The FINANCIAL — In the European Union (EU), resource productivity increased from 1.53 €/kg in 2002 to 1.95 €/kg in 2014, an increase of 27.8% in real terms. This was not however a steady increase. After remaining relatively stable between 2002 and the beginning of the economic and financial crisis, resource productivity in the EU increased considerably from 2008 to 2010, before dropping in 2011, and growing again since then.
Resource productivity quantifies the relation between economic activity (GDP) and the consumption of natural resources (domestic material consumption – DMC) and sheds light on how efficiently natural resources are used. Between 2002 and 2008, GDP and domestic material consumption grew in parallel in the EU, leading to relatively constant resource productivity. Since 2008, domestic material consumption has fallen considerably, while GDP has grown more moderately, leading to a noticeable increase in resource productivity. In other words, since 2008, the EU has been doing more with less.
Knowledge of the amount of resources used by a given socioeconomic system is very important for the purpose of understanding the interaction between this system and the environment. The use of material resources indeed plays a crucial role in the generation of environmental pressures, from the extraction of natural resources for production and consumption activities to materials released into the environment by the economic system, e.g. disposal of waste and greenhouse gas emissions. Moving towards a circular economy is at the heart of the resource efficiency agenda established under the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Resource productivity highest in Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom
The level of resource productivity varies widely between the EU Member States, depending on countries’ natural endowments, the diversity of their industrial activities, the role played by the services sector and by construction activities, the scale and patterns of consumption and the different energy sources. In 2014, the highest resource productivity was recorded in Luxembourg (3.94 €/kg), followed by the Netherlands (3.82 €/kg), the United Kingdom (3.28 €/kg), Italy (2.89 €/kg), Spain (2.69 €/kg) and France (2.60 €/kg). At the opposite end of the scale, seven Member States registered resource productivity lower than 1 €/kg: Bulgaria (0.30 €/kg), Romania (0.32 €/kg), Estonia (0.42 €/kg), Latvia (0.49 €/kg), Poland (0.61 €/kg), Lithuania (0.65 €/kg) and Hungary (0.89 €/kg).
Largest growth in resource productivity in Spain and Ireland
Compared with 2002, most of the EU Member States have seen their resource productivity in 2014 rise, with the highest increases being observed in Spain (+123.9%), Ireland (+96.7%), Slovenia (+67.6%), Slovakia (+60.6%), Cyprus (+57.8%) and Italy (+56.9%). In contrast, decreases were recorded in Estonia (-19.7%), Malta (-18.6%), Romania (-8.3%), Sweden (-2.1%) and Lithuania (-1.1%).
Resource productivity mainly driven by a fall in DMC in most Member States
An analysis of the resource productivity components helps to explain these developments. Overall across Member States, the increase in resource productivity from 2002 to 2014 has been mainly driven by a fall in domestic material consumption. The Member States recording the highest increases in resource productivity were generally also those where domestic material consumption decreased the most. This was particularly the case for Spain (DMC halved between 2002 and 2014), Italy (-38.4%) and Ireland (-33.2%). Only in Bulgaria, Latvia and Poland did resource productivity improve despite a significant increase in domestic material consumption as in these three Member States, GDP grew even faster.
Conversely, in all Member States where resource productivity decreased between 2002 and 2014, domestic material consumption significantly increased over the same period, notably in Estonia (DMC has grown by 80.6% between 2002 and 2014), Romania (+62.3%), Malta (+61.4%), Lithuania (+59.8%) and Sweden (+28.7%).