The International Resource Panel (IRP) is celebrating its 15th Anniversary in 2022. During the past 15 years, the IRP has established itself as the leading voice and science-policy interface on natural resource use.
The following timeline will take you through key moments over the life of the Panel. Together with the Panel Member Wall, the 15 Years of Research in Snapshots, and a series of upcoming events, we invite you to commemorate the 15th Anniversary of the IRP with us.
On 9 November 2007, the International Expert Panel on Sustainable Resource Management (former name of the IRP) was officially launched during the World Science Forum in Budapest, Hungary. In recognizing that “the socio-economic development of our societies and well-being of the future’s societies depend on the earth’s natural resources,” the Panel’s objective was to foster sustainable resource management, leading to the overall decoupling of economic growth and environmental degradation.
The driving forces behind the Panel’s establishment were the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) supported by the European Commission.
Video: IRP launching ceremony on 8 November 2007 (Source: Hungarian Academy of Science)
Two meetings in Rome, Italy (May) and Santa Barbara, USA (November) resulted in important decisions on the Panel’s work program, membership, and procedures, in particular for the peer-review process. Four Working Groups were brought together focusing on decoupling, prioritization, biofuels, and global metal flows.
The Panel’s Steering Committee expanded to 18 members, covering countries from five continents and a number of civil society organisations including the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), the International Council for Science (ICSU) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), among others.
Launching the first report & participating at the first World Resources Forum
The first report Assessing biofuels was launched. It provided a systemic assessment and science-based options for the much-debated topic of sustainable production and the use of biomass.
The Panel held a side event at the first World Resources Forum in Davos, Switzerland, contributing to the development of new economic frameworks to promote the sustainable use of resources. A presentation on material flow accounts was delivered at the 4th Meeting of the UN Committee of Experts on Environmental-Economic Accounting in New York, USA.
The Panel’s new report Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials made headlines in the Guardian and other major newspapers, with a call for substantial transformation in the energy and agriculture sectors. This was followed by two reports on metals (Metal Stocks in Society and Recycling Rates of Metals) providing an early warning that critical metals needed to make wind turbines, solar panels, and hybrid and electric car batteries are scarce in nature and expensive — yet only about 1% of them are recycled.
The Panel’s critical role in the sustainability transition was increasingly acknowledged in policy fora including the 2010 OECD Global Forum on Environment: Sustainable Materials Management, which informed the implementation of the G8 Kobe 3R (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle) Action Plan.
Decoupling goes big
The “Decoupling” report (Decoupling natural resource use and environmental impacts from economic growth) was launched in 2011, laying the foundation for a decade’s research and policy action on sustainable resource management and its relationship with economic growth and human well-being.
“Decoupling growth from environmental degradation is the number one challenge facing governments in a world of rising numbers of people, rising incomes, rising consumption demands and the persistent challenge of poverty alleviation,” said Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator and former UNEP Executive Director.
Video: What is Decoupling? (Source: IRP)
Engagement at Rio+20
At the Rio+20 UN Conference on Sustainable Development, the Panel released Responsible Resource Management for a Sustainable World. It presented the main conclusions of five previous assessments to date. The Rio +20 final document recognized the Panel’s contribution to the science of resource efficiency and the importance of decoupling environmental degradation from economic growth for policymakers and business leaders. The IRP also provided scientific guidance to the development of the 10 Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (10YFP), adopted in Rio+20.
The Panel attracted increasing attention from the business community. The World Economic Forum cited the IRP in their 2012 paper More with Less: Scaling Sustainable Consumption and Resource Efficiency. The International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) launched its Green Economy Guidebook and began a partnership with the IRP with the aim of improving industrial sustainability.
Engaging regional stakeholders
In 2013, the IRP released the assessment City-level Decoupling to prompt further resource efficiency policy action at the city level such as investing in sustainable infrastructure and green technologies. Two other assessments - Metal Recycling and Environmental Risks and Challenges of Anthropogenic Metals Flows and Cycles – shed light on the opportunities and limits of metal recycling and presented a Product-Centric, physics-based approach to Design for Recycling and Resource Efficiency for estimating opportunities and limits of recycling.
With the ambition of reaching policymakers and stakeholders at regional and national levels, the Panel hosted International Seminars on Resource Efficiency and the Decoupling Approach in Bangkok, Thailand in 2012, and in Nairobi, Kenya, and in Siem Reap, Cambodia in 2013. The Panel also cooperated with the EU to host science and policy discussions on air quality and climate change during the 2013 EU Green Week. The Panel’s work triggered a scientific effort at regional and national levels to assess material flows and resource productivity - one example is the UNEP’s 2013 assessment in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Video: IRP at EU Green Week (Source: UNEP)
Global commitment to strengthen science-policy interface at UNEA-1
2014 marked the 1st session of the UN Environment Assembly consisting of the representatives of all UN member countries. The Assembly adopted a resolution on strengthening the science-policy interface of environmental affairs. Countries expressed appreciation for the Panel’s contributions and asked the Panel to provide knowledge on the global status and trends of natural resource use and management on a regular basis.
