High-Level Political Forum Goals in Focus

Goal 12: Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

How societies use and manage their natural resources fundamentally shapes their quality of life. One of the core objectives of the 2030 Agenda is to decouple economic growth from resource use and environmental degradation, notably through improved resource efficiency, while improving people’s well-being. This can occur through a shift towards more sustainable consumption and production patterns. Such a shift requires national public policies that create conducive environments, social and physical infrastructure and markets, and a transformation of business practices along global value chains.

Photo Credit : © UNDP Picture This/Joydeep Mukherjee

The material footprint of developing countries has grown, but is still far smaller than that of developed countries

The "material footprint" of an economy refers to the total amount of raw materials extracted globally—across the entire supply chain—to meet that economy's final consumption demand. People rely on such materials to meet basic needs—for food, clothing, water, shelter, infrastructure and many other aspects of life. Across much of the developing world, an increase in the material footprint is required to enhance the living standards of growing populations. At the same time, it is important to decrease reliance on raw materials and increase their recycling to reduce environmental pressure and impact.

The per-capita material footprint of developing countries grew from five metric tons in 2000 to nine metric tons in 2017, representing a significant improvement in material standard of living. Most of the increase is attributed to a rise in the use of non-metallic minerals, pointing to growth in the areas of infrastructure and construction.

For all types of materials, developed countries have at least double the per-capita footprint of developing countries. In particular, the material footprint for fossil fuels is more than four times higher for developed than developing countries. Because fossil fuels directly impact the environment in various ways, the need to decouple their use from economic growth is key to achieving sustainable consumption and production.

Extraction of raw materials in the developing world is supporting the consumption patterns of richer nations

Domestic material consumption (DMC) refers to materials extracted within a country for use in production processes. Material footprint, on the other hand, takes into account resources found within a country or imported, and is calculated on the basis of final demand. If the DMC is higher than the material footprint, it indicates that a country is exporting materials, usually minerals or biomass. Conversely, if the DMC is lower, it suggests that materials are being imported.

Over the last two decades, DMC has risen rapidly in developing countries to meet the material needs of a growing population and to support improved standards of living. The data also show that a large gap exists between the DMC and the material footprint of both developed and developing countries, but in opposite directions. This implies that at least some of the materials extracted from developing countries are being used to satisfy the consumption habits of developed countries. Although developed countries have not increased either their total material footprint or their DMC, they have not been able to close the gap between their DMC and material footprint.

In part prompted by the SDGs, more and more countries are developing policies to promote sustainable consumption and production

Sustainable consumption and production policies are a key mechanism for improving living standards without compromising the resource needs of future generations. Such policies aim to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation, increase resource efficiency and promote more sustainable lifestyles.

The development of such instruments has intensified through the adoption of Agenda 2030. In 2018, 71 countries plus the European Union reported on macroeconomic policies or other regulatory, voluntary or economic instruments that supported the shift towards sustainable consumption and production patterns across their economies or specific sectors. Taking into account information collected from previous surveys, a total of 108 countries have or had national policies and initiatives relevant to this shift. Europe has taken the lead in that movement, having initiated nearly half of the policy instruments identified, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa.

Countries with national policies and initiatives relevant to sustainable consumption and production, 2015-2018

More multinationals and other large companies are reporting on sustainability, but the practice needs to expand to smaller enterprises

A sustainability report by a company provides information on the economic, environmental and social impacts of its activities. Sustainability reporting is an important tool for corporate transparency and accountability, one that plays a key role in attaining the Goals of the 2030 Agenda. While still relatively new, sustainability reporting is gaining momentum, driven by new private sector partnerships to achieve the SDGs along with growing interest from companies (especially large companies), regulators, investors and other stakeholders. According to a recent report from KPMG, 93 per cent of the world’s 250 largest companies (in terms of revenue) are now reporting on sustainability, as are three quarters of the top 100 companies in 49 countries.

That said, more methodological work is required to develop a set of core corporate sustainability indicators and align these with overall SDG monitoring. The main challenges are to integrate environmental, social and governance reporting into existing company financial and non-financial reporting models; facilitate harmonization of sustainability reporting requirements and practices; and assure the comparability and reliability of information and data provided by companies on non-financial issues. Another challenge is the lack of expertise and resources for reporting by small and medium-sized enterprises, which play a key role in some economies, especially in developing countries.