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EU countries increasing burden on global environment -- EEA report

Press Release Published 30 Mar 2001 Last modified 28 Jun 2016
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NEWS RELEASE Copenhagen, 30 March 2001

EU countries increasing burden on global environment - EEA report

The 15 countries of the European Union (EU) are intensifying pressure on the global environment by continuing to increase their consumption of natural resources, a new report from the European Environment Agency shows.

Data for the years up to 1997 indicate that the EU countries have made little progress towards preventing economic growth from translating into higher natural resources use. This is despite a recognition by world leaders that more efficient use of resources is one of the changes needed to make economies more environmentally sustainable1.

Produced for the EEA by Germany's Wuppertal Institute2, the report uses a recently-developed indicator known as Total Material Requirement (TMR) to calculate the EU's overall burden on the world environment. The study3 is an important contribution to the EEA's work on developing leading indicators to monitor and benchmark the EU's progress towards more environmentally sustainable development.

TMR measures the mass turnover of all domestic and imported primary materials, except for air and water, that are extracted from nature to support human activities, including all resources required for industrial production, transport, energy and food supply. It indicates the extent of environmental impacts associated with resource extraction, materials and energy use, and generation of emissions and waste.

EU countries' predominant material requirements are fossil fuels, metals and minerals. Extraction of biomass - raw materials from plants and crops - and erosion of agricultural soil are also significant factors in the EU's resource demands. The study shows that the EU's material requirements have increased almost as fast as the economy has expanded.

Between 1995 and 1997, the most recent year for which calculations have been made, TMR rose by 3% from 18.1 billion tonnes to 18.7 billion. The increase was due entirely to increased materials imports, particularly of precious metal ores, whose extraction creates large volumes of mining waste.

TMR grew by the same percentage on a per-capita basis. Consequently, in 1997 around 50 tonnes of materials were extracted from the Earth to support the lifestyle of each of the EU's 373 million citizens.

This compares with a TMR of 45 tonnes per head in 1988, when the EU counted 12 members and a lower population of 323 million.

The report shows that the EU has made only limited progress towards improving the efficiency of its resource use - its so-called "material productivity."

An 11% increase in per-capita TMR between 1988 and 1997 was smaller than the per-capita economic expansion4 of 18% recorded over the same period. However, this does not represent a significant decoupling of TMR from economic growth, the report says.

The EU's per-capita TMR is considerably lower than that of the United States, which stood at 84 tonnes in 1994, but above Japan's level of 45 tonnes per head in the same year. It should be noted, however, that both the US and Japan have considerably higher per-capita GDP than the EU. This means that Japan's material productivity is some 1.5 times higher than the EU level.

The full report is posted on the EEA's website.

Notes to Editors

The European Environment Agency aims to support sustainable development and to help achieve significant and measurable improvement in Europe's environment through the provision of timely, targeted, relevant and reliable information to policy making agents and the public. Established by the European Union (EU) in 1990 by Council Regulation 1210/90 (subsequently amended by Council Regulation 933/1999), the Agency is the hub of the European Environment Information and Observation Network (EIONET), a network of environmental bodies and institutes across Europe.

Located in Copenhagen and operational since 1994, the EEA is open to all countries that share its objectives and are able to participate in its activities. It currently has 18 member countries - the 15 EU member states, plus Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, which are members of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The 13 countries in central and eastern Europe and the Mediterranean area that are seeking accession to the EU are expected to join the EEA in the coming months, making the Agency the first EU body to welcome these countries.

1Achieving greater efficiency in use of energy and resources is one of the aims of Agenda 21, the blueprint for global sustainable development that world leaders adopted at the 1992 "Earth Summit", the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, in Rio de Janeiro.

2The institute's full name is Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. The TMR calculations were made on the basis of data from both the institute and Eurostat, the European Commission's statistics office.

3The report's title is Total material requirement of the European Union. It is published by the EEA as Technical report No 55. A detailed description of the methodology is published as EEA Technical report No 56. The full text of this report is posted on the EEA's web site.

4Expressed as Gross Domestic Product.


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