Our Future: Sustainable
Consumption and Production
Achieving sustainable patterns of consumption and production is critical if we are to overcome the triple planetary crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution and waste.
This requires a fundamental transformation in our economies and societies. One that puts human wellbeing and the ability for all people to thrive as its main objective, and is underpinned by resource-efficient, low-carbon, non-polluting consumption and production patterns.
In our global and interconnected economic system, value chains for the goods and services we produce and consume reach across multiple countries. International cooperation is therefore essential.
The transition to sustainable consumption and production depends upon concerted and aligned efforts across the world and from all parts of society; with policy, finance, business, communities and individuals working together at the global, national, city and local level.
It means acknowledging the common but differentiated responsibility of developed and developing countries, and the role of developed countries to take the lead. While ensuring a just transition that supports countries, sectors and communities to shift toward sustainability.
The 10-Year Framework of Programmes and its One Planet network provide a frame and platform for the global, multi-stakeholder and action-oriented movement needed to achieve this shift to sustainable consumption and production.
All relevant countries, organisations, alliances, platforms and partnerships are invited to join hands in this vital transformation for the 2030 Agenda.
Our world today: Unsustainable Consumption and Production
The current unsustainable patterns of consumption and production that prevail throughout the world today are dependent on extracting, processing, using and disposing of an ever-increasing amount of natural resources from the planet, and causing ever-increasing environmental damage.
Despite decades of warnings, the amount of materials used in production and consumption continues to rise at the global level and the rate at which materials are being extracted globally is outpacing both population and economic growth, meaning we are using more materials and less efficiently. If business as usual continues, global resource extraction will increase 110% by 2060.
As a consequence, today's unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are driving the three planetary crises we are currently facing: climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution.
These three crises threaten the wellbeing and prosperity of all people, and put at risk the food we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink and the materials and resources upon which our societies, economies and nations are built, and upon which our livelihoods, families and communities depend. This risk is also unevenly distributed across the world, reinforcing global inequality and threatening the achievement of the entire 2030 Agenda.
Unsustainable patterns of consumption and production are perpetuated by a number of factors including:
- The linear ‘take, make, use, discard’ model that sees products made to have short lifetimes using 'virgin' materials, often with ‘built-in obsolescence’ meaning they are designed to be thrown away and replaced with new products rather than repaired. A lack of producer responsibility means that the disposal of waste at the end of a product’s lifetime becomes the responsibility of the individual, community or the state, so there is little incentive for producers to make products sustainably.
- Economic models that prioritise exponentially increasing the amount of goods and services that are produced and consumed in an economy. Within the current unsustainable patterns of consumption and production that exist today, this means also increasing exponentially the amount of natural resources that are used and the environmental impacts that are caused.
- The ‘externalisation’ of the costs of environment damage such as natural-resource depletion and environmental impacts like climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution, all of which are caused by the activities of producing and consuming goods and services. The cost of these 'external' harms is not included in the price of producing or consuming goods and services, but instead paid by the wider community and the state, making it 'cheaper' to be unsustainable. Some unsustainable production and consumption is even made more affordable, such as through fossil-fuel subsidies.
A global perspective for a global economy
Within our global economy, many goods are produced in one country, where the natural-resource use and environmental impacts take place, and consumed in another country, where people use and benefit from the product far from its environmental consequences.
- This is why it's important to not only consider the natural-resource use and environmental impacts associated with what a country produces, but also with what a country consumes.
An individual product may be produced across several countries, for example extracting raw materials such as minerals and metals in one country, then undergoing processing in another country, being manufactured in a third country, and finally consumed in a fourth, with the product waste sometimes sent to different country.
- Sustainable consumption and production must therefore consider the entire value chain of goods and services, including a systemic analysis of drivers and barriers to sustainability along the different stages of the value chain.
A country’s material footprint, or how much natural resources that country uses in the goods and services it produces, is often connected to its level of income or economic development. As countries develop and become more wealthy, the composition of their economy changes.
For example, the economies of wealthy countries are often comprised of more ‘tertiary’ industries or 'services', such as finance, communication or retail, which generally don’t use as much natural resources or produce as many environmental impacts.
On the other hand, poorer and middle-income countries are more likely to have economies that are comprised of 'primary' industries such as mining, agriculture and forestry, or 'secondary' industries such as processing and manufacturing, which have a higher contribution to natural-resource use and environmental impacts.
- However, the final consumers of the goods produced in the primary and secondary industries in poor and middle-income countries are often the people living in wealthy countries.
Globalisation also means that companies in wealthy countries sometimes relocate parts of their operations to poorer countries where labour or material inputs are cheaper. However, this can mean offshoring natural-resource use and environmental impacts too, and shifting the burden of unsustainable production and consumption from wealthy countries to poor countries.
- Visit the Sustainable Consumption and Production Hotspot Analysis Tool to explore more data on country material footprint and environmental impacts.