Countries should annually report on resource efficiency, WRF concludes

Resource Governance Panel

Davos, 10 October 2013 Countries should annually report on how their economies are developing with respect to resource efficiency. Engagement of not only UN institutions but also the civil society is necessary for achieving transparency and accountable monitoring.

Reforms in the financial sector – which is seen as disconnected from the real economy – and fiscal and behavioural policies targeted at company and household level were recommended. Taxes should shift away from renewable resources and labour to fossil fuels. A tenfold increase of resource productivity was regarded as feasible by fiscal reforms and other financial incentives.

These are the main conclusions of the draft chair’s summary of the World Resources Forum (WRF), the Swiss based multi stakeholder platform on global resource management. Members of the European Parliament, UNEP’s International Resource Panel, government and non-governmental delegates from over 50 countries, including leading scientists of engineering and social sciences, were among the experts who debated on international resource governance during the annual 3-day conference in Davos.

Vision 2050: Consumers should not consume more than 6 tonnes per year

Incentives for reducing per capita resource use in high consumption countries, for instance to 6 tonnes per capita by 2050, could be implemented by a group of willing countries, initiating a border tax levied on imports from countries with a per capita resource use higher than that of the permit scheme, so proposed Paul Ekins of the UCL  Institute for Sustainable Resources in London..

Ernst and Dianne

Increasing resource prices not only inspire resource efficiency but can also provide opportunities for diversifying economies in producing countries, such as in Africa. For this, resource rents need to be reinvested in human capital, infrastructure and innovation.  Many called for rapid actions led by coalitions of the willing or bilateral agreements rather than waiting for universal initiatives.

“The method to go there could be a “ping-pong” between resource productivity gains and resource prices, quite similar to the ping-pong since 150 years between labour productivity and wages – leading to a twentyfold increase of labour productivity. Small adjustments can avoid social hardship and the emigration of resource intensive industries.”  said Ernst Ulrich von Weizsaecker, co-chair of UNEP International Resource Panel.
The Naked Environmentalist: social media can substitute material consumption

Underlying driving forces of conspicuous consumption such as desire for a high social status should be analysed. Insights therefrom can induce the private sector to develop new services that satisfy consumer needs in a less materialistic way, for instance by means of using social media and new ICT applications.

Solitaire TownsendSolitaire Townsend of London-based Futerra Sustainable Communications: “Sex will save us. Or more specifically, a transformative shift in sexual signalling, away from material goods and towards virtual social status, will radically dematerialize our economies. This will enable a transition to decentralised and renewable energy systems, thus preventing biosphere collapse and irreversible climate change.”

Continuous improvements in resource efficiency must be accompanied by reductions on the demand side. A transition to a post-consumer society requires a new notion of well being in people’s private lives, and new types of economic activities that produce livelihoods that are not dependent on ever growing consumption, according to prof. Halina Brown, Clark University, USA.

Key tools and strategies the experts recommended include sustainable product and service design, waste prevention and recycling. It was acknowledged that much broader knowledge is necessary in order to change or progress beyond the culture of consumerism. Social sciences and humanities research have an increasing and important role to play in identifying, evaluating and interpreting underlying drivers for consumption choices.

KidInforming and empowering consumers from a young age through formal and informal education is important. This was illustrated by a young participant in the WRF Kids programme who commented: “When I was young my father repeatedly told me to be happy with what I have. I never understood that. Until today.”

European Parliament, United Nations, Club of Rome, scientists, business and NGO’s working together for a future without limits

This year’s WRF conference, held in the Swiss mountain resort Davos, was organised with support of the Swiss, German and Dutch governments, the European Parliament, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Economic Commission for Africa, and other partners including the Club of Rome, the Center for International Environmental Law, the Wuppertal Institute, UCL Institute for Sustainable Resources, TNO, Hewlett-Packard, InterfaceFLOR, and the Swiss Academy of Arts and Sciences. The over 400 speakers and participants were coming from over 50 countries, such as China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Australia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Sudan, Pakistan, Egypt, Peru, Colombia, El Salvador, Japan, USA, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Finland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, the UK and others.

As Bas de Leeuw, WRF Managing Director and former UN diplomat, commented,  “We believe in a future without limits. Our wellbeing should not be restricted by old-fashioned technologies and practices that harm the environment, destroy nature and put other people in misery. We are smart enough to boost resource productivity and use that for the benefit of all.”

WRF ParadeExperts, from governments, international organisations, business, research and civil society, exchanged their views on how to radically decrease the environmental and social burden of current consumption and production patterns.  Urgent boost of investments in resource efficiency and finding alternative resources substituting fossil fuels, metals and minerals that are critical for sustainable economic growth were seen as crucial. Global supply of resources needs to be secured by improving international cooperation and coordination.

The draft chairman’s summary is under review by the participants and will be finalised and published before the end of the month. UPDATE: find here the final version.

The next World Resources Forum will take place in Arequipa, Peru, hosted by the Ministry of Environment, on 19-22 October, 2014. Conclusions therefrom will be fed into COP20, the 20th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (Climate Change Convention) that will be organised in Peru as well, in December 2014. Find here a first announcement.

For more information about WRF 2013 and WRF 2014 write to

Check here the photo gallery of the event (all photos by Robert Stuermer) and the full programme with speakers and presentations.

Murmi the Marmot