Strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources
This strategy creates a framework for action aiming to reduce the burden on the environment from the production and consumption of natural resources without penalising economic development. Concerns about resources will be addressed in all relevant policies and specific measures will be put into effect, notably the setting up of a centre for data and indicators, a European forum and an international expert group.
Communication from the Commission of 21 December 2005 - Thematic Strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources [COM(2005) 670 - not published in the Official Journal].
This strategy sets out the guidelines for European Union (EU) action for the next 25 years aimed at more effective and sustainable use of natural resources throughout their life cycle.
The aim of the strategy is to reduce the negative environmental impact of the use of natural resources (depletion of resources and pollution) while meeting the economic growth and employment objectives of the Lisbon European Council. All resource-consuming sectors are taken into account with a view to improving resource yield, reducing the environmental impact of resource use and replacing excessively polluting resources with alternatives.
No target figures have been set at this stage, but the strategy provides for the possibility of setting such targets in the coming years, when knowledge of the use of resources and their development indicators has become sufficiently developed and exploitable.
Integrating the resource life cycle based approach into existing policies
The strategy aims to reduce the pressures on the environment at each stage of the life cycle of resources, which embraces their extraction or harvesting, use and ultimate disposal. It therefore seeks to integrate this concept of life cycle and impact of resources into the associated policies.
This approach will in future be applied systematically to all environmental policies. It already forms an integral part of certain measures, such as the thematic strategy for waste. Specific actions, such as the integrated product policy or the action plan for environmental technologies, are complementary to such an approach.
The approach also has to be built into non-environmental policies that consume resources. Some measures have already been adopted in this direction, particularly in the areas of transport and energy. The use of impact studies will also be a determining factor in certain industrial or infrastructure fields.
New measures created by the strategy
To enhance knowledge relating to the use and environmental impact of resources, the strategy proposes the creation of a natural resources data centre, to be run by the Commission. This data centre will collect information coming from the various analysis and research bodies (both within the Commission and elsewhere). It will make it easier to exchange information and make it available to policymakers.
By 2008 the Commission intends to develop indicators for monitoring and periodically evaluating progress towards achieving the strategy's goals. These indicators will relate to the more efficient use of resources, the delinking of resource use from its negative environmental impact, and the decoupling of negative environmental impact from economic growth.
The Member States, for their part, are asked to prepare measures and programmes at national level (e.g. on education, training or economic incentives). They will be helped by the setting up of an information exchange forum made up of representatives of the Member States and the Commission, as well as other players as appropriate.
The Commission will propose the establishment of an international expert group in collaboration with the relevant international organisations, in particular the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). This working group will be mandated in particular to develop knowledge on the global dimension of sustainable use of resources and to put together scientific advice for industrialised and developing countries.
The current rate of consumption of resources and the resulting burden on the environment are not sustainable: in spite of technical improvements, growth in resource consumption has often outstripped progress on the environment or productivity increases. There is likely to be an even greater tendency in this direction as certain countries such as China or India become more industrially advanced. The risk of resources running out and the pollution caused by their use thus pose an ever-greater threat to our environment.
To reverse unsustainable trends, contain environmental degradation and maintain the essential benefits of natural resources, environmental policy needs to do more than just regulate pollution (controlling pollutant emissions and waste).
This strategy, thanks to its resource life cycle based approach and the pooling of reliable information, should help to improve the eco-efficiency of resource use and smooth the way to more sustainable modes of production and consumption.
The strategy on the sustainable use of natural resources is one of the seven thematic strategies of the sixth environment action programme adopted in 2002.