Cross-Cutting Publications

Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity (2016)


Summary for Policy Makers ENGLISH
Assessment Report ENGLISH


Growing concern about assuring affordable, equitable and environmentally sustainable access to natural resources is well founded. Global use of natural resources has accelerated during the past decade and emissions and waste have grown in line with growing extraction of natural resources. Monitoring natural resource use and decoupling economic growth from natural resource use will be instrumental in meeting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. In this new report we show global natural resource use trends over four decades and propose indicators for evidence-based policy formulation. The data and indicators presented address resource requirements of production and consumption for the globe, for seven world regions and for every country. The indicators are good proxies for global environmental impact and material standard of living. They vary immensely between countries and regions and show vast challenges and opportunities ahead as we transition to a prosperous, equitable and environmentally-friendly global society.

Resource Efficiency: Potential and Economic Implications (2016)


Summary Report ENGLISH
Summary Report Errata Note ENGLISH


Despite enormous progress in the past decades towards improving human prosperity and well-being, this has come at the lasting cost of degradation of the natural environment and depletion of natural resources. Meeting the needs of a growing and increasingly affluent population, will require natural resource extraction to increase from 85 to 186 billion tonnes by 2050. This can cause irreversible environmental damage and endanger the capacity of Earth to continue to provide resources which are essential for human survival and development.

Analysis in the report shows that policies and initiatives to improve resource efficiency and tackle climate change can reduce global resource extraction by up to 28 per cent while also boosting the value of world economic activity by 1 per cent in 2050, against the baseline. Such policy actions can also cut global greenhouse gas emissions by around 60 per cent in 2050 relative to 2015 levels.

This report has been produced by the UNEP’s International Resource Panel in response to a request by leaders of the G7 nations in the context of efforts to promote resource efficiency as a core element of sustainable development. The report conducts a rigorous survey to assess and articulate the prospects and solutions for resource efficiency. It considers how more efficient use of resources can contribute to economic growth, employment and development, at the same time as reducing the world’s use of materials, energy, biomass and water, and the resulting environmental impacts.

The report documents many examples of best practices for increasing the resource efficiency of different sectors from countries around the world. The challenge for policy-makers is to learn from and scale up these good practices, and to conceive and implement a set of transformative policies that will enable countries to reap the associated social, environmental and economic benefits. Ambitious action to use resources in a more efficient and sustainable manner can help place the world on the right track to meet its commitments under the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and thereby to realise a more equitable and sustainable future.

Responsible Resource Management for a Sustainable World: Findings from the International Resource Panel (2012)

Full report ENGLISH


 This synopsis highlights key findings from the following reports of the International Resource Panel: A) Priority products and materials: assessing the environmental impacts of consumption and production; B) Decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth; C) Metal Stocks in Society; D) Recycling Rates of Metals; and E) Assessing biofuels: towards sustainable production and use of resources. Over the next two years, the IRP will deepen its assessments of consumption and production, decoupling, metals and biomass. It will deliver further reports on water, soil and land use and environmental impacts of trade.

The knowledge base that the IRP provides supports policy makers and business leaders as they embark on the journey of decoupling economic activity from resource use and emissions to enable the global economy to operate within the limits of the Earth’s resources, climate and ecosystems, while providing equal opportunity and wellbeing to a projected nine billion people on this planet.

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Reports & Publications

  • Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Land Resources: Evaluation Systems, Strategies and Tools

    Land resources are one of nature’s most precious gifts. They feed us and help our societies and economies to thrive. Some 2.5 billion agricultural smallholders worldwide....

  • Food systems and natural resources

    Global food systems have radically changed over the last 50 years. Food production has more than  doubled, diets have become more varied (and often more energy-intense) satisfying people’s preferences ...

  • Options for Decoupling Economic Growth from Water Use and Water Pollution

    Global trends point to a relative decoupling of water – that is, the rate of water resource use is increasing at a rate slower than that of economic growth. The Options for Decoupling Economic Growth from...

  • Green energy choices: The benefits, risks and trade-offs of low-carbon technologies for electricity production

    This report represents the first in-depth international comparative assessment of the environmental, health and resource impacts of different low-carbon technologies for electricity production… ...

  • International Trade in Resources: A Biophysical Assessment                                                                                                                          

    This latest report from the IRP analyses the role of international trade in increasing resource efficiency, reducing environmental impact and promoting equitable and inclusive growth? ...

  • Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption with Sustainable Supply

    This report explores how the management of land-based biomass production and consumption can be developed towards a higher degree of sustainability across different scales: from the sustainable...

  • Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials

    This report focuses not on the effects of environmental pressure, but on its causes. It describes pressures as resulting from economic activities. These activities are pursued for a purpose, ...

  • City Level Decoupling: Urban Resource Flows and the Governance of Infrastructure Transitions

    This report examines the potential for decoupling at the city level. While the majority of the worlds population now live in cities and cities are where most resource consumption takes place, ...

  • Measuring Water Use in a Green Economy

    Water is an essential resource for virtually all aspects of human enterprise, from agriculture via urbanization to energy and industrial production. Equally, the many uses for water create pressures...

  • Decoupling Natural Resources Use and Environmental Impacts from Economic Growth

    Humankind has witnessed phenomenal economic and social development in the past century. However, there are increasing signs that it has come at a cost to the environment and to the availability of ...

  • Towards Sustainable Production and Use of Resources: Assessing Biofuels

    This report provides an overview of the key problems and perspectives and use of biofuels. It is based on an extensive literature study, taking into account recent major reviews.

  • Building Natural Capital: How REDD+ can Support a Green Economy

    This report advocates placing REDD+ into a larger planning framework that should involve multiple influences (especially those driving deforestation, albeit sometimes inadvertently).

  • Decoupling 2: Technologies, Opportunities and Policy Options

    This report was produced by the Decoupling Working Group of the IRP. It explores technological possibilities and opportunities for both developing and developed countries to ...

  • Metal Stocks in Society: Scientific Synthesis

    The continued increase in the use of metals over the twentieth century has led to a substantial shift from geological resource base to metal stocks in society. This report reviews the relevant literature on this topic.

  • Recycling Rates of Metals: A Status Report

    In theory, metals can be used over and over again, minimizing the need to mine and process virgin materials and thus saving substantial amounts of energy and water while minimizing environmental ...

  • Environmental Risks and Challenges of Anthropogenic Metals Flows and Cycles

    This report focuses on the impact of metals on the environment as well as on their life cycle energy use. Currently primary metals production is responsible for 78 % of the total global energy use ...

  • Metal Recycling: Opportunities, Limits, Infrastructure

    A key question that relates to the very broad and intensive use of metals is whether society needs to be concerned about long-term supplies of any or many of them. This is a many-faceted question ...