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International Trade in Resources

A Biophysical Assessment

image of International Trade in Resources

Tasked with building and sharing knowledge on how to improve management of the world’s resources, UNEP’s International Resource Panel (IRP) turns its attention to the world trading system and its implications for global resource efficiency. In this report entitled “International Trade in Resources: A biophysical assessment”, the IRP examines how efficient the current system of world trade is in distributing resources from the geographical locations of supply to the locations of demand. By examining trade from a biophysical (versus an economic) viewpoint, the authors of the report seek to assess whether or not trade allows commodities to be obtained from countries where their production requires fewer resources and generates a smaller amount of wastes and emissions.

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Conclusions

This report assesses international trade with a particular focus on the biophysical flows of natural resources. Global annual extraction and use of natural resources – nonrenewable resources such as minerals and metals or fossil fuels as well as renewable resources such as biomass or fresh water – have increased about eight-fold during the past century, and are still increasing rapidly. International trade is growing even faster, and plays an important role in responding to rising demand: it facilitates access to resources that are no longer sufficiently available within the countries themselves.

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