It has long been true that Europe consumes more than it produces. And, though the global population and middle class are swelling and resources are becoming more and more finite, Europe's consumption remains the same. Today, each EU citizen consumers 16 tonnes of material annually, of which six tonnes are wasted – half of which go to landfill sites.
The European Commission has said that “continuing our current patterns of resources use is not an option”. Businesses are facing rising costs for raw materials and minerals, and their scarcity and price volatility are having a damaging effect on the economy. The increasing reliance on materials available only in other countries is creating a dangerous resource dependency. Conflicts over water and land are also pushing the issue to the fore.
To tackle this problem, the Commission set out a roadmap to resource efficiency last September. But its lack of firm policy proposals and its delay in setting measurement methods or targets prompted one environmental campaign group to dub it “more of a road sign than a roadmap”.
The problem, the Commission says, is that there is still little data about how and where Europeans use resources – and without this information it is difficult to set targets on how Europeans can reduce resource use. “We're not at this moment at the level where we could propose firm indicators,” Janez Potoc?nik, the European environment commissioner, said ahead of the roadmap's launch. “We've chosen to use transitional indicators in the areas where we have the best possible [comparable] data...and where we have it for all member states.”
How and what to measure
The roadmap identifies a ‘lead indicator' that will be used to measure material resource productivity defined as a consumption-to-GDP ratio. But this is only a temporary stop-gap until a broader set of indicators to measure resource use is developed by the end of 2013. The roadmap envisions that resource-use targets would also be set in 2013. “We recognise that these indicators are far from ideal, but they should serve as a starting point.”
Environmental campaigners disagree. They say there is enough data to set indicators for all resource use and to start measuring it now. “Why have an indicator for only two years?” asks Ariadna Rodrigo, a campaigner with Friends of the Earth. “I find it very strange. The reason it was chosen is just because it was there. But there are many indicators out there, and this one is an extremely weak choice. It measures only materials and doesn't measure land, water or carbon footprint.”
Rodrigo says the productivity-against-GDP indicator rewards simultaneous economic growth and resource-consumption growth. She is also concerned that waiting two years to develop a full set of indicators will delay targets. “In the roadmap, it says they're going to adopt indicators and targets in 2013, the same year,” she says. “That would be very difficult – you need scientifically robust evidence to develop these targets. We need to get on with it. At the moment, we're measuring only some of the resources.”
Water has been a major focus, but the Commission says comparable ways to measure its use are still lacking. Many companies boast of having made major efficiency gains, citing a reduction in their use of water for industrial processes, something that is fairly easy to measure. But when it comes to quantifying re-use and efficiency, the question gets a bit trickier.
Land use has also been tricky to measure – involving things such as monitoring forest cover, soil quality and agricultural displacement. Friends of the Earth wants to see resource-efficiency measurements include a carbon footprint that would take life-cycle analysis into account.