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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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Upstream resource requirements of traded commodities

Sustained availability of natural resources is essential to overall human wellbeing. In a scenario of increasing demand for resources and, at the same time, accelerated depletion of those very resources, trade can contribute to supporting resource efficiency on a global scale. In principle, international trade allows an efficient allocation of production and extraction activities to regions with a large availability of resources and minimal resource intensity; this facilitates a reduction in economic costs, but possibly in environmental and social costs, too.

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