Unequal consumption of resources
The consumption of natural resources has been rising steadily for many years, more than doubling over the past three decades. If this trend continues unabated, estimates suggest that up to 10 billion people will be consuming twice as many resources by 2050 as they are now: minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass.
While all of this is going on, the mineral content of the raw materials being extracted is steadily decreasing. This means that, despite improvements to the productivity of raw materials, an increasingly large volume of the original rock has to be processed, requiring the use of more energy and usually more water as well. In many countries, tropical rainforests and agricultural land are being destroyed in the service of the mining industry. However, tropical rainforests in particular play an important role as the ‘green lungs’ of the world’s climate.
If all the people in the world consumed as much as people in Germany, you would need three Earths in order to provide all the necessary resources. In 2019, for example, Germany generated 19.4 tonnes of e-waste per capita – ten times as much as Ghana.
For this reason, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by the United Nations in 2015 stress the objective of global resource justice, which ultimately has to result in economic development and prosperity being unlinked from resource consumption once and for all. This means that countries like Germany have to reduce their resource consumption to a globally sustainable level.
The ‘Ecological Footprint’ highlights the stark difference between resource consumption in Ghana and Germany. It shows the consumption of land as a resource, specifically the amount required to produce the necessary energy and raw materials to maintain a country’s existing standard of living. This consumption of land is then compared with the space actually available: the figure for Germany is nearly two and a half times that for Ghana. This is also reflected in the Human Development Index produced by the United Nations Development Programme, which puts Germany in fourth place worldwide, with Ghana in 142nd place (2019).
The difference in resource consumption is also highlighted by greenhouse gas emissions per capita, which are 18 times higher in Germany than in Ghana. NRW is responsible for more than a third of the greenhouse gases generated in Germany. Based on the climate targets enshrined in law in NRW, the federal state will have to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to roughly the level that Ghana will have reached by that point.
- The Use of Natural Resources – Report for Germany 2016 (German Federal Environment Agency)
- To have or not to have – Resource justice in a finite world (German only) (Heinrich Böll Foundation)
- Who benefits from abundant raw materials? (German only) (Südwind)
- Germany 2049: Transition to a sustainable use of raw materials (German only) (Öko-Institut)