Dire warning amid decades of resource overconsumption

The world’s major economies have spent the past three decades overconsuming the world’s natural resources, according to a new study.

The research, led by the University of Leeds warned that for 30 years, not a single country has met the basic needs of its residents without overconsuming natural resources.

It added if current trends continue, no country will do so over the next three decades either, perpetuating human deprivation and worsening ecological breakdown.

The study is the first to track nations’ progress in terms of both meeting basic needs and respecting environmental limits in 148 countries since 1992, with projections to 2050 based on recent trends.

The research team said that without urgent changes, “national economies will continue to drive ecological breakdown, while delivering slow and insufficient improvements in living standards”.

“Wealthy countries like the US, UK, and Canada are transgressing planetary boundaries linked to climate and ecological breakdown, yet achieving minimal social gains,” it added. “Poorer countries like Bangladesh, Malawi, and Sri Lanka are living within planetary boundaries, but still falling short on meeting many basic human needs.”

Lead author, Dr Andrew Fanning, from the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds and the Doughnut Economics Action Lab in Oxford, said: “Everyone needs a sufficient level of resources to be healthy and to participate in their society with dignity, but we also need to ensure global resource use is not so high that we cause climate and ecological breakdown.

“We examined country trajectories since the early 1990s and found that most countries are closer to providing basic needs for their residents than they were 30 years ago — which is good news — although important shortfalls remain, especially for collective goals such as equality and democratic quality.

“The bad news is that the number of countries that are overconsuming resources is increasing, especially for carbon dioxide emissions and material use.

“Worryingly, we found that countries tend to overshoot fair shares of planetary boundaries faster than they achieve minimum social thresholds.”

This analysis of country trends builds on previous research for a single year led by co-author Dr Dan O’Neill, also from the Sustainability Research Institute.

O’Neill said: “These latest results indicate that an unprecedented transformation is needed in all nations.

“Current trends suggest that richer countries need to dramatically reduce their resource use to avoid critical planetary degradation, while poorer countries need to rapidly accelerate social performance to eliminate critical human deprivation.

“Countries with high levels of social achievement, such as Germany and Norway, are often held up as international role models, but they have levels of resource use that need to be massively reduced to get within fair shares of planetary boundaries.

“This transition is unlikely to be achieved with improvements in resource efficiency alone. Wealthy countries need to move beyond the pursuit of economic growth as a national goal, and instead pursue policies that improve human well-being and reduce resource use directly.”

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