European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik has admitted that the metrics that have shown that material consumption has stabilised despite economic growth have been wrong.
In a speech to the Friends of the Earth Europe conference in Brussels, the commissioner noted that in fact our material footprint has been increasing.
A recent study The Material Footprint of Nations by scientists from Australia, Japan, Norway and the United States found that metrics used to measure material consumption by nations and bodies such as the EU were flawed.
This is because they did not take into account raw material use related to imports and exports originating from outside the focal economy.
The Commissioner said: “High level indicators and targets are necessary to focus energies, to give a clear direction and measure progress towards a circular economy. Looking at the data since the 1990s, the EU has been able to stabilize its direct material consumption even when it has undergone a period of economic growth.
“However, if this trend is mainly due to more goods being imported from outside the EU, it does not indicate a real move towards a resource-efficient economy. In fact, our material footprint, which included the embedded component of imported products, has been increasing. We are more and more dependent in imported resources…
“…The message coming from the European Resource Efficiency Platform is that the EU should set ambitious and visible targets to improve the overall decoupling of resource use from economic growth. We have already indicators and targets for carbon. The Platform agreed that progress should also be measured against our use of materials, land and water.”
He added that these indicators should be fit for use in the EU 2020 strategy and that they should be indisputable and therefore accepted by all member states.
In order to take into account Europe’s imports, he is proposing a material target based on raw material consumption. He added that current methodologies allow for this calculation and that they now need to be applied by national statistical offices.