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 with expertise in resource management issues. It studies key questions around global resource use and produces assessment reports that distil the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic findings to inform decision-making.
The Panel provides advice and connections between policymakers, industry and the community on ways to improve global and local resource management. It includes scientists, 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.
Over the past five decades, our global population has doubled and the use of natural resources has more than tripled. The extraction and processing of natural resources accounts for more than 90 per cent of our biodiversity loss and water stress and approximately half of our climate change impacts.
If we continue with the current trend, the use of natural resources will further double by 2050 and cause irreversible consequences.
The IRP has the urgent task of helping to transform how we use and re-use resources. Its work proves that it is possible to move to a new paradigm of resource use that is socially equitable, economically efficient, and environmentally healthy.
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 while enhancing human well-being.
The International Resource Panel has more than 35 expert members drawn from a wide range of academic institutions and scientific disciplines, supported by a small Secretariat hosted by UNEP. It is co-chaired by Janez Potočnik, former European Commissioner for the Environment, and Izabella Teixeira, former Environment Minister of Brazil.
Its Steering Committee has 27 governments, the European Commission, and UNEP. The Steering Committee is co-chaired by Astrid Schomaker, Director for Global Sustainable Development in the European Commission's Directorate General for Environment, and Mark Radka, Deputy Director of UNEP's Economy Division.
The Panel also has a number of strategic partners.
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 environmental sustainability.
The IRP 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.
The IRP investigates the world’s most critical resource issues with a view to developing practical solutions for governments, industry, and society.
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. All reports can be accessed here.
In all its work, the Panel seeks policy solutions to the growing problems posed by resource depletion and misuse by identifying:
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.
Behavioural or cultural issues, including in the changes needed.
Successful and ineffective ways to manage change in different societies.
In the context of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), natural resource use connects essential material needs for food, water, energy and shelter (represented by SDGs 2, 6, 7, 9 and 11) and natural and social capital (represented by SDGs 13, 14, 15, and 17) that underpin all life and earth system functions.
Decoupling of resource use from well-being and from adverse social and environmental impacts is thus central and essential to achieving sustainable development, as recognized by SDG targets 8.4, 12.1 and 12.2.
The below graph shows the relationship between IRP scientific assessments and the SDGs.
The IRP provides a comprehensive understanding of linkages between the world economy, population and material use spanning four decades based on the Global Material Flows Database of global materials extraction and materials trade.
The large data set presents direct and consumption-based material flow indicators for seven world regions and for more than 185 countries, covering total usage, per capita use, and material use per US dollar. It also provides details for different groups of materials.
The data set provides strong support to informed decision-making by policy and business communities. It supports the development of the IRP scientific assessments, including the flagship report Global Resources Outlook, feeds into the Sustainable Consumption and Production Hotspot Analysis Tool, and is the official data source for measuring global progress on SDG targets 8.4 and 12.2.
In parallel with the development of reports, the IRP develops a diverse package of materials to support the effective dissemination of knowledge. Available at the reports section, on each individual report page.
IRP provides insight into status and trends in natural resource use globally and across regions, tracking improvements and fostering growth in circularity of material use, supporting the global monitoring of the natural resource element of sustainable development goals. It also defines sustainable use and management of natural resources. With the help of scenario modelling, the IRP contributes to identify the most promising policy options and outline different pathways for countries as well as interlinkages and co-benefits between different policy areas.
IRP's work under this area is comprised of two parts. Part I focuses on the relationship between resource efficiency and climate change; while Part II zooms into the resource requirements of climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.
More specifically, IRP's objectives are:
To assess the role of specific resource efficiency and circular economy policies in the achievement of the goals set in the Paris agreement.
To provide knowledge to understand resource requirements for mitigation and adaptation to climate change and their environmental impacts.
To assess impacts of climate change on resource availability, including availability-accessibility of critical (rare) metals for low-carbon technologies and linked mining operations, impacts on terrestrial and marine resources.
To provide policy options and strategies to promote low-carbon and resource-efficient societies.
Upon the launch of pertinent reports, IRP has been approached by a number of climate-change stakeholders to provide inputs to the links between resource efficiency and climate action, including the European Commission and United Nations Development Programme, among others.
IRP's work on Sustainable 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.
IRP’s research into the 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.
IRP's work in food 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.
Our work in land aims at improving the sustainable management of land and soil resources including land restoration 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.
The Panel uses constructive and robust approaches, concepts and tools to make scientific assessments of value to policy makers, businesses, 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 IRP reports are peer reviewed
The Panel’s research process is shown below:
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.)
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
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.
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
During the 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.
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).
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.
Through the IRP’s body of work, sustainable resource management became a more visible and urgent policy priority within a number of critical resource managers (including non-traditional IRP audiences like the G20, the G7, business and climate change stakeholders).