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Efficient recycling of materials a challenge for natural resources policy

What natural resources are the focus of global interest? Why are people so interested in water? What are the objectives of the European Resources Strategy? What will be Finland’s critical and strategic natural resources in the future? The work on the National Natural Resources Strategy will assess the basic strategic principles and key questions of the use of natural resources.


What natural resources are the focus of global interest? Why are people so interested in water? What are the objectives of the European Resources Strategy? What will be Finland’s critical and strategic natural resources in the future? The work on the National Natural Resources Strategy will assess the basic strategic principles and key questions of the use of natural resources.

Finland can choose its role among global natural resource actors: does Finland aim to predict the future or react to changes that have already happened?

The seminar in December, which supported the preparation of the National Natural Resources Strategy, focused on the contents of the national natural resources policy and Finland’s strategic principles in issues concerning natural resources.

A recycling economy – the challenge for an international natural resources policy

“The European Union has taken the initiative in policy on natural resources. The objectives of the EU’s Resources Strategy are decoupling the use of natural resources from economic growth, increasing the effectiveness of natural resources and examining natural resources issues from a global perspective. The strategy will review the issues from the perspective of life cycle thinking,” says Director Timo Mäkelä of the Commission’s Environment Directorate-General on the EU’s priority axes.

Mäkelä also stressed the importance of a recycling economy in future questions on raw materials. Last autumn, the Commission published the EU’s initiative on raw materials, the aim of which is to ensure the availability of raw materials for the EU from global markets and to promote the efficient use and recycling of natural resources within the EU.

“The debate on natural resources cannot avoid the tensions between developing and industrial countries and also those countries possessing natural resources and those that use them. We need a global natural resources policy. The work of the UN Panel on Natural Resources, which has been working for around a year, has emphasised global metal flows, biofuels and water resources. Basic information is inadequate or lacking with respect to metal flows, whereas new information and the results of syntheses on biofuels are becoming available all the time. Water resources, on the other hand, are critical to humanity and the use of water is essentially interlinked with the use of other natural resources,” stated Lea Kauppi, Secretary General of the Finnish Environment Institute and a member of the UNEP International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management (Resource Panel).

The Resource Panel compiles, analyses and performs syntheses on the sustainable use of natural resources and on the environmental impacts over the full life cycle of the use. In addition to this, scientific observations will be revised to provide advice and recommendations for governments and non-governmental organisations.

Current strategies focus on renewable natural resources

“The flow of materials through Finland is considerable. Half of the materials needed for production and end-use in Finland come from outside the country’s borders and around half from Finland’s own natural environment. Similarly, half (54%) of the materials used for production in Finland goes for export and half is used in Finland,” explained Sirkka Koskela, a senior researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute. “Improving the eco-efficiency of industry and establishing the current level for international comparisons are some of the challenges for Finland in the near future. The key questions are also improving Finland’s energy efficiency and energy saving,” stated Koskela.

“Few strategies relating to natural resources take a position on reducing the use of any particular natural resource. On the other hand, the principle of reduction was emphasised most of all with respect to the use of non-renewable natural resources. In addition, the efficient use of materials and energy from natural resources, together with environmental protection and ensuring the environmental bearing capacity were emphasised in objectives to reduce the use of natural resources,” says Alina Pathan from Gaia Consulting Oy on the nineteen national or international strategies relating to the use of natural resources that were under review.

“Strategies on individual natural resources have mainly been drawn up on renewable natural resources, while there are few strategies dealing with non-renewable natural resources or they don’t exist at all, for example with respect to minerals, peat and extractable soil resources. The strategies also do not contain analyses of the identified critical natural resources. All in all, there has only been a limited comprehensive review, comparison and analysis of natural resources and there are practically no integrated natural resource strategies,” states Pathan.

“The National Natural Resources Strategy that is being drawn up will meet the need for our country to have a comprehensive strategy that considers all natural resources to meet the future challenges,” says Sirkka Hautojärvi, who chairs the strategy work.

Finland’s strategic and critical natural resources

The importance of strategic and critical natural resources has been examined in the expert network that has been asked to support the strategy work. .

“Renewable natural resources are a strategic resource for Finland. We can achieve competitive advantage and success by combining the sustainable use of renewable natural resources and the safeguarding of natural resources with people’s knowledge. Natural resources have an owner and a price, so it must be possible to commercialise new products and services,” says forestry expert Lea Jylhä from MTK, the Central Union of Agricultural Producers and Forest Owners.

“Ecosystem services should be developed over the long term through extensive cooperation. It is not clear which natural resources will be critical and which strategically important in 50–100 years time. Therefore, the use of natural resources should aim to safeguard the ability of ecosystems to function and regenerate,” states Environment Counsellor Sauli Rouhinen from the Ministry of the Environment as one response to the challenge of the sufficiency of natural resources.

“Finland needs a natural resources strategy because the country is rich in raw materials, and the availability of raw materials and the price of natural resources will be fundamental to Finland in the long term. Finland’s well-being is based on its competitive and profitable export industry,” says Benny Hasenson, an expert from the Confederation of Finnish Industries EK, on the importance of questions concerning natural resources. .

The preparations for the National Natural Resources Strategy will continue with the specification of the methods and development projects. The strategy is being drawn up through extensive cooperation with policy-makers, administration, the business world, research, organisations and the media. Sitra’s role in the strategy work is to design, coordinate and report on the work process. The results of the work will be presented to Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen in spring 2009.

Further information:

Sitra’s Natural Resources Strategy website »