Who we are

The International Resource Panel was launched by the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) 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 organizations.

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

Mission and Vision

With a forecast human population of 9.2 billion by 2050 accompanied by continuing world economic growth, the International Resource Panel  has the urgent task of helping to transform how we use, and re-use, resources.

We are confident it is possible to move to a new worldwide system of resource use that is socially equitable, economically efficient, and environmentally healthy – a system called by some the ‘green economy’.

The Panel’s specific mission is to:

  • provide independent, coherent and authoritative scientific assessments of policy relevance on the sustainable use of natural resources and, in particular, their environmental impacts over the full life cycle; and

  • contribute to a better understanding of how to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation.

Principles

The Panel upholds the following principles:

  • Objectivity – critical, unbiased reviews of the best available science.

  • Integrity– Panel members uphold the integrity of the scientific process and identify any conflicts of interest.

  • Independence – Panel members yield to no political pressure and carry out independent and impartial scientific assessments.

  • Balance – the Panel includes a diversity of expertise, gender and cultural background.

  • Scientific Rigour – the Panel uses only robust, credible data and methodologies, and the best available science and technology.

  • Systemic and Holistic – the Panel addresses complex interactive risks.

  • Inclusive – the Panel is sensitive to prevailing global views on resource management and environment sustainability.

The IRP’s reports are founded on three qualities:

  • Relevance: the Panel responds in a timely way to demands for scientific information and policy options to manage resources sustainably and avoid scarcities. Our work covers the entire process of assessment from identifying critical resource issues to analyzing and articulating their status, drivers and effective responses, and communicating them to the right audiences.

  • Credibility: the Panel bases its assessments and advice on the latest and most reliable peer-reviewed science available internationally, from trusted institutions.

  • Legitimacy: our advice takes into account issues of perceived fairness, balance, transparency, political acceptability, accessibility and trust.

Strategies

In order to develop better ways to manage human well-being, economic growth, environmental degradation and resource depletion, the Panel’s approach includes:

  • identifying global issues of sustainability in need of independent scientific assessment;

  • building scientific teams capable of working at the cutting edge of those issues;

  • assessing the existing science to achieve new insights and potential for action;

  • producing reports and documents tailored to the needs of different audiences; and

  • generating reports and advice of the highest quality, independence and impact.

The Panel emphasises:

  • systems thinking and a life-cycle perspective, that takes account of drivers, pressures, states, impacts and potential responses;

  • policy relevance rather than policy prescription.

It also develops new tools for applications such as:

  • exploring alternative resource futures and the complexity of emerging resource issues,

  • evaluating the risks of burden shift associated with economic globalization and rebound effects,

  • calculating the hidden costs of a bio-based economy,

  • assessing the impact of green technologies on already scarce materials,

  • identifying ‘lock-in implications’ of short-term gain that prevents long term benefit.

The Panel’s choice of issues for research covers many different resources and especially the way these interact with the economy and society. Its research entry points include:

  • Resources (water, land, materials, energy, etc.) and the nexus of resource impacts

  • Environmental impacts at global, regional and local levels. Systems (eg. cities, trade, food chain, etc.) and correlations between production and consumption

  • Policy impacts (e.g. poverty, equity, access, employment, fiscal, prices, etc.)

In all its work, the Panel seeks positive solutions to the growing problems posed by resource depletion and misuse by identifying:

  • substitutes and alternatives;

  • potential innovations;

  • pricing, regulation and fiscal measures;

  • information gaps and communication needs;

  • efficiency issues; and

  • rebound effects, where the efficiencies gained may be lost in new resource use.

In an era of runaway resource consumption, the Panel also studies the wider, multi-dimensional aspects of resource issues, such as:

  • Bio-physical impacts of resource use.

  • The distributional and social justice dimension.

  • Economic efficiency.

  • Institutional feasibility.

  • Behavioural or cultural issues, including in the changes needed.

  • Successful and ineffective ways to manage change in different societies.

What we do

IRP investigates the world’s most critical resource issues with a view to developing practical solutions for government policymakers, industry and society. Reports can be accessed here.

Methodology and Approach

The Panel uses constructive and robust  approaches, concepts and tools (like decoupling,  the DPSIR/ life cycle framework, resource accounting, material flows, etc.) to make scientific assessments  of value to business, policy makers, and the general public.

