here offers a novel method for quantifying national responsibility for ecological breakdown. High-income countries, which represent only 16% of the world population, are responsible for 74% of resource use in excess of fair shares and are therefore the primary drivers of global environmental degradation, representing a process of ecological colonisation.

“Furthermore, the majority of the ecological pressure from excess consumption in rich nations is outsourced to poorer nations. According to a recent analysis, more than 50% of excess consumption in rich nations is net appropriated from poorer nations in the Global South.

“This appropriation not only causes ecological damage in poorer nations, but depletes them of the material resources that they could otherwise use to provide for human needs and expand their sovereign industrial capacity.

“Our results show that high-income nations need to urgently scale down aggregate resource use to sustainable levels. On average, resource use needs to decline by at least 70% to reach the sustainable range. Such reductions will require strong legislation on both domestic extraction and material footprints. The European Parliament recently took steps in this direction by calling on the European Commission to adopt binding targets to reduce resource footprints by 2030 and bring them within planetary boundaries by 2050.

Share of responsibility for excess resource use by region, 1970–2017

Posted April 11, 2022 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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