Swiss Environment Director Chardonnens Calls for Strong International Resources Governance

International Resources Governance
Marc Chardonnens, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment

Geneva, 17 October 2019 “With only about a decade left to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, and to bring our greenhouse gas emissions back to a safe pathway, the central role of mineral resources for low-carbon technologies and infrastructures needs to be discussed. Environmental challenges related to the extraction of raw materials need to be addressed”, says Marc Chardonnens, director of the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). “After the call by the international community, at the last United Nations Environment Assembly, for a strong international resources governance, the World Resources Forum provides the opportunity to discuss and design, together, the building blocks for the next steps forward”.

The upcoming World Resources Forum (WRF2019) to be held in the Swiss UN capital Geneva, on October 23-24, will indeed discuss how to make natural resource governance fit for the 21st century. Recommendations will be formulated through high-level panels, workshops, side events and scientific sessions, with business and government leaders, NGO’s, youth, foundations and researchers from all over the world. This year’s partners include global players such as UN Environment, UNECE, ITU, the European Commission, EIT Raw Materials, WBCSD, the Global Compact Network, Club of Rome, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Africa will get an extra focus this year. The Minister of Environment, Science, Technology, and Innovation of Ghana, His Excellency Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, will participate in a high-level political dialogue, and the African Circular Economy Network (ACEN) will have its own workshop, just as the German development agency GIZ. Find the detailed full program here.

Consensus is growing that there is no other option than a low-carbon and resource efficient economy. Low-carbon and resource efficient technologies such as electric vehicles, renewable energy, or digitalization, require more minerals than traditional technologies. The extractive industry is expected to struggle, in the coming years, to supply the necessary materials needed for the transition. However, as also a recent United Nations Environment report indicated, today’s governance framework is not fit for the purpose. The many existing standards governing the management of mineral resources do not bring the expected results at the scale and the speed needed. Without improved governance, it will be impossible to ensure proper provision of the resources needed. The current political momentum and the resolutions adopted at the Fourth UN Environment Assembly (UNEA4) in March 2019 provide the foundations for tackling this challenge.

Business to Earn its Sustainable Development License to Operate

Business will have to earn its “Sustainable Development License to Operate” (SDLO) by taking action on sustainability, social issues and the environment, thereby increasing the scope of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and aligning their business models with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  Ernst von Weizsäcker, Honorary President of the Club of Rome, calls for a five-fold increase of resource productivity: “It is technically possible. Let´s agree on policies to make it economically profitable!”

International Resources Governance
Gary Litman, United States Chamber of Commerce

Gary Litman, United States Chamber of Commerce, comments by saying that “business moves trillions of tons of materials around the world, from extraction to consumption. That is why companies are directly impacted by the risk of depletion of resources. Material efficiency is high on the business priority list for those companies who strive to remain successful over the long haul and preserve their license to doing business locally and globally. Resource governance should provide governments, consumers and investors with tools to support resource efficiency as a hallmark of good management, responsible governance, quality of production and sustainable consumption.”

Brendan Edgerton, WBCSD, observes that “consumers, investors, regulators and competitors are increasingly pressuring companies to address for environmental and social issues to the business. We believe that more sustainable businesses will be more successful in the future.”

Cristina Bueti, International Telecommunications Union ITU, points to a priority stream by saying that “E-waste is the fastest-growing waste stream in the world. Over 50 million tonnes of e-waste were recorded in 2018.” The ITU is developing international standards to support the sustainable management of e-waste.

Gunter Stephan, leader of the Swiss National Research Programme on Sustainable Economy, states that “economic theory shows that intergenerational fairness can be achieved only, if the present generation significantly invests into the future environment. Examples are CO2 tax, tax reductions on sustainable investment, and reforming the pension system with the sustainability goals in mind.”

A New International Resources Governance Framework

As in previous editions of the World Resources Forum many speakers will call for better resource governance, and some may mention the idea of setting up a convention for natural resources. It is clear that actions at the global level are needed, leading to a structural transformation. Needed is a new paradigm for economic development and significant gains in resource security and efficiency. The conference will discuss financial incentives, such as pricing of resources and taxe, and review how regulations can be suitable tools to create a new global governance framework for natural resources.

Olga Algayerova, UNECE

Olga Algayerova, UNECE: “Raw materials production historically has produced vast quantities of waste and often has done irreparable damage to the environment. We need to learn from this experience to make a step-change in raw materials production to achieve a “zero-waste, zero-harm” outcome. Managing raw materials as part of a circular economy in which products are reused and “wastes” are a resource for other services is the right approach. The United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC) embraces the principles of comprehensive resource recovery, circularity, zero harm and zero waste. UNFC is a tool that connects top-down policy objectives to bottom-up project implementation to enable sustainable production and use of all energy and mineral resources.”

Ligia Noronha, UNEP: “The UN Environment vision supports positive change in the extractive sector’s governance and business practices. We aim to make minerals, oil and gas work for all, with minimal harm and many benefits.”

International Resources Governance Dialogue at Global Level

Experts from various regions, Africa, Latin America, Asia, will highlight their special needs and responsiblities. Already the discussions at the UN level earlier this year have made clear that countries acknowledge that natural resources are essential for development. Consensus is growing that resource efficiency and improving natural resource governance is important for reaching their development goals. Addressing resource scarcity, maintaining environmental stewardship, and improving resource efficiency are seen as top priorities for all countries. At the same time, all countries and regions are different, that is why it is essential to continue global discussions. The World Resources Forum and other informal dialogue processes as well as the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA)-5 in 2021 are crucial elements of such dialogue.

Jessica Clement, WRF 2019 conference coordinator

Lieze Cloots, Flemish Waste Agency OVAM and co-organiser of the WRF conference on Circular Economy in Antwerp earlier this year identifies that “Circular Economy helps to reach the climate targets. Consumer behavior should change radically, cities are the pioneers for circular change, soil and land are valuable resources and coordinated action at global level is needed”.

About WRF2019 – how to participate, agenda and logistics

The World Resources Forum is an annual multistakeholder conference, to which everyone is invited to participate without invitation. This year the theme is International Resources Governance. Pre-registration is required. All stakeholder groups and individuals are welcome. Find here all details

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International Resources Governance