The work of the Panel entails assessment of state-of-the-art science, as well as new syntheses and interpretations. All Panel reports are peer reviewed. The International Resource Panel refrains from predicting the future but uses scenarios and other methods to clarify uncertainties.

The Panel focuses in particular on those resources with the highest environmental impacts and greatest potential for improvement.

In selecting its topics, the Panel considers the following criteria:  

  • Magnitude and range of challenge, solution and impact (global, continental, economy- and ecosystem-wide)

  • Urgency of issues and timeliness of scientific knowledge

  • Policy relevance, feasibility, specificity, conditions for implementation

  • Scientific significance

  • Data availability, knowledge gaps and needs

  • Human impact: social dimensions including poverty, health, jobs, intra and inter generation equity, safety net

  • Limits and trade-offs between different options and impacts; prevention and mitigation of unintended consequences

  • Gaps in the scientific assessment landscape and where IRP can add value.

Synergy with other panels

The International Resource Panel works closely with other scientific panels and sources such as:

  • the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

  • UNEP’s Global Environmental Outlook

  • the World Energy Assessment

  • the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment

  • the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development

  • the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity

  • the Global Energy Assessment

The work of the IRP is cited in these global reports as well as in UNEP reports such as the Green Economy (GE) Report, the Global Environment Outlook-5, and the draft 10 Year Framework Programme of Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP).

Impact and Uptake

IRP evidence-based reports and findings are designed to inform policy-makers and influence the views, performance and decisions of those who have an impact on the use of natural resources, their environmental impacts and sustainability.

Examples of our impact on leading global policy and influential bodies include:

  1. The IRP was cited by Member States and included in the draft negotiating text for Rio +20 (March 2012 version).

  2. During the 19th session of the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development, it was proposed that the International Resource Panel provide scientific guidance to the 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production, adopted in Rio+20.

UNEP’s Governing Council took a decision on Sustainable Consumption and Production (February 2012) calling for the use of scientific and policy knowledge and relevant international mechanisms, such as the International Resource Panel.

  1. Cited in “Resource Productivity in the G8 and OECD - A Report in the Framework of the Kobe 3R Action Plan”.

  2. Cited in “Towards Green Growth Monitoring Progress”, an OECD study on green growth indicators.

  3. Cited in World Economic Forum: “More with Less: Scaling Sustainable Consumption and Resource Efficiency”.

  4. Cited in World Resources Forum Background paper for the Urban Eco-efficiency Lab at COP11.

Regional institutions which make use of our work include, for example:

  • The African Development Bank.

  • The European Commission.

  • The Institute for European Environmental Policy.

  • The German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProgRess).

Structure

The International Resource Panel has 36 expert members drawn from a wide range of academic institutions and scientific disciplines, supported by a small Secretariat. It is co-chaired by Janez Potočnik, former European Commissioner for the Environment, and Alicia Barcena Ibarra, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Its Steering Committee includes: over 25 governments, the European Commission, OECD and Un Environment; civil and business organisations such as the IUCN, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) and International Council for Science (ICSU), and the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC).

Secretariat

The Secretariat is hosted by UN Environment's Economy Division, in Paris, France. It coordinates administrative and operational functions of the IRP. This work includes organizing meetings, inviting new members, preparing proposals for strategic direction and work plans, supporting Working Groups and the Resource Panel Co-Chairs, organizing internal and external peer reviews for each assessment report as well as editing and publication, and conducting communication and dissemination activities. The Secretariat enables the International Resource Panel and Steering Committee to fulfill their roles efficiently and ensure that the objectives of the Panel are met.

Steering Committee

The Steering Committee is drawn from representatives of governments, international and regional organisations, civil, business and industry associations and academic institutions.

It guides the IRP’s strategic direction, ensures policy relevance, helps set the annual work plan, oversees budgets and advises on the scientific make-up of the Panel.

Panel Members

IRP members are internationally recognized scientists with skills in:

  • harvesting and extraction of resources,

  • production (including cleaner production, life-cycle analysis and eco-design),

  • consumption and recycling (including material flows) and

  • socio-economic policies, incorporating resource economics, policy and trade.

