Sustainable Trade in Resources: Global Material Flows, Circularity and Trade - Discussion Paper by UNEP’s Environment and Trade Hub and the International Resource Panel

United Nations Environment Programme ; International Resource Panel (2020)

Research by the International Resource Panel (IRP) has drawn attention to the observed shift in environmental burdens from high-income importing countries to low-income exporting countries, and has called for effective trade policies to address the impacts of trade from an environmental and resource efficiency standpoint (UNEP 2015). In response, UNEP’s Environment and Trade Hub has joined forces with the IRP Secretariat to update the IRP’s findings on trade footprints, and to draw policy conclusions on how trade can help achieve a transition towards a fairer, more sustainable and circular economy. The purpose of this discussion paper is to enhance understanding among trade and environment policymakers regarding trade flows of material resources – including their environmental impacts – and regarding trade’s potential to contribute to the transition to a greener, more circular economy. The paper summarises the IRP’s analysis on so-called upstream requirements of trade flows, drawing on the IRP reports International Trade in Resources (2015), Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity (2016), Sustainable Natural Resource Use (2017) and Global Resources Outlook (2019). It uses updated data to 2017 on trade flows and on the raw material equivalents of trade flows derived from the IRP Global Material Flows Database. The paper builds on the work of UNEP’s Environment and Trade Hub to offer policy implications focusing on the role of trade in moving production and consumption away from linear to more circular models.

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