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Sustainable Consumption and Production Individual Decisions, Collective Impa


   On the occasion of World Environment Day  2015, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner had an speech at Expo Milano, Italy. He emphasized the strength of individual’s action in the fight against environmental challenges we face - from climate change to pollution to the degradation of natural resources. It is our personal choices that shape the world.

UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner had an speech at Expo Milano, Italy 

   This is apparent in the theme “Seven Billion Dreams. One Planet. Consume With Care”, which focuses on the need to transform unsustainable consumption and production patterns - a set of global practices that account for the majority of economic activities in the world and feed into every environmental challenge we face. Our daily decisions as consumers and producers, multiplied by billions, have a colossal impact on the environment. Some of them contribute to the further depletion of natural resources, others help to protect fragile ecosystems. As a result, the future of the Earth depends on the way we consum and produce goods, in other words, it is in our hand.

   Between 1900 and 2009, annual extraction of resources grew from 7 billion tonnes to 68 billion tonnes. Under current trends of population growth and expanding middle classes, global extraction of resources is set to reach 140 billion tonnes by 2050. By 2030, humanity will need the equivalent of two Earths to support itself. This is clearly untenable.

   This consumption has caused severe environmental, social and economic impacts, as research by the International Resource Panel (IRP) and others has shown. More than 20 per cent of all cultivated land, 30 per cent of forests and 10 per cent of grasslands are undergoing degradation, reducing our global capacity to produce food.

   According to the UN Development Programme, on the current trajectory the global Human Development Index will fall by as much as 15 per cent by the year 2050.

   From 2000 to 2012, the price of metals rose by 176 per cent - signalling a potentially crippling trend of increasing costs. A shortage of key metals may restrict our economy within the next 50 years.

   However, the issue of food loss and waste is probably the most striking example of the profound imbalances in consumption and production patterns. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) recently announced that the number of people suffering from hunger in the world fell below 800 million for the first time. However, the number of clinically obese people across the world is increasing, reaching 600 million adults in 2014.

   In the fact that the world already produces enough food for everyone. Worldwide, about one-third of all food produced (estimated by the FAO) at a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes, worth around $1 trillion - is lost or wasted and it also has serious impacts on the environment.

   Globally, the food system accounts for nearly 30 percent of end-user available energy, more than 70 percent of freshwater consumption and 80 percent of deforestation. It is the largest single cause of species and biodiversity loss. Considering as much as 1.4 billion hectares of land is used to produce the food that is lost and wasted each year, many of these impacts are simply unnecessary.

   This is why UNEP and FAO run the “Think. Eat. Save: Reduce Your Foodprint” campaign, aimed at educating consumers and producers on ways they can reduce food waste.

   “We must collectively drive a shift to a more sustainable future, both as consumers and as the essential human elements that make up governments, businesses and the investment industry. At the same time, we must decouple economic growth from environmental degradation. This means rethinking resource use in the production, distribution and use of products.

   We must eco-innovate new ways to meet people’s needs by placing a strong focus on consumption, which drives production and shapes our national economies for example, consumption can add up to 50 per cent of GDP in countries such as China.

   The market for more sustainable products is there and waiting. A UNEP survey showed that youth, the market of the future, increasingly recognize the importance of sustainability issues. Companies can eco-innovate and develop new business strategies and models to meet the growing demand for more sustainable choices.

   By changing our practices, we can increase resource security, enhance productivity, boost development, and create new business opportunities that bring jobs, drive innovation and fight climate change”.

   There are enormous opportunities to be seized at all levels, just some of which include:

   Harnessing existing technologies and appropriate policies to increase resource productivity could save up to $3.7 trillion globally each year. For example, the enlighten initiative has shown that a switch to efficient lighting would save over $140 billion and reduce CO2 emissions by 580 million tonnes every year.

   Electrical and electronic equipment waste is estimated at 20 to 50 million tonnes each year. Recycling rates are low - less than one-third of some 60 metals studied by the IRP have an end-of-life recycling rate above 50 per cent and 34 elements are below one per cent. This represents huge potential for financial and environmental savings.

