From efficient water use to quitting fossil fuels – survey shows different approaches to resource efficiency across Europe
Resource efficiency is a policy priority for Europe. However, across the region there are many different approaches to ‘doing more with less’, as shown by a survey of countries’ policies, carried out by the European Environment Agency (EEA).
In coming years, societies will have to confront a huge challenge. While global population and economic production continue to grow, the resources supporting this upward spiral are finite. The United Nations (UN) recently noted that resource use will triple by 2050 if humans continue to use resources with the same degree of efficiency as we do currently.
The European Commission’s recent Resource Efficiency Roadmap states that while “demand for food, feed and fibre may increase by 70 % by 2050, 60 % of the world’s major ecosystems that help produce these resources have already been degraded or are used unsustainably.” Such unchecked resource use will increase environmental destruction and inequality; and ultimately lead to the disappearance of the natural and mineral resources which support modern societies.
To address this problem, countries across Europe have been working on strategies and policies to become more resource-efficient. When responding to the survey, countries cited several reasons for attempting to become more resource efficient, including concerns about environmental degradation, economic reasons or shortages of a critical resource such as water.
'Transforming Europe into a sustainable economy will require concerted action at all policy levels,” Janez Potočnik, European Commissioner for the Environment, said. “Member States have an essential role in getting resource efficiency measures across to businesses and citizens. This survey shows that we are not starting from scratch and illustrates how this transition can be done in so many ways to match different national contexts.'
Some of the initiatives described by respondents include:
- Germany has targets to double the productivity of abiotic raw materials and energy by 2020.
- Denmark aims to be fossil fuel-free by 2050, and proposes using 40 % of animal manure for green energy by 2020. In the building sector, Denmark stipulates that all new buildings will use 75 % less energy than in 2009.
- Finland has a comprehensive plan to use natural resources ‘more intelligently’ and intends to increase energy efficiency by 20 % within a decade. The Nordic country also states that all public buildings that are new, under renovation or leased must reach exacting passive standards by 2015.
- Sweden aspires to recover at least 60 % of phosphorus compounds from wastewater for use on productive land by 2015.
- Hungary plans to reduce annual generation of waste by 20 %.
- Austria has a target to cut final energy consumption by 16 % by 2016.
- Ireland has a programme which promotes mutually beneficial partnerships between businesses, building a network which encourages companies to reuse each other’s surplus products, by-products and reusable items and share services, space and logistics.
- Croatia considers the Adriatic sea, coast and islands as resources of strategic importance for sustainable development
- Portugal’s construction and demolition waste legislation obliges owners, works contractors and municipalities to properly manage the waste produced during construction and demolition.
- Latvia intends to become EU leader in preserving, increasing and sustainably using natural capital.
A total of 31 countries from across Europe responded to the survey. There is no single accepted definition of resource efficiency, so answers showed the huge variety of different approaches. However, this diverse approach may be appropriate, as every country has different resources, economic situations and needs.
The EU thematic strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources defines natural resources as “raw materials such as minerals, biomass and biological resources; environmental media such as air, water and soil; flow resources such as wind, geothermal, tidal and solar energy; and space (land area).”
For most countries, resource efficiency was seen as part of other strategies, including strategies related to sustainable development, environment, raw materials, climate change and economic reform. The sectors of energy and waste were the two most common areas for resource efficiency policies.
Nonetheless, the survey showed that Europe still has a long way to go if it is to make comprehensive plans for resource efficiency. According to the results, only a few countries have policies addressing the more fundamental issue of consumption, instead attempting to improve technical efficiency.