During that year, the IRP issued three scientific assessments. The Decoupling 2 report proposed technologies, opportunities, and policy options to accelerate decoupling and reap the environmental and economic benefits of increased resource productivity. The Assessing Global Land Use report examined the trends and impacts of global land use, and the Building Natural Capital report highlighted the potential benefits of the REDD+ initiative to ensure the well-being of millions in developing countries.
Video: The 15th Meeting of the International Resource Panel
Natural resources at the center of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development
2015 marked the launch of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which largely focus on the sustainable management of natural resources thanks, in part, to the Panel’s active role in the United Nations General Assembly’s Open Working Group on the SDGs. The Panel launched the think piece Policy Coherence of the Sustainable Development Goals looking at resource interlinkages and potential trade-offs between the SDGs.
The IRP also contributed to several policy discourses with a natural resource perspective. The paper 10 key messages on climate change informed the landmark COP21 in Paris calling to place sustainable resource management at the center of climate action. The report International Trade in Resources assessed the implications of rapidly rising trade flows for global resource and environmental efficiency and informed the World Trade Organisation (WTO)’s work.
Going beyond resource-specific studies to systematic approaches
While the Panel devoted much of its research to issues related to the use, stocks, and scarcities of specific resources such as biofuels, water, and metals, it gradually moved into examining systematic approaches to resource use, as several 2016 reports demonstrated. The report Unlocking the Sustainable Potential of Lands proposed tools to help land users assess and efficiently utilize their land potential and contributed to the China & UNCCD Joint Action initiative to combat desertification along the Silk Road. The Food Systems and Natural Resources report identified 12 ways to transform our food systems to combat hunger, use natural resources more efficiently and stem environmental damage. The Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity report showed global natural resource use trends over four decades and proposed indicators for evidence-based policy formulation.
Together, these assessments showed challenges and opportunities ahead as we transition to a prosperous, equitable, and environmentally friendly global society and contributed to placing consumption at the forefront of global efforts, advancing from a production-centered approach.
Additionally, two E-learning courses were launched to disseminate IRP knowledge, including The Resource Revolution Trainer for business as well as a massive open online course (MOOC) on Sustainable Food Systems in Southeast Asia developed in partnership with the World Resources Forum and the Stockholm Environment Institute respectively.
Engagement with G7, G20, key stakeholders, and a new Global Database
Thanks in part to the Panel’s contribution, by 2017, resource efficiency was raised as a crucial topic by G7 and G20 countries. The Panel supported the development of the G7 Resource Efficiency Alliance and the five-year Bologna Roadmap outlining the next steps to advance resource efficiency.
The IRP Resource Efficiency report, developed at the request of the G7, was incorporated in the G7 summit discussion held in Japan, and subsequently, into the first meeting of the G20 Resource Efficiency Dialogue in Germany in 2017. The 2017 G7 Environment Ministers' Communiqué stated: “We support the main findings of the IRP and OECD reports that resource efficiency can improve the overall economic and environmental resilience of our countries. We consider that substantial increase in resource efficiency is essential to meet the SDGs and associated targets and climate goals in a cost-effective manner and we will consider the relevant policy recommendations of both reports”.
The report Green Technology Choices was released - the first international assessment of its type to investigate resource use and environmental impacts of large-scale deployment of energy efficiency technologies across their life cycles. The Panel also launched the Assessing Global Resource Use report at UNEA-3, and actively engaged in a number of policy discussions including the World Circular Economy Forum, COP23 Bonn Side event, UN DESA Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation, among others.
The authoritative Global Material Flows Database was launched providing direct and consumption-based material flow indicators for seven world regions and more than 185 countries, and serving as the official data source for monitoring progress on SDG8 and SDG12 targets.
Mainstreaming circular economy
With the world’s increasing interest in circular economy and the Panel’s work, the IRP entered into new agreements with the World Economic Forum and the Ellen McArthur Foundation to support policymakers, industry, and society to manage resources sustainably.
Two major pieces of research were launched. Re-defining Value – The Manufacturing Revolution is one of the first to quantify the benefits of value-retention processes within industrial economic systems. The Weight of Cities called for a new strategy for 21st-century urbanization, advocating a transition to low-carbon, resource-efficient, and inclusive cities. The reports were discussed at the World Economy Forum, World Cities Forum, World Circular Economy Forum, G7 Environment Ministers meeting, G20 Resource Efficiency Dialogue, among others, and had a profound impact on shaping our cities and economies.
