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Measuring natural ressource use.
Context, indicators and EU policy processes
This background paper provides a summary of the current state-of-the-art in the development of measurement systems and indicators on natural resources as well as of current EU policy processes related to this issue. The background paper aims at providing background information for the discussions at the Friends of the Earth seminar on ″Measuring Europe′s Resource Use″. In the past few years, issues related to natural resource use and resource productivity have steeply climbed up the European and international policy agendas. Both recent economic developments, such as rising commodity prices and an increasing international competition for scarce natural resources, and environmental concerns, such as the close link between resource flows and environmental problems (above all, climate change), have contributed to this current rise in importance of the natural resource issue. In academics and statistics, a large number of different approaches to measure human resource consumption have been developed. Depending on the specific question of the users of such measurement systems, different accounting approaches and indicators are more or less appropriate. Some approaches, such as material flow analysis (MFA), are closely connected to the statistical system and were developed to integrate environmental information into the standard system of national economic accounts. These types of approaches are well suited to illustrate aspects such as total resource use and resource productivity of products, sectors or economies. Other approaches, such as the Ecological Footprint, were developed and advanced by academics and NGOs and so far applied primarily for education and communication purposes. However, also the Footprint is increasingly considered in national and European environmental reporting. These types of approaches are better suited to investigate the specific environmental impacts related to resource use. On the European level, some resource use indicators (such as resource productivity, based on MFA) are already part of the statistical reporting systems and are integrated in European indicator sets, such as the EU Structural Indicators or the Sustainable Development Indicators. Other indicators, in particular indicators reflecting specific environmental impacts related to resource use, are currently only under development. With this regard, the increased coordination between the different EU institutions working in the field of measuring resource use is an important step forward and the establishment of joint European Data Centres, such as the Data Centre on Natural Resources and Products at the European Statistical Office (EUROSTAT) has high potential to facilitate broader use of resource use data and indicators in EU and national policy making. These current activities in improvement of measurement systems and derived indicators are driven by a number of commitments the EU Commission has entered in several policy processes, which aim at increasing resource productivity and reducing the negative environmental impacts related to resource use. The most important processes are the EU Sustainable Development Strategy (2001/2006), the Thematic Strategy on the Sustainable Use of Natural Resources (2005) and the Action Plan on Sustainable Consumption and Production (2008). These processes address the issue of resource use from different angles, but in general it can be observed that binding quantitative targets and appropriate policy instruments to reduce resource consumption (and related environmental pressures) are to a large extent missing. Further improvement of measurement systems and related resource indicators would be a key requirement for better target setting and monitoring of resource use policies.
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