International Trade in Resources: a biophysical assessment

International Resource Panel (IRP) ; United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) (2015)

The availability and accessibility of natural resources is essential for human well-being. Natural resources are unevenly distributed, and the limits to their availability in many parts of the world are becoming increasingly visible. International trade has played an important role in delivering resources from centres of supply to centres of demand. In the past few decades global efforts have been channelled to enforce sustainable management strategies for natural resources, increase resource and environmental efficiency and thus, overall human well-being. In such a context, what role does international trade play in increasing resource efficiency, reducing environmental impact and promoting equitable and inclusive growth? Through a comprehensive review of updated data and existing literature, the latest assessment from the International Resource Panel International Trade in Resources: A Biophysical Assessment examines the rapid growth and pattern changes of resource trade and analyzes the upstream resource requirements of traded commodities including materials, land, energy and water. The report seeks to shed light on: the dramatic rise in international trade in recent decades, with over a six-fold increase in value and more than doubling of its volume between 1980 and 2010

the indirect resources associated with trade, i.e. resources used in the production process but not physically included in the traded goods

the increasing dependency on world markets to supply the demand for resources, across all material categories with fossil fuels and metals accounting for the highest share

the changes that patterns of trade dependence has experienced with highincome countries remaining main recipients of resources via trade and emerging economies, such as China, becoming major importers

and the rapid increase in upstream requirements of traded commodities -in terms of materials, water, land and energy - the estimates of which range widely from 40 up to 400 per cent of traded materials.