Raw Material Demand Seen at 140 Billion Tons by 2050

Global use of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass will reach 140 billion metric tons a year by 2050, three times what it was in 2000, according to the United Nations’ Environment Program’s International Resouce Panel.

Available water supplies will likely only satisfy 60 percent of global demand in 20 years, the panel said in a report today. Many industries may be affected by shortages of some “key” metals in 50 years, it said.

Raw-material costs have climbed as surging consumption led by growth in China boosted demand for copper to oil. Metal prices rose 176 percent since 2000, rubber surged 350 percent and energy is 260 percent higher, according to the report.

The 140 billion tons of consumption seen by 2050 most likely exceeds all existing available resources and the limits of the planet to absorb the impacts of their use, it said. There could be as much as $3.7 trillion saved each year through increased productivity of resources, the panel said.

“Business as usual is not an option,” the European Union Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik said in a statement accompanying the report. “Rising commodity prices mark the end of an era of cheap and abundant resources. Improving resource efficiency is a way out of the crisis.”

Energy and water efficiency could be improved by as much as 80 percent in industries from construction to agriculture, according to the report. Energy use in smelting zinc, tin, copper and lead could be reduced by 40 percent with advanced furnace technology, it said.

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