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Natural resource use efficiency: SDG 12.2 in Asia

Janet Salem, UNEP Regional Office for Asia Pacific, on SDG 12.2 - the sustainable management and efficient use of Earth’s natural resources
So now we’re going to talk about Sustainable Development Goal target 12.2. This is about the sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources. Now natural resources are the materials, energy, water, and land that we take from the environment to produce the socio-economic goals that we have, including the production of food. Now this is a very broad goal, and it brings in a lot of the concepts that we’ll cover in this course. So first of all, let’s just look at the structure of an economy and the relationship between resource use and socio-economic goals. Each country has a certain amount of natural resources at its dispense that it can use, hopefully sustainably.
Where there are gaps, it can also supplement those with imports, and that’s the base with which it can work. Now with that the amount of natural resource use, each different sector can use those natural resources together with labour and produce socio-economic benefits, including contributions to GDP, and contributions to social goals, like the provision of food, the provision of jobs, and so forth. And if you look at each sector, they need a different amount of natural resources, and labour and capital, to produce certain amount of outputs in different quantities.
That’s called resource efficiency, and if you add up all of the sectors, you get a macro view of how much resource use there is in the country, and the socio-economic benefits that are derived from those natural resources. Now, if you look at the metrics for this particular sustainable development target (SDG 12.2), they are the amount of natural resource use within the borders– that’s the extraction, plus imports, minus the exports– as well as, the material footprint, which we won’t get into in much detail, but it’s basically saying that a lot of countries are using resources that have required a lot more resources used outside of its borders. Now why is this relevant to Asia, in particular?
If we look at the total amount of material used in Asia alone, it’s more than the rest of the world combined. So when we’re talking about a global goal of sustainable management of natural resources, a lot of the focus is going to have to be in this region, because it’s consuming the most amount of resources. And what we can also see is that while it’s using more than half the amount of resources, it’s only generating a quarter of the world’s GDP. Now as this region is growing a lot economically, we know that the natural resource use, which is really linked to economic growth, is going to grow, and grow, and grow, in the coming decades.
So that’s why this course will look at, how can we use those resources more efficiently, and more sustainably, to achieve the goals that we want in the region, but not double, triple, quadruple the amount of natural resources we need to take out of the environment. Each country can look at their role by looking at their per capita resource use. So we’re all human beings, and if we look at how much, on average, is needed per person in each country, we get a little bit more of a scope on where we stand, and how we can be more efficient.
So what we know is, in the region, there’s a huge range between the lowest amount of resource use per capita, and the highest amount. It ranges from about two tonnes per person, per year, to over 30 tonnes per person, per year. And this is quite correlated to wealth, so as countries get richer, they’re going to use more and more per capita. The thing is that we know that in order to keep global resource use within the current amount, or even, perhaps less, what would be the first idea of what sustainable is, we all need to use about eight tonnes per capita, per year, or less. That’s an environmental perspective.
But we also know that under current status quo of the way our production and consumption systems are, currently a good level of material well-being is achieved at 15 tonnes per capita, per year. So we’re almost at double the amount of sustainable natural resource use, which is considered good quality of life. So we know that going forward, we’re going to have to change the systems, and say, how can we get that same quality of life that we’re getting from that 15 tonnes, but shift it to more efficient use, about half the amount of resources– around eight tonnes or less.
So in addition to looking at results use on a per capita basis, we can also look at it on a per dollar basis. That resource efficiency, or resource intensity, and this is an economic perspective into natural resource use. Now what we see is that in this region, in the Asia Pacific region, we actually need more and more resources for that same dollar economic growth, as time moves forward. So whereas in 1990, we needed about two kilogrammes of natural resource use for every dollar of GDP.
Now we need over three kilogrammes of resources for every dollar of GDP, and that’s particularly worrying because in the rest of the world, they only need one kilogramme of natural resource use per $1 of GDP. This tells us there’s a huge economic opportunity to reduce the amount of resource use we need for every dollar of economic growth. So during this course, we’re going to look at how the food systems in Asia, or in particular, in Southeast Asia, can contribute to moving these trends into a more sustainable path.
So far this week we have heard about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 12 on sustainable consumption and production. In this video, Janet Salem, of the UNEP Regional Office for Asia Pacific, talks about SDG Target 12.2, which concerns the sustainable management and efficient use of Earth’s natural resources.


Janet begins by explaining what motivated the target, and why it is important, and then moves to answer the question: Why is a goal of sustainable management and efficient use of natural resources relevant to Asia? Tell us your answers to this question too.
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