Their task is to develop scientific assessments on the environmental impacts of human resource use throughout the full life-cycle, and advise on ways to reduce those impacts.

They help to develop the programme of work and highlight important research opportunities within their respective international, regional and national networks. They have extensive links with scientists around the world in specific areas of sustainable resource management, who can contribute to the IRP’s work.

Panel Membership

The objectives of the Panel are to provide independent, coherent, authoritative and policy-relevant scientific assessments on the sustainable use of natural resources and, in particular, their environmental impacts over the full life cycle; and contribute to a better understanding of how to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation.

The Policies and Procedures of the IRP

Annex 3: Guidelines on External Expert Review Process

Annex 4: Guidelines on the Use of Literature in IRP Scientific Publications

Membership of working groups

The objective of a Working Group is to produce an assessment report for consideration and approval by the Panel. Working Groups ensure the quality and evidence-base of the assessment report. Contribution of Working Group members will be fully acknowledged in the final publication.

Membership of Steering Committee

The objective of the Steering Committee is to provide strategic direction to ensure policy relevance of the work of the Panel and to provide recommendations on the mobilization of resources.

Initiation, Preparation, Publication and Dissemination of a Study Report

During preparation of assessments, the Steering Committee and the Panel members ensure multiple points of view are considered. The Secretariat supports the process through coordination of meetings and input, and by providing guidance to members on the application of corresponding policies and procedures as well as administrative and substantive support when required. This procedure ensures that the final document responds to the specific needs of policymakers, identifies and prioritizes risks and opportunities, and estimates levels of certainty.

Data management guidelines

This style guide/checklist is to assist the International Resource Panel (IRP) and its Working Groups with preparing the assessment reports and ensure consistency and high-quality of the publications and associated products. The technical guidelines have been developed to serve as a reference point for all involved in the preparation and production of the assessment reports. They are not cast in stone and will be subject to periodic review, and improvement over time, depending on inputs and feedback from the IRP members and the IRP Secretariat.

Land and Soils

IRP’s work in this area aims at improving the sustainable management of land and soil resources including land potential, land productivity and soil resilience. Its assessments examine the impacts of development trends due to population growth, urbanization, and changes in diets and consumption behavior, on the dynamics of global land use. It includes assessing the consequences for biodiversity, the supply of food, fibers and fuel, and the implications for the health of nature and human society.

Decoupling

Our work in this area of assessment seeks ways to achieve continued economic growth and human wellbeing without increasing resource consumption and adverse environmental impacts. This is known as ‘decoupling’. Our reports identify technological and policy opportunities to accelerate decoupling.

Cities

Our work on Cities is designed to help urban communities achieve decoupling at individual city level. It provides decision makers with scientific information on the intersection between urbanization trends and global material flows and identifies opportunities for sustainability-oriented innovations at the city-level, where an estimated 75% of the world’s natural resources are consumed. 

Trade

This research area analyzes the physical dimensions of international trade to determine how the current system contributes and/or hinders the goal of increase resource efficiency in the global effort to decouple economic growth from environmental impacts.

REDD+

In partnership with the Secretariat of the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD Programme) the International Resource Panel developed an assessment to improve understanding and knowledge about how to forge mutually reinforcing links between ongoing or planned REDD+ activities and the transition to a green economy. 

Metals

IRP’s research into global metal flows area explores the potential for reuse and recycling of metals and the establishment of renewable material cycles by providing an authoritative scientific assessment of the global stocks and flows of metals. 

Water

Our work on water identifies ways to achieve greater water productivity, efficiency and sustainability. It provides a scientific basis for sustainable water management and improved water measurement, so that we can make best use of our planet’s aquatic resources in agriculture, industry and households, while ensuring environmental flows and the health of ecosystems. 

Food

This research area examines the impact of global food systems on natural resource use and the environment, identifying opportunities to improve resource efficiency, achieve a transition towards more sustainable food systems, and enhance worldwide food security. 

Environmental Impacts

The area provides authoritative, policy-relevant assessments of the resource groups and materials that contribute most to adverse environmental impacts and resource scarcity, and provides options for decreasing these impacts. Its assessments include the latest scientific advice on issues such as the environmental impacts of greenhouse gas mitigation technologies.