   Businesses that consistently consider sustainability factors in decision-making have achieved on average 15 per cent annual growth, while the rest of the market has been in recession.

   Many nations and businesses are already seizing the benefits

   Germany has made increasing resource efficiency a cornerstone of its G7 leadership, while recycling in the UK generates more than £13 billion in annual sales of recycled products. Household recycling rates have increased from 11 per cent in 2001 to 43 per cent in 2013 - proof that individual action makes a difference.

   In Brazil, Cosmetics Firm Natura experienced annual growth of 26 per cent from 2005 - 2010, and doubled in size from 2007 - 2011, by taking an eco-innovation life-cycle approach. The socio-environmental benefits of selecting suppliers based on high sustainability performance were worth over $750,000 to the company in 2012.

   Meanwhile, we are seeing growth in renewable energy. Global investment in renewable power and fuels (excluding large hydro-electric projects) reached $279.2 billion in 2014, nearly 17 per cent higher than the previous year, with almost half of the investment in developing countries.

   A growing number of global initiatives

  The 10YFP, adopted by governments at Rio+20 and hosted by UNEP, is developing and implementing multi-stakeholder solutions through its first five programmes - which are engaging 143 governments, non-governmental organizations and business associations.

   Today, 65 countries have embarked on green economy and related strategies. This includes many countries engaged with the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) to shift investment and policies towards clean technologies, resource-efficient infrastructure and well-functioning ecosystems.


   We must also consider how to finance the transition to a sustainable world. The focus on shifting to SCP patterns in the proposed SDGs should be matched by a commitment to invest in this shift at the Third Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa.

   Evidence shows that when investments are targeted towards greening key economic sectors, they can produce multiple benefits for society, for the economy, and for the environment.

   For example, Sustainable Public Procurement (SPP), which represents between 15 and 25 percent of Gross Domestic Product, offers a tremendous opportunity for green innovation and sustainability. In one case, replacing incandescent traffic lights with LEDs in Hong Kong generated savings of $240,000 over the lifespan of LED modules, which also allow for projected annual savings of 7.88 million KWh of electricity and a reduction of 5,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions.

   The 10YFP’s Sustainable Public Procurement programme is supporting governments in designing and implementing the necessary SPP policies. Its first three projects, in Uruguay, South Africa, and the Philippines, have just been launched.

   Mobilizing private sector finance will also be crucial, particularly when one considers that global private savings amount to around $17 trillion - a massive amount of money that can be directed toward sustainable development.

   Public-private collaborations are key here. For example, the Seed Capital Assistance Facility (SCAF), managed by UNEP with the Asian Development Bank and the African Development Bank, works with private equity funds to finance renewable energy project developments in Africa and Asia.

   In India, South Africa and Brazil, auction tariff systems have proven effective at attracting renewable energy developers. In November 2013, South Africa used an auction to select 1.5 GW of renewable energy projects, with winning bids averaging $72 per MWh for wind plants, and $97 per MWh for photovoltaic plants.

    These are encouraging signs, but much work needs to be done as more markets step into this new world. This is why UNEP created the Inquiry into Design Options for a Sustainable Financial System - to explore exactly how the financial system can be better aligned with sustainable development.

   Decision-makers can implement macroeconomic policies that promote efficiency and sustainable goods and services. They can create ambitious standards and norms, legislation and fiscal remedies that provide incentives to businesses and consumers to promote resource efficiency, productivity and sustainable lifestyles.

   Consumers and businesses can choose to be less wasteful - by not throwing out perfectly good food, by looking at more energy-efficient practices, and by taking a host of other simple measures. Investors can choose to put their money into more sustainable, and ultimately more profitable, investments.

   In summary, the message is that “no action is too small to make a difference. We all know what we have to do. Let’s start today, and through our individual decisions create a collective impact that will change the world”.

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