* U.N. urges "decoupling" of raw material use and GDP growth
* Says resource use could triple by 2050 to 140 bln tonnes
* China called a test case for global economy
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO, May 12 The world must curb soaring use of
resources ranging from coal to copper to prevent consumption
from reaching ruinous levels by 2050, according to a U.N. report
on Thursday that says China's economy will be a test case.
All countries should seek economic growth that does not rely
on increasing exploitation of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and
biomass -- such as timber -- as poverty declines and the world
population rises, it said.
Resource use totals about 47 to 59 billion tonnes a year --
according to the study which lumps everything together by weight
from oil and gold ore to sand or cement used in construction.
Without restrictions, that could leap to 140 billion by 2050.
"Decoupling makes sense on all the economic, social and
environmental dials," Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP) which produced the 174-page report,
said in a statement.
"Decoupling is not about stopping growth. It's about doing
more with less. Global resource consumption is exploding. It's
not a trend that is in any way sustainable," added Ernst von
Weizsacker, co-chair of the UNEP resource panel.
"China is, in many ways, the test case for the global
economy," the report said of the most populous nation with 1.3
billion citizens of almost 7 billion worldwide. Beijing in 2007
set a goal of becoming an "ecological civilisation".
Each of the world's citizens consumes about eight to 10
tonnes per year of the materials on average, with people in rich
nations using double the average and those in poor African
nations far less. China's use is around average.
China "wants to continue its rapid economic growth but use
resources more sustainably," the report said. Beijing's steps to
reconcile those goals "will be of crucial significance for every
other developing country with similar policy intentions".
The study said decoupling was already under way, but needed
to accelerate. World gross domestic product grew by a factor of
23 in the 20th century, resource use rose by a factor of eight.
"There is a need for policy changes. The market alone won't
do it," Marina Fischer-Kowalski, a lead author of the report at
the Alpen-Adria University in Austria, told Reuters.
"It's a common challenge to reach a different kind of
growth," Mark Swilling, the other lead author at the University
of Stellenbosch in South Africa, told Reuters.
Some cheap and high-quality sources of materials such as
oil, copper and gold were already running low. Extraction from
lower-grade deposits was already adding strains by requiring
ever more use of fossil fuels and fresh water.
A steady shift to living in cities might help -- people in
urban areas generally consume less than those in rural areas.
Steiner said the level of resources used by each person "may
need to fall to between 5 and 6 tonnes" by 2050. Even so, the
study acknowledged that seemed too restrictive as a global goal.
Per capita consumption of the key resources in countries
including the United States, Canada and Australia were now well
above 20 tonnes. A less drastic scenario would mean all nations
aiming for around 8 tonnes per capita by 2050, still demanding
deep cuts by rich nations.
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(Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton)