The population is expected to grow by about 23% by 2060, while the global GDP by about 150%. – MPI

The population is expected to grow by about 23% by 2060, while the global GDP by about 150%.

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Economy is often depicted as a discipline that seeks to meet human needs through the utilization of natural resources, often at the expense of environmental degradation. This approach is recognized as problematic by the International Resource Panel (IRP) of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In its “Global Resources Outlook” report, released every five years, the IRP warns of a triple planetary crisis composed of climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and waste.

The data presented in the report reveal a worrying trend of increasing material extraction, such as biomass, fossil fuels, metallic and non-metallic minerals, over the decades. For example, annual material extraction grew from 30.9 billion tons in 1970 to 95.1 billion tons in 2020, with an estimate of 106.5 billion tons in 2024.

Although the extraction rate has varied over time, a significant average growth has been observed. For instance, between 1970 and 2000, the extraction rate was 2.1% per year, increasing to 3.5% between 2000 and 2012. However, there was a slowdown to 1% per year between 2012 and 2020, due to the global financial crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. After post-pandemic recovery, the average extraction rate accelerated again, reaching 2.9% per year.

These data highlight the urgency of addressing how the global economy utilizes natural resources, especially considering the environmental challenges faced by the planet. The report emphasizes the need to promote a transition to a more sustainable economic model that takes into account not only human well-being but also environmental health and preservation.

Over the past five decades, there have been significant changes in the composition of material use, reflecting a transition from agrarian metabolism to industrial metabolism. In 1970, biomass was the largest category of material use, accounting for 41% of the total. However, its share decreased to 33% in 2000 and 26% in 2020. In contrast, non-metallic minerals emerged as the largest category in 2020, comprising 48% of the total, an increase from 31% in 1970.

Additionally, it is important to note that resource extraction has outpaced the growth of the world population. The global average of material demand per capita has increased over time, from 8.4 tons in 1970 to 12.2 tons in 2020, reaching 13.2 tons in 2024.

Economic growth has been the primary driver behind the increase in natural resource extraction. The data indicate significant growth in the global population, with a significant demographic shift towards urban areas. Concurrently, the global GDP has experienced substantial growth, from approximately $18 trillion in 1970 to an estimated $93 trillion in 2024. This has translated into an increase in global per capita income, which is expected to reach around $12,000 in 2024, representing a growth of 2.4 times compared to 1970.

As the world population grows and increasingly concentrates in urban and industrial areas, pressure on environmental systems intensifies, leading to greater environmental degradation and increased greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). This environmental unsustainability is becoming increasingly evident, and in the face of inaction, the risk of an ecological collapse becomes more imminent.

Global levels of economic activity have already exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity, as demonstrated in previous studies. Global production of goods and services has surpassed the limits set for several of the nine planetary boundaries, as indicated in earlier articles.

Despite climate crises, the sixth mass extinction of species, and widespread pollution of water, soil, and air, it is estimated that the global economy will continue to increase ecological exploitation until 2060. Modeling indicates a possible scenario where natural resource exploitation would significantly increase, from 100 billion tons in 2020 to 160 billion tons by the 2050s.

This increase would be driven by a 23% population growth, reaching around 10 billion inhabitants by 2060, along with a 150% increase in the global GDP. While this may result in an increase in the Human Development Index (HDI), it would come at the cost of a 59% increase in primary energy consumption, a 51% increase in biomass extraction (food and fibers), and a 23% increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

The model also predicts growth in the extraction of metallic and non-metallic minerals, especially those crucial for driving the energy transition and achieving net-zero emissions. It is estimated that over 3 billion tons of energy transition minerals and metals for wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources will be required to keep temperatures below 2°C by 2050.

Global demoeconomic growth is highly likely to continue over the next four decades. Despite a decrease in the pace of population growth, the world population is expected to continue growing, creating significant pressure for increased per capita consumption, especially in lower-income countries that represent the majority of the global population. The crucial challenge

Danielle Berry
Danielle Berry

an editor at MPI since 2023.

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