Plenary Session I: The nexus between resource use and climate change

Dr. Harry Lehmann, the General Director of the German Environment Agency, opened the session by saying that in our present era, there are a huge amount of goals, be it the SDG or the Paris Agreement or the COPs, that we need to achieve in order to create a sustainable world. This great transformation is possible when we completely bring about a change in our economic system. His model, RESCUE (Resource Efficient Pathways Towards Greenhouse Gas Neutrality) maps various scenarios, interactions between renewable energies and raw materials, and has found that only under the ‘Green Supreme’ scenario, it is possible to fulfil the Paris Agreement and that is the only scenario that is fair in resource distribution.

‘Resource Nexus’, as explained by Prof. Dr. Raimund Bleischwitz from University College London, is the core concept of interlinkages between air, water, land, material that brings us out of silo thinking and helps to avoid the traps that a tunnel vision or dedicated focus to one or some dimensions of policies can land the system in, such as low carbon energy which can result in biodiversity loss, water risks, etc. The concept, a necessary compliment to climate action, has been developed in the last ten years at Bonn, Germany. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) integration is a key component of resource nexus, along with proper methodology for flow accounting. Two important scenarios that the resource nexus looks at are the Shock Scenario which tells what will happen if something critical goes wrong and the Mission-Oriented Scenario which suggests strategies and provides regular policy reviews.

Prof. Dr. Harald U Sverdrup from University of Applied Science, Norway, says that all our big global challenges of energy, raw resource depletion and environmental ruin are interlinked. His World7 tool has mapped the scarcity level of various natural resources, metals and materials and has shown that for some materials, we are already under hard/physical scarcity and for some others, we are approaching a soft scarcity territory. Substitution is often suggested as solution but limitations ensue because every amount of every element has already been booked, there can be no substitution without somebody foregoing the resource. A resource like phosphorus has no substitute. Factor X looks at the usage circularity of a resource before its loss and in the present world, a resource is used maybe one or two times before it is regarded as waste and Prof. Sverdrup has emphasised on a paradigm change to account for greater and efficient circularity.

Francesco La Camera, Director General of IRENA, has mentioned three different scenarios (planet energy, transformative and de-carbonisation) which can help create a resilient eco system. Under the first two scenarios, we can limit going beyond 2 degrees C whereas under the third model, we can limit to 1.5 degrees C. He terms end-use electrification, green hydrogen and synthetic fuels as critical factors in achieving climate and resource efficiency. To achieve zero emissions target, renewables along with less energy demand, energy and resource efficiency and use of bio energy are crucial.

All of the speakers have emphasised on speedier systemic change of the present working model, circular economy, recycling rate efficiency and closing loops in the chain, empowering consumers through better provision of information and alternative choices, integrated governance structure, stronger policies which will in turn drive the investment and decion making of policy makers. Resource taxation, levelling prices between different materials, proper reporting standards, integration of assessment tools in policies are some of the ways that the speakers have focussed on as the better implementation and achievement of our promised goals. All of them are hopeful of the New Green Deal and of the major step towards the integration of various aspects of frameworks, policies and governance structures with a grounded science-based approach.

Reported by: Shelly Debbarma, The Energy and Resources Institute, India.