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on the environment

You are here: Home / Environmental topics / Natural resources / Natural resources

Natural resources

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The Earth's natural resources are vital to the survival and development of the human population. These resources are limited by the Earth's capability to renew them. Although many effects of overexploitation are felt locally, the growing interdependence of nations, and international trade in natural resources, make their demand and sustainable management a global issue.

Freshwater, forests and harvesting products are renewable, provided that exploitation does not exceed regeneration. Some resources, such as minerals, species, and habitats, are finite — once they have been exhausted or destroyed, they are gone forever. Minerals, oil, gas and coal are non-renewable resources: their use as materials and energy sources leads to depletion of the Earth's reserves. However, the time period during which reserves can be available can be extended by recycling or improving the efficiency of use. Eventually, limitations to the extent to which more efficient processes may expand the use of non-renewable resources stocks will be reached, requiring substitution with renewable resources and restrictions on the volume of activities that can be sustained by existing stocks.

Others, such as air, water, and wood, are renewable — although we generally rely on the Earth's natural systems to regrow, renew, and purify them for us. For resource use to be sustainable, the consumption rate should be maintained within the capacity of the natural systems to regenerate themselves. Current rates of depletion of the Earth's stocks of renewable resources and levels of pressure imposed on their regenerative capacity by means of production and consumption might already be, in some cases, beyond this threshold.

This section looks at these resources, examines whether we are treating them sustainably, and studies how new technologies and approaches can help us make better use of them.

 

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European Environment Agency (EEA)
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Phone: +45 3336 7100