US and Europe behind majority of global ecological damage, says study

Groundbreaking report is first to assign responsibility for damage caused by 160 countries in past 50 years

By Arthur Neslen
Apr 6, 2023

The US and Europe are responsible for the majority of global ecological damage caused by the overuse of natural resources, according to a groundbreaking study.

The paper is the first to analyse and assign responsibility for the ecological damage caused by 160 countries over the last half century.

It finds that the US is the biggest culprit, accounting for 27% of the world’s excess material use, followed by the EU (25%), which included the UK during the analysis period. Other rich countries such as Australia, Canada, Japan and Saudi Arabia were collectively responsible for 22%.

While China overshot its sustainability limit to claim 15% of resource overuse, the poorer countries of the global south were en masse responsible for just 8%, the analysis found.

“High-income nations are the primary drivers of global ecological breakdown and they need to urgently reduce their resource use to fair and sustainable levels,” it says.

Because of the ecological debt they owe the rest of the world, “these nations need to take the lead in making radical reductions in their resource use to avoid further degradation, which will likely require transformative post-growth and degrowth approaches,” the study published in the journal Lancet Planetary Health adds.

Its lead author, Prof Jason Hickel of the the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (ICTA-UAB) in Barcelona, said the findings were dramatic and disturbing.

“We were all shocked by the sheer scale of the high-income nations’ contribution to excess resource use,” he told the Guardian. “We didn’t expect it to be so high. If they are now to achieve sustainable levels, they need to reduce their resource use by about 70% on average from existing levels.”

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