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By the beginning of the 21st century, the Asia-Pacific region had become the world’s largest user of natural resources, surpassing North America and Europe. The region’s population growth, increase in affluence and technological progress contributed to the increasing use of resources. A rapid shifting of the regional economy from an agrarian to industrial footing has changed the traditional ways of producing and consuming resources, leading to that considerable increase.
A report from UNEP noted that the Asia-Pacific region’s domestic material consumption (DMC) for 1970 to 2005 grew by 4.9 percent annually, while the rate of increase for the rest of the world (ROW) was only 0.5 percent. For the last three-and-a-half decades, the region’s consumption of biomass has doubled, whereas its use of non-renewable resources increased six fold. Resources consumption per capita grew rapidly. In the mid-1980s, the people of the Asia-Pacific region consumed only about one-third of the rest of the word; presently, we are consuming as much as those in industrial nations.
The Asia-Pacific region’s DMC figures brought about a concern for efficient resource use and its impact on the environment, such as waste, depletion, loss in biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, etc. For instance, the Asia-Pacific region’s emissions have grown at a faster rate than any other part of the world; China, Japan, India and Indonesia are now among the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.
Lagging its Asian neighbors, Indonesia is following a similar trend of consuming more and more natural resources. Indonesia’s transition from an agricultural society to a more industrial one has been reflected by, among other things, in significant changes in our DMC and Total Primary Energy Supply (TPES).
In the early 1970s, biomass dominated our DMC; currently its share has been largely reduced, surpassed by the increasing use of construction and industrial minerals and fossil fuels. Indonesia’s TPES is changing significantly from non-hydro renewables to fossil fuels, such as oil, natural gas and coal. In terms of the amounts consumed, our DMC and TPES have increased by about five fold.
One of the important issues is how efficient we are in using these natural resources. Have we consumed them at a lesser rate than our economic growth, meaning that we use those valuable natural resources in a productive way? Data suggest that while our labor productivity has improved, our material and energy productivity have been lagging.
While many Asia-Pacific countries are net resource-importing countries, luckily we have in our own territory a wealth of natural resources. We are one of the limited natural resource exporters in the region, exporting fossil fuels, mineral ores and forest and marine products.
However, as the nation’s DMC and TPES grow, its status as a resource-exporting country will be challenged substantially, such as in fossil fuel use. On the other side, we see that our imports of metals and many other manufactured goods are increasing incessantly.
The continuous increase of DMC and TPES brings consequences as well as new challenges. As we are dreaming of sustainable economic growth, we need to address the issue of resource efficiency and productivity more seriously.
The first task is providing statistics on resource use and monitoring indicators. Our experience in developing environmental-related statistics teaches us that such tasks are not simple, especially when implemented at the local level. Expertise and new institutions may be needed to carry out this basic task.
Other tasks are to speed-up the development of comprehensive policies on resource efficiency and reducing environmental damage from resources exploitation. The popular 3-R concept (reduce, reuse and recycle) has to be included in such a policy.
We might have implemented a similar 3-R concept from local wisdom; nevertheless, as demand for more consumption goods challenges our resource efficiency and productivity, we need to remember old wisdom.
Further, policies have to address the resource value chains from a life-cycle perspective, including how to implement sustainable resource consumption and production.
Indonesia actually has a concern for resource efficiency and sustainability. The nation’s long term national development plan for 2005 to 2025 mandates improved development management and balancing the availability, use and sustainability of natural resources and environment. The mandate, however, has to be translated into many regulations for many sectors and come with detailed implementation plans.
Although natural resource efficiency is not a new idea, only recently has the world explored the concept more widely. We’re not too late; we might learn and work together with global and regional institutions dealing with resource efficiency issues to develop our approach towards making better resource efficiency and productivity in Indonesia.
The writer, a senior planner with the National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS), is currently a research fellow at Harvard University.