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Resource Use

Environmental pressures from resource use largely influence biodiversity both directly and indirectly. Overfishing, unsustainable logging or hunting directly affect the viability of populations, while the overuse of water resources, the burning of fossil fuels  leading to climate change or the extraction of minerals exert numerous indirect impacts on species and ecosystems.

Resource use – a main pressure behind biodiversity loss

During the past 60 years, people have impacted the environment more extensively than in any other period in human history. Increasing natural resource exploitation is encouraged by a continuous need for growth which is determined by the current economic system. This phenomenon cannot continue forever within a finite system like the Earth, which already exceeded its carrying capacity in the seventies . Since that time humanity has been living in a state of overshoot, in which people are consuming natural resources faster than they can be regenerated. In other words, we are using up resources which were meant to serve future generations. As a consequence of this overconsumption, the scarcity of fossil resources such as oil, on which our present society is heavily based, is already becoming a reality. Moreover, the impacts of unsustainable resource use are already being felt through a growing number of economic, environmental and social issues such as: economic tension because of resource depletion and unequal access to scarce resources; climate change and biodiversity loss; and health problems due to pollution.

Solutions till now – grabbing the end of the pipe

Until now we have been focusing on problems within the established sectoral framework and continue to apply ‘end-of pipe’ solutions, without tackling the drivers. However, as drivers remain unchanged, they contiuously regenarate the problems. Bearing in mind the importance of applying holistic approaches instead of sectoral ones, it is crucial to look beyond the pressures and consider the driving forces behind them. These driving forces are threefold:

  • Structural drivers include production and consumption patterns as well as urban and spatial structures leading to environmental pressures such as pollution, habitat degradation or the exploitation of natural resources. Besides creating environmental pressures, resource intensive production processes also require less human labour and thus increase unemployment.
  • Institutional drivers determine the structural ones. These are the current legislative and economic regulatory frameworks, such as the national budget, economic regulations, the institutional structure, which enable energy intensive products and services to flourish due to unlimited access to cheap natural resources. Consequently, the loss of natural heritage is able to continue without any compensation.
  • Cultural drivers provide the basis for the two above. These include our history, common believes, customs, behaviour, etc. All of them are determined by societal values, of which by far the most dominant is the value placed on material wealth and the continuous growth of GDP. This is often at the expense of other values such as a healthy environment, strong family, community relationships or security. According to recent indices the more balanced people’s values are (i.e. when values are taken into account equally), the happier they are. Societies with more balanced values would contribute to achieving a fair distribution of resources, which in turn would lead to greater global environmental and social equity. Ecological justice would also have a positive effect by cutting the ecological debt from the “north” to the “south”, caused by centuries of social and economic exploitation.

Analyzing this complex structure of drivers, it becomes clear that introducing resource use cap would change their course. As a result of legally set limits, fewer natural resources would be used across Europe, which would lead to an increase in products and services with low energy and natural resource demand. At the same time human labour would become more competitive and more jobs would be created in different sectors such as agriculture, forestry or fishery. Moreover, people would start consuming less, appreciate more ecosystems, which deliver indispensable services for them, and thus material wealth would become relatively less important in their set of values.

Policy tool for reducing resource use – energy quota scheme

The CEEweb Policy Working Group discussed policy options for reducing resource use, first focusing on energy resources as a resource horizontally affecting current unsustainable production and consumption patterns. After several discussions the PWG adopted the non-renewable energy quota scheme as a policy toolto reduce resource use. This energy quota scheme is based on the Hungarian draft Climate Act for a Sustainable Society proposed by National Society of Conservationist – Friends of the Earth Hungary and the Ecological Insitute of Sustainable Development. 100 Members of the Parliament from all political groups, more than 500 NGOs and 15,000 citizens in Hungary supported the idea of an ambitious climate bill also as a result of their campaign.

The proposed regulatory system is based on 3 + 1 pillars.

Pillar 1: The Energy Quota

The use of fossil and nuclear energy sources shall be reduced through direct savings, increasing efficiency, or shifting to renewable energy sources. An effectivetoolfor realizing this reduction is the energy quota system. Energy consumption entitlements of annually decreasing quantities would be allocated among the individual consumers and public and private consumer groups. Those, who save a part of their allocated entitlements, can sell their remaining entitlements through the quota managing organization to those who have consumed more than their allocated consumption entitlement. The quota managing organization sells the quota in the national currency, and buys the remaining quota for quota money.

Pillar 2: The Market for Environmental Goods and Services

The market for environmental goods and services is an open market operating according to environmental and ethical rules including aspects of sustainability and market considerations. The quota money received from selling energy consumption entitlements could be exchanged to products in this ‘eco-labelled’ secondary market.

Pillar 3: The Revolving Fund

The Revolving Fund provides the opportunity for everyone, both energy producers and consumers, to be able to achieve savings through energy efficiency and renewable energy investments. The Revolving Fund provides interest free loan in quota money with a payback period adjusted to the energy savings or income generation realised through the investment.

Pillar +1: Advisory Service

The Advisory Service aims to provide advice on lifestyle, planning, social and environmental issues, as well as information on the functioning of the scheme to consumers.

Establishing a European coalition on resource use

CEEweb initiated the European Resource Cap Coalition with its partners in 2010, when it organised a kick-off conference for interested stakeholders in November 2010. Since then dozens of organisations have joined to advocate for European resource cap, a precondition for tackling environmental problems and an opportunity to address social injustice.

Related activities, events:

Related press releases and documents:

For more information please contact Klára Hajdu, Programme Coordinator!