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Background


 

“We need to break the links between economic growth and environmental degradation”

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP

Humanity depends on the Earth’s natural resources for its survival and prosperity.

Water, soil, energy, minerals and metals underpin our civilization and its future; they feed us, shelter us and provide for our material needs throughout our lives.

Strong growth in both the human population and world economic demand over the past half century is now causing global depletion in these vital resources, with potential for serious scarcities in the years ahead.

For example, the Global Footprint Network estimates that humanity now uses the ecological resources of 1.5 Earths to support our present demands. They project that, at present rates of resource consumption, we will need two planets by 2030 and three by 2050.

Accelerating resource depletion poses a fundamental risk to the economic, social and environmental systems on which civilisation relies. It also offers significant opportunities.

There is therefore an urgent need to:

  • Reduce the volume of resources used worldwide
  • Do ‘more with less’, lift efficiency and improve rates of recycling
  • Use resources in ways that cause less harm to the environment
  • Decouple economic growth from environmental impacts
  • Develop new ways to use scarce resources more efficiently
  • Move the world towards a ‘green economy’

Who we are

The International Resource Panel (IRP) was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2007 to build and share the knowledge needed to improve our use of resources worldwide.

The Panel consists of eminent scientists, highly skilled in resource management issues. Their reports distil the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic findings around global resource use. They provide advice and connections between policymakers, industry and the community on ways to improve global and local resource management. The Panel includes scientists and governments from both developed and developing regions, civil society, industrial and international organisations.

The Panel’s goal is to steer us away from overconsumption, waste and ecological harm to a more prosperous and sustainable future.

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 ...