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Doing more with less: evaluating our consumption and production.

Edie Purdie's picture
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This is part of a series of blogs focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and data from the 2016 Edition of World Development Indicators.  Chris Sall and Esther Naikal co-authored this blog.

A third of all energy is used to produce food but a third of food is lost or wasted. Saving a quarter of this lost food would be enough to feed 870 million people. “Doing more and better with less” means meeting the basic needs of people and promoting a better quality of life while also cutting harmful waste and pollution.   Using natural resources more efficiently is also a way to improve. Sustainable Development Goal 12 seeks to ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Managing natural resources efficiently

Adjusted net savings (ANS) is an indicator of efficient use of natural assets (target 12.2). It measures the difference between national production and consumption—the change in a country’s wealth. Adjusted net savings takes into account investment in human capital, depreciation of fixed capital, depletion of natural resources, and pollution damage. Positive savings form the basis for building wealth and future growth. Negative savings rates suggest declining wealth and unsustainable development. ANS is especially useful for gauging whether countries that depend heavily on natural resources are balancing the depletion of their natural resources by investing rents in other forms of productive capital, such as through education. Low- and lower middle-income countries with the highest level of resource dependence also tend to have the lowest savings rates.

The causes and extents of food loss varies across regions

Meeting the food needs of a growing global population while reducing food loss and waste (target 12.3) poses a serious challenge. Food loss is defined as a decrease in quantity or quality of food at any stage of the food supply chain, from the point at which it is harvested or made to the point it is eaten. Food waste occurs when edible food reaches the consumer but expires, is thrown away, or is otherwise neglected and not eaten. The extent of food loss varies greatly by income group and region. In the high-income countries of North America and East Asia and Pacific, the equivalent of more than 1,500 calories of food per person per day is lost, mostly through food waste. By contrast, in Sub-Saharan Africa the equivalent of 414 calories per person per day is lost, mostly during the process of production, handling, and storage, before food reaches the market.

High-income countries tend to have higher amounts of hazardous waste

Sustainable Development Goal 12 aims to reduce the release of chemicals and wastes into the environment and to minimize their adverse impacts on human health (target 12.4). A partial inventory of more than 3,000 toxic sites around the world found that the health of as many as 200 million people living near these sites may be affected. Per capita generation of hazardous waste nearly doubled worldwide between the late 1990s and the late 2000s. In middle-income countries per capita hazardous waste generation rose from 17 kilograms between 1996 and 2000 to 42 kilograms between 2006 and 2011 (these figures exclude Kazakhstan, which reportedly generated 40.7 tons of hazardous waste per capita in 2010). However, high-income non–Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries continue to generate the most hazardous waste, 981 kilograms per capita between 2006 and 2011. Hazardous waste generation by low-income countries was 7 kilograms per capita over the same period.

Fossil fuel subsidies dominated by high-income countries

Sustainable Development Goal 12 calls for rationalizing inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies (target 12.3) though there is some debate over how this should be measured. The International Monetary Fund provides a comprehensive estimate of subsidies by including not only the difference between the final price consumers pay and international market prices, but also the environmental and social costs of local pollution, road traffic, and climate change. When compared as a percentage of GDP, subsidies in the upper middle income countries are highest at nearly 14 percent of GDP, followed by lower-middle income and non-OECD high-income countries at around 11 percent of GDP).