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Brussels, 2 June 2010

Environment: Calls for taxation regimes to reflect impacts on the environment

Today the European Commission, together with the UN Environmental Programme, launched a major new report highlighting the need for a radical change in the way major economies are using scarce resources. The report provides science-based priorities for world environmental efforts, ranking products, materials and economic and lifestyle activities according to their environmental and resource impacts. Major findings include the news that over half of all world food crops are now fed to animals, and that a doubling of wealth leads typically to an increase of environmental pressure by 60 to 80 per cent. The 149-page report, put together by the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management, indicates that legislators and policymakers looking to make the most impact on the Earth’s well-being should use taxes and other incentives to encourage more eco-friendly agricultural practices and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik said: "This report drives home the urgent need for a switch to a resource-efficient economy. It will be a titanic task, but one that is essential for our future prosperity and quality of life. If we really want to change the way we use resources, altering price signals through taxation is among the most efficient and effective approaches.."

“We can achieve both sustainability economic growth and environmental well-being,” said Angela Cropper, Deputy Executive Director of UNEP. “It starts by putting emphasis on those efforts that do the biggest good in reducing humanity’s harm of ecosystems. In that regard, this report makes an important contribution to thinking for policy-makers. And for individuals, it reinforces familiar advice: Put down the steak knife, flip off lights, insulate homes, turn down the thermostat or air conditioner, avoid air travel and park the car as much as possible -- these actions offer the biggest environmental ‘bang for the buck’ and make the greatest difference to Mother Earth.”

Priority offenders

The report "Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials", is the latest in a series from the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. Using life-cycle analyses, it catalogues the materials and energy required for production, consumption and disposal, and identifies the processes, products and materials most responsible for environmental harm around the globe. At the top of the list are agricultural goods, particularly products from animals, which are fed more than half of all world crops. Fossil fuel users are also under fire, especially electrical utilities and other and energy-intensive industries, residential heating, and transportation. Materials with the greatest impact across their life cycle include plastics, iron, steel, and aluminium.

The Panel cites the following pressures on the environment as priorities for reduction: climate change, habitat change, nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, overexploitation of fisheries, forests and other resources, invasive species, unsafe drinking water and sanitation, household combustion of solid fuels, lead exposure, urban air pollution and occupational exposure to particulate matter.

The perils of affluence

Worryingly, the Panel produces an array of evidence to show that prosperity and humanity’s environmental impact grow in tandem, contrary to the popular belief that greater wealth leads to a lighter environmental footprint.

The report indicates that while greater affluence can lead to relatively simple process changes and devices to control local sources of conventional air and water pollution, rising wealth also results in the growth of wider-scale problems such as energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Regarding CO2, “a doubling of wealth leads typically to an increase of environmental pressure by 60 to 80 per cent, and in emerging economies this is sometimes even more,” the report says.

Background: International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management

The Resource Panel was set up to provide independent scientific insight into the use of natural resources and their environmental impacts, in an effort to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation. It draws on the views of environmental experts from around the world. The Panel is co-chaired by IUCN President Ashok Khosla and Professor Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, former Chairman of the Bundestag Environment Committee.

Useful links:

Full report available at: http://www.unep.fr/scp/rpanel/producsandmaterials.htm


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