UNIDO seminar: Minister Counsellor Silberberg on "Resource Efficiency in the Framework of Sustainable Development"

Apr 20, 2012

(Statement by Minister Counsellor Silberberg on “Resource Efficiency in the Framework of Sustainable Development: The German Resource Efficiency Program" - check against delivery)

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, Dear George,

It is a pleasure for me to participate in today´s seminar. Germany has decided to co-host this seminar with the governments of the Philippines and Switzerland and of course UNIDO, because we think that resource efficiency is key to sustainable development, and we thank UNIDO for its initiative and leadership in this process.

I have the honour today to give you a brief overview about the German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess), which was adopted only very recently by the Federal government (on February 29, 2012).

Natural resources, especially raw materials, are key production factors and the basis of our prosperity. More than 68 billion tons of raw materials were used worldwide in 2009. To give you an idea of the relevance of resource efficiency: This is around one third more than in 2000, two thirds more than in 1990 and about twice as much as at the end of the 1970s. With an estimated world population of over 9 billion people in 2050 and rapid economic growth mainly in developing countries and emerging economies, the demand for raw materials will continue to rise strongly.

This is a major challenge from an economic, ecological and social perspective for every country. Rising and volatile raw material prices and uncertainty about the availability of natural resources are placing a heavy strain also on the German economy. At the same time, resource use has impacts on the environment across the entire value chain, ranging from the release of greenhouse gases to inputs of pollutants into the air, water and soil that may damage ecosystems and biodiversity. The current use of natural resources is already exceeding by far our planet’s regenerative capacity.

More sustainable and more efficient use of increasingly expensive natural resources will therefore be a key competence for any society seeking to ensure its future viability. This is why Germany has a huge interest in promoting the necessary global transformation towards a resource-efficient economy, not least for the sake of its own economy. Improving resource efficiency limits environmental damage, strengthens the competitiveness of an economy, creates new jobs and secures long-term employment.

Germany already has demonstrated that decoupling economic growth and resource consumption is feasible: between 2000 and 2010 Germany saw significant economic growth of 20.8%, while resource consumption decreased by 11.1%.

The overall objective of the just adopted new German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess) is to structure the extraction and use of natural resources in a sustainable way and to reduce environmental pollution as far as possible. We are striving  to decouple economic growth as far as possible from resource use.

Therefore, the new programme covers the entire value chain. It is about securing a sustainable raw material supply, raising resource efficiency in production, making consumption more resource-efficient and enhancing resource-efficient closed cycle management.

The Programme analyses the opportunities and potentials of resource efficiency in Germany. It sets out guiding principles and objectives as well as potential indicators that can be used to measure progress in improving resource efficiency.

Furthermore, the Programme contains specific measures on the basis of an analysis of the entire value chain. Five strategic approaches are considered:

·        securing a sustainable raw material supply, for example by targeted expansion of the use of renewable resources as materials

·        raising resource efficiency in production, for example by the development and dissemination of resource- and energy-efficient production and processing methods, information on and promotion of the use of environmental management systems, as well as innovation through the integration of resource efficiency into product design

·        making consumption more resource-efficient, for example by creating public awareness and by the introduction of new certification schemes

·        enhancing resource-efficient closed cycle management, for example by optimising collection and recycling of resource-relevant bulk wastes and finally

·        by using overarching instruments as strengthening policy instruments for improving market-penetration of resource efficient products, abolishing subsidies which encourage resource consumption and by more research on resource efficient technologies.

Finally, the programme presents examples of material flows that are particularly relevant for the chosen strategic approaches and specify them in more concrete terms.

Let me share with you three concrete examples of what we are doing in Germany:

Example 1: Sustainable planning, construction and use of buildings.

The construction sector can contribute to a large extent to the protection of natural resources. In most countries the construction sector is one of the most resource-intensive economic sectors for three main reasons.

First, the construction of buildings requires large amounts of refined mineral commodities.

Second, it involves the occupation of large and previously untouched areas of land which of course has a significant impact on the environment.

Third and lastly, the subsequent occupation of these newly constructed buildings results in an important increase of natural resources' consumption. For example, the energy that is necessary to heat buildings in Germany amounts to 30 % of our total energy consumption.

In order to further illustrate how resource intensive this sector is please allow me to share an interesting figure with you: in Germany all the buildings, bridges, tunnels, streets, parking lots and other infrastructures necessary to maintain public services (such as power supply) contain around 50 billion tons of mineral commodities. This figure demonstrates the importance of recycling and reusing these natural resources, and we believe that every building should be perceived as an important stock of natural resources.

Architects, civil engineers and city planners play a key role in this regard, as they have to take into consideration the resource efficiency of heating, cooling, lighting and air conditioning of newly constructed buildings.

The German Resource Efficiency Programme therefore focuses on how to construct buildings by using fewer resources and on how to make buildings less dependent on energy.

Example 2: photovoltaic technology

The photovoltaic industry plays an increasingly important role in the world economy. While in 2010 there was a worldwide capacity of 40 GW of electrical power generated by photovoltaic technology, it is estimated that in 2030 this number will have increased five-fold to 200 GW .

However, the more our industry produces solar panels, the more we use natural resources such as aluminium, mineral glass, silicon, indium, silver and gallium. These substances are indeed indispensable for the production of solar panels and because of the ever-increasing demand their increasing scarcity becomes a serious concern. For example, the consumption of indium by the photovoltaic industry at the global level is expected to multiply by 285 between 2007 (1 ton) and 2030 (285 tons).

In order to reduce the consumption of these substances it is necessary to increase the efficiency of the solar panels' production and their output as well as to promote the recycling of rare substances.

Only if the photovoltaic industry proves capable of recycling used substances at a high rate, it can claim that it has considerably increased resource efficiency and thereby protected the environment as a whole. In order to meet this goal 184 European companies from the photovoltaic sector have launched an initiative called “PV Cycle” which intends to establish a programme for the recovery and recycling of used solar cells.

Example 3: electromobility.

The electrification of automotive engines plays also a very important role in transforming the German economy towards a “green economy”. By promoting this trend we would be efficiently integrating renewable energies into the economy and thereby lowering the carbon dioxide emission in respect of traffic-induced pollution.

Today, only around 2000 electric cars exist in Germany. In order to significantly increase this number and reach 1 million cars by 2020 the German Government has established the National Development Plan on Electromobility and the National Platform on Electromobility.

However, one needs to bear in mind that the production of electrically powered cars requires large amounts of scarce resources, such as lithium for the car's traction battery. The longterm supply of such resources in large quantities must be guaranteed before the automotive industry will start producing these cars. Once again, it is necessary to be reminded of the significance of recycling scarce resources.

This is why the German Government is funding several research projects and pilot installations that are dealing with both the supply and the recycling of scarce resources as well as the improvement of electric batteries' efficiency.

The German Resource Efficiency Programme does not mark the end; it is in fact the beginning of a new process in policymaking, science and society. Implementing the measures contained in the new Programme will require a high level of initiative and activities by many people as well as close cooperation between politics, industry, science and civil society. It will also need public commitment. The programme aims to provide sound and long-term orientation for all stakeholders. Implementing this programme will contribute to the conservation of the ecological foundations of life, economic growth and long-term employment, and will safeguard the prospects of prosperity for future generations.

© GermanyUN