Sustainable Resource Management:
Your Attention to Non-Energy Resources

November 2011

    IGES Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) Group to which I belong researches not only climate change and energy-related issues, but also resource consumption and the "3Rs."(*1) The Group is involved in a range of international initiatives on environmental policies, including the 3R Initiative, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) International Resource Panel(*2), and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development(OECD) Work Programme on material flows and resource productivity.

    These initiatives target not only fossil fuels for energy, but also metals and other non-energy resources (or "material resources"). Despite recent emphasis on climate change and the creation of a low-carbon society, I feel that the international community is now engaging more actively with issues relating to all resources including material resources, and not just those that are energy-related.

    The SCP Group contributed to a UNEP report "Resource Efficiency: Economics and Outlook for Asia and the Pacific (REEO) (September, 2011)," predicting that Asia's consumption of materials would increase threefold by 2050. In particular, demand is likely to rise further for rare metals, copper and other materials. Therefore, increased consumption and associated waste mean that managing environmental impacts throughout the entire resource life cycle,"sustainable resource management," is now seen to be just as important as securing resources.

    Japan and the EU both have dynamic approaches, with Japan striving to become a material-cycle society that makes effective use of materials and minimises the environmental impact. Since 2003, Japan has incorporated resource productivity indices and other environmental metrics into national policy with its Basic Plans for Establishing a Sound Material-Cycle Society(*3). This year, "A resource-efficient Europe - Flagship initiative under the Europe 2020 strategy" was launched, aiming to boost economic performance while reducing resource use; identify and create new opportunities for economic growth and boost the EU's competitiveness; ensure security of supply of essential resources, and tackle climate change and limit the environmental impacts of resource use.

    Flows of material resources can be more complex than energy, with the various stages of the resource life cycle often taking place in different locations. Countries may find it difficult to take drastic action for sustainable resource management because it requires the involvement of a wide range of policy sectors and has the potential to affect economic competitiveness. Nonetheless, we need to avoid an inequitable situation in which it is too late to act, or only certain countries are benefited by material resources. I feel that we need to further develop environmental statistics and monitoring indices on a global scale to ensure fair and appropriate international discussions regarding sustainable resource management. Developed countries have made progress in such statistics and indices, whereas Asian developing regions where high growth is expected are still lagging behind. As a member of IGES, I intend to continue working on the capacity building necessary to facilitate policies and monitoring indices on sustainable resource management across Asia.

  • Reference

    1. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.
    2. The UNEP International Resource Panel was established in 2007 which aims to contribute to better understanding of how to decouple economic growth from environmental degradation. To this end, the panel takes an independent, coherent approach to providing authoritative, scientific assessments of policymaking on sustainable use of natural resources, and specifically on environmental impacts that resources have over entire life cycles. These activities are closely linked to international environmental policy initiatives on consumption of goods/services and waste management such as the 10-Year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production (the Marrakech Process), the 3R Initiative, which was ratified at the 2004 G8 summit following Japan's proposal, and the OECD Sustainable Materials Management programme.
    3. The first plan was revised in 2008, and the second plan is currently in force. The third plan is expected to be announced in 2013.

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