Natural resources, especially raw materials, are key production factors and therefore at the basis of our prosperity. The use of primary materials has more than tripled since the 1970s across the globe, increasing from around 27 billion tonnes in 1970 to around 92 billion tonnes in 2017. It is estimated that in 2060 the global population, which is expected to grow to ten billion people, will consume between 143 and 190 billion tonnes of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass. This is a major challenge not only from an economic, but also from an environmental and social perspective. Rising and fluctuating raw material prices and supply risks are a strain on the German economy. It is becoming increasingly difficult to obtain some key raw materials such as crude oil, cobalt and heavy rare earths from readily accessible sources. At the same time, resource use has adverse environmental effects across the entire value chain, ranging from the emission of greenhouse gases to the release of pollutants into the air, water and soil, to the impairment of ecosystems and biodiversity. The current use of natural resources already far exceeds the Earth's regenerative capacity.
The responsible and at the same time efficient use of natural resources will therefore be a key competence for sustainable societies. Growth and prosperity must be decoupled from the use of natural resources as far as is possible. The goal is to increase competitiveness, decrease resource use and reduce the resulting environmental impacts.
In 2012, the German adopted a comprehensive strategic approach to increasing resource efficiency, which is designed to contribute to achieving the targets of the sustainability strategy: the German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess). Since 2016, the goal of increasing total raw material productivity has been firmly embedded in this programme. The aim is to continue the positive trend of the years 2000 to 2010 of plus 1.5 percent annually until 2030.This has been successful so far and demonstrates that it is possible to decouple economic growth from resource consumption.
By now, the issue of resource efficiency has been firmly established in the G7 and G20 agendas. G7 Presidencies organise meetings of the G7 Alliance on Resource Efficiency and workshops to exchange ideas and experience. The G20 Resource Efficiency Dialogue initiated under the German Presidency has turned into a regular series of events. Scientific recommendations by the International Resource Panel and OECD support these international processes. Resource efficiency also plays an increasingly important role in environmental and economic policy at EU level. Various measures to promote resource efficiency were implemented within the framework of the EU Circular Economy Action Plan.
People are beginning to realise that the way we use energy and raw materials will have consequences for the climate. However, our societies are still not aware of many other environmental repercussions. The actual "consumption" of, for example, food, packaging or consumer goods must include the resources used during the production process and possibly during disposal. This factor is also called the "ecological rucksack". For one ten-gram gold ring, for example, an average of 3.5 tonnes of earth must be moved. To extract one tonne of pure copper from the rocks, between 14,000 and 28,000 kWh of energy is needed, as much energy as a two-person household in Germany uses over a period of four to eight years.