The first Global Resources Outlook
In 2019, the Panel launched the first edition of its flagship report the Global Resources Outlook. Key data showed that “the extraction and processing of resources make up about half of total global greenhouse gas emissions, more than 90% of biodiversity loss and water stress, and one-third of air pollution”. The report provided a clear link between unsustainable resource management and the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss, and air pollution; as well as evidence on sustainable resource management’s contribution to economic growth and well-being, attracting significant attention from policymakers, businesses, media and the public. Based on this research, the Panel further developed country-specific factsheets at the request of the G20 to inform national stakeholders.
In the same year, the IRP launched the Land Restoration for Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals think piece at the UNCCD COP14 in Delhi, India, and informed the 9th Trondheim Conference on Biodiversity. It also launched the Resource Efficiency and Climate Change Summary for Policymakers at the UNFCCC COP25 in Madrid, Spain, contributing to the new commitment made between UNDP and UNEP to work together to create a “template” to include resource efficiency in 100 Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
Last but not least, the IRP was cited as one of the main sources of the EU Green Deal launched in 2019. It also attracted attention from multilateral policy bodies: being referred to in the Roadmap for the G20 Resource Efficiency Dialogue, the G7 Environment Ministers’ Communiqué, and UNEA-4 Resolutions and Declarations. UN ESCAP and ASEAN approached the IRP for guidance on how to establish a Resource Panel in the ASEAN region.
Well-being for all
In 2020, the world experienced an unprecedented moment. A statement from IRP Co-Chairs Janez Potočnik and Izabella Teixeira highlighted the Panel’s perspective: “The gravity of this pandemic gives us a renewed recognition of the interconnection between societies and nature. To build back better, smarter use of natural resources is key. We must shift to a new paradigm of resource use that is socially equitable, economically resilient, and environmentally healthy”.
The IRP launched the piece Building resilient societies after the Covid-19 pandemic to guide policy action in building a resilient future by changing the ways we generate wealth, live, move, and eat. It also launched the Mineral Resource Governance in the 21st Century report and co-hosted a series of regional consultations, illustrating how good management in the extractive sector can help achieve the SDGs. It also launched the Sustainable Trade in Resources paper, demonstrating that one-third of the total volume of materials extracted in the world economy is linked to the production of traded goods, and suggesting more sustainable and circular trade policies.
Collaboration between IRP and UNDP was strengthened: The Panel provided input to the UNDP’s 2020 Human Development Report which assessed pathways for meeting people’s aspirations in balance with the planet and upgraded the Human Development Index (HDI) by bringing in the environmental dimension.
Finally, the Panel held its first virtual meeting and welcomed opening remarks from UNEP’s Executive Director Inger Andersen, who said: “Nature, climate action, and sustainable resource management should be prioritized in the next recovery phase to help usher in a new era of social and economic prosperity for all. An era in which we use resources within the planet’s sustainable capacities. So, looking ahead, the IRP is ever more central and relevant”.
Video: The International Resource Panel’s key achievements in 2020 (Source: IRP)
Entering the Decade of Action
"Humanity is waging war on nature", warned UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. The UNEP 2021 Making Peace with Nature report drew upon findings from global assessments from the IRP, IPCC, IPBES, Global Environment Outlook report, and more. It aimed to create a blueprint for a shift to circular economies and fairer societies, tackling climate change, biodiversity loss, and pollution at the start of the Decade of Action.
In this Decade of Action, with the aim of catalysing science-based policy action on sustainable consumption and production, the IRP worked with the One Planet Network at the request of the UNEA to produce a report which demonstrates the use of the Value-Chain Approach methodology in three critical sectors - food, construction, and textiles. This was done through consultations with resource stakeholders from governments, businesses, and civil societies and ultimately lead to the publication of a joint report.
Additionally, the IRP supported the launch of the SDG 12 Hub which helps countries to monitor progress on SDG 12 on Sustainable Consumption and Production. The Panel also worked with UNEP, Eurostat, and UNSD to present a Global Manual on Economy-Wide Material Flow Accounting, providing global guidance on compiling material flow accounts that can be used by national statistical systems around the world.
This year not only marks the beginning of the Decade of Action but also the Decade of Ecosystem Restoration and the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. As policymakers prepare for the biodiversity COP15 in Kunming, China, the IRP Co-Chairs published an opinion piece laying out four natural resource management principles to strengthen biodiversity governance. They spoke at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, the Global Solutions Summit and held the first-ever youth dialogue to engage young people in this critical decade.
To mark the beginning of the UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, the Panel also launched two marine studies: one on coastal resource governance and its implications for a sustainable blue economy, and the other on policies to reduce marine plastic litter, informing the G20 Osaka Blue Ocean Vision which received backing from more than 80 countries and regions.
Finally, a series of consultations were carried out: the IRP Steering Committee, Panel members, Strategic Partners, and other stakeholders gathered together to lay out the blueprint for the Panel’s work in the years to come. 2022 will see the launch of the IRP’s 2022-2025 Work Programme as we celebrate its 15th anniversary and UNEP’s 50th anniversary. We look forward to continuing to work with you to deliver state-of-the-art knowledge on natural resource use, informing policy action for people and the planet.