Global Resource Management. Conflict Potential and Characteristics of a Global Governance Regime

The present Policy Paper is on the issue of global resource management and key options for action.

Raimund Bleischwitz, Stefan Bringezu, December 2007

To download : PDF (310 KiB)

Summary :

The structures for natural resource management as they exist globally today are inadequate. The establishment of the UNEP International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management in November 2007 was a big step in the right direction. Unlike previous international commissions (Mining, Minerals and Sustainable Development, World Bank Extractive Industry Review Commission) the Resource Panel enjoys intergovernmental legitimacy, therefore there is greater scope for its recommendations to be politically binding on supplier and recipient countries. A further positive aspect is that this expert panel has been tasked with developing principles for sustainable resource management, especially for metals and biofuels. These principles should pertain not only to mining but should also take into account a life cycle and global resource management perspective. Simultaneously the Panel should prepare guidelines and recommended actions for selected sectors, e.g. biofuels. Nevertheless, an expert panel has certain inherent limitations in that it can neither take any decisions nor undertake implementation. Thus, while a panel of this kind is important it also requires institutional back-up.

International Convention for Sustainable Resource Management

An international convention for sustainable resource management is necessary in the medium term. The purpose of such a convention would be to establish sustainable resource management and the principles of resource conservation at the international level. The preamble could refer to the « common heritage of mankind » principle, according to which resources can be utilized by individual countries and actors but should ultimately be passed on to future generations, at least with regard to their most important functions. The convention should support and strengthen existing initiatives and programmes. At the same time there must be arrangements to ensure that profits from the extraction and utilization of natural resources are ploughed back into building up sustainable production and consumption patterns and benefiting the communities through good governance and effective governance processes. A convention should impose binding obligations regarding transparency and enhanced access to information. It should provide the legal framework for setting up and managing a regional raw material fund and facilitate the inclusion of economic instruments, as has been done in the climate sector. The negotiation processes for deciding the objectives of resource use should, moreover, be institutionalized. This includes objectives for improving material efficiency and resource productivity as well as resource conservation targets.

An international convention should also be conceptualized to provide an overall framework for bilateral programs and agreements. In this context, “road maps for sustainable resource management” agreed between the G8 and BRIC states are of special interest.

Although it may still sound visionary at this point, over the medium term it should be possible to impose fees for usage of internationally traded raw materials and to agree on objectives and road maps for resource conservation

International Agency for Sustainable Resource Management

An international agency for sustainable resource management is required for the long term implementation of specific and defined tasks. Unlike an international convention, such a body would not be concerned with the ongoing development of the international legal and economic framework, but with the implementation processes for agreed tasks. The agency would be responsible for knowledge exchange, training programs, skills upgrading, providing data, scenario projections and an information radar for natural resource conflicts. The agency could also conduct professional programs to promote resource productivity in all countries, particularly in small and medium sized companies.

Global resource management must be integrated in existing international conventions and policy sectors from an early stage. Some potential approaches, for instance, are the Basel Convention on the International Transport of Hazardous Waste and climate protection, where there is regulation of energy-intensive industries under European emissions trading and presently a more or less exclusive focus on biofuel subsidization. In principle, life cycle management (LCM), climate protection and resource management are all highly compatible, with material and energy intensive production and consumption patterns on one hand and better management of natural resources on the other.

Ultimately, the fact that current WTO rules consider extraction and production processes to be trade neutral needs to be recognized as a problem. While material efficiency can greatly enhance competitive advantage, if companies or governments recklessly externalize the costs of destructive exploitation and foist these on the general population, the international community must have mechanisms for holding the perpetrators to task. Thus, a binding system is required in the medium term which has provision for economic and legal sanctions if there are violations of key principles of sustainable resource use. Certification and consumer interest are important milestones on the path to sustainable global resource management.

Dr. Stefan Bringezu is Director and Prof. Dr. Raimund Bleischwitz is Co-Director of the Research Group 3: Material Flows and Resource Management at the Wuppertal Institute. Their article summarizes some of their conclusions recently published in a policy paper for the Development and Peace Foundation (SEF).

The paper entitled « Global Resource Management. Conflict Potential and Characteristics of a Global Governance Regime » is available at


Published in: ECC-Newsletter, December 2007