Page Last modified 20 Apr 2016
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The Earth's natural resources are vital to the survival and development of the human population. However, these resources are limited by the Earth's capability to renew them. Freshwater, forests and harvesting products are renewable, provided that exploitation does not exceed regeneration. Fossil fuels and metal ores are non-renewable. 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. This chapter focuses on major developments in the use of renewable and non-renewable resources in Europe in the context of global trends. Available statistics to monitor changes in the use of natural resources at the global and European levels are described in Box 13A. The use of natural resources by sectors of activity are detailed in Part IV of this report (Chapters 19 to 26).


Food, water, forests and wildlife are all renewable resources. 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.


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.

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