Rio+20 – time to rethink the way we use natural resources

News Published 19 Jun 2012 Last modified 15 Jul 2016
2 min read
This week the Rio de Janeiro summit on sustainable development will open. Rio+20 is an opportunity to look back at changes in our environment since the first Earth Summit in 1992, and also a time to look to the future, re-evaluating the way our economies and our societies depend on the environment and natural resources.

Rio +20 gives us the opportunity to start to build an inclusive green economy, which benefits both people and the environment.

Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director

In the 20-year gap between the two Rio summits, the earth's population has grown from 5.4 billion in 1992 to more than 7 billion now – a leap of almost 30 %. This has had a knock-on effect on global use of natural resources, in tandem with increasing per capita consumption levels.

Although greenhouse gas emissions have fallen within Europe, globally they have jumped by approximately a third over 20 years, and the number of tonnes of natural resources extracted has also leapt by a third in the same period. These figures mask huge inequalities – per capita resource use and emissions are many times higher in some countries compared to others.

Many critics of the current economic model point out that it is premised on ever-increasing exploitation of natural resources, while materials and the planet's capacity to absorb waste are limited.

Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director said: "The current economic model is heading toward obsolescence. Its obsolescence is even more obvious if we want to improve living conditions and opportunities for the poorest people while we continue to demand ever more stuff in the richer parts of the world. Rio +20 gives us the opportunity to start to build an inclusive green economy, which benefits both people and the environment."

In Rio, heads of state will discuss global targets for sustainability indicators, to help move towards a green economy. It is also hoped that the conference will be the starting point for new cooperation between states, the private sector, international organisations and civil society.

On Sunday 17 June, the EEA presented a new film, 'Planet RE:think', which tells the story of unsustainable resource use. The documentary shows the truly global nature of the problem, from environmentally devastating mining in Canada to recycling of electronic waste in India which damages the health of workers. The feature-length film also includes positive examples of ‘green economy' policies and business models, from Ecuador to South Africa.

You can see the first edit of this exciting project below:


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