With resource conservation against global environmental crises 

By Steffi Lemke
Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke 

When it comes to environmental protection, many people first think of clean rivers, blooming meadows, and nature reserves. When it comes to climate action, wind farms, EVs, and heat pumps come to mind. Undoubtedly, renewable energies and nature conservation are central building blocks for making our country climate-neutral and preserving natural living conditions. However, another building block is often forgotten: the many things that are manufactured, sold, and consumed every day

Valuable resources are consumed wherever something is produced, whether it’s sneakers, cell phones, or single-family homes. And it is increasing every year. Between 1970 and 2017, the consumption of natural resources worldwide tripled. Without appropriate measures, it would double again by 2060. 

Raw materials for goods must be mined, pumped from the ground, and in many cases, separated from rock or processed with chemicals. They must be transported, further processed and packaged – all with high energy consumption and CO2 emissions and sometimes massive burdens on soils, waters, flora and fauna. According to calculations by the International Resource Panel (IRP), at least half of all greenhouse gas emissions and about 90 percent of biodiversity loss and global water problems are due to the extraction and processing of resources

The goal: nature-like material cycles

If we want to make our economy climate-neutral and environmentally friendly, resource conservation is the sleeping giant. It needs to be awakened. 

The goal must be to consume significantly fewer primary raw materials – i.e., raw materials that enter the economic cycle anew – and to close material cycles. This has been agreed by the federal government in the coalition agreement. Nature sets an example for us; it is a single cycle: Leaves fall to the ground in a forest. Insects, fungi and microorganisms decompose them, forming valuable humus that nourishes trees and plants. 

Nature should be a model for us. Raw materials that are already in circulation must be given a second, third, and fourth life as secondary raw materials. This goes far beyond recycling. Products must be designed from the beginning to be durable, easy to repair and disassemble, and their components recyclable. Only then does the circle close to a circular economy that ends resource waste. In times of scarce and expensive raw materials, we also secure the resilience and competitiveness of our economy. 

The special responsibility of the G7

As Minister of the Environment, I am committed to placing even greater emphasis on resource protection in addressing global environmental crises

To this end, I would like to use the upcoming meeting of G7 environment ministers on April 15 and 16 in Japan. The major industrialized nations are also major consumers of resources and therefore bear a special responsibility. Last year, under German presidency, the G7 countries recognized the connection between resource consumption and the global triple crisis of biodiversity loss, climate crisis and environmental pollution. In the Berlin Roadmap, we agreed on a work plan for a more gentle approach to resources. 

Principles for business: Supply chains, product design

Based on this, we want to adopt principles for businesses in Japan. These principles should support companies in conserving resources and implementing the principle of a circular economy in their corporate policies – because it is the companies that can actually do something practical against resource waste, for example, through sustainable supply chains or durable product design

I want to anchor resource conservation and a circular economy wherever it comes to addressing the major environmental crises: at climate conferences, world nature conferences and the implementation of Agenda 2030. For example, Germany initiated cooperation between the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Resource Panel (IRP) at the last UN Climate Conference. We will consistently continue on this path. 

National circular economy strategy

The Federal Ministry for the Environment is currently developing a national circular economy strategy for Germany. The strategy creates a new framework for using resources sparingly and replacing them with recycled materials. Details will be discussed and developed from April onwards in intensive exchange with other ministries and experts from business, science and civil society. 

To combat the climate crisis, extinction of species, and environmental pollution, we should use all our options. Resource consumption is inseparably linked to all these crises. Resource conservation and a circular economy are, therefore, indispensable parts of their solution. 


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