International Governance of Resource Efficiency – Prospects for a Treaty?

by Ralph Bodle (presenting author)1, Stephan Sina1, Franziska Wolff2, Nele Kampffmeyer2

1: Ecologic Institute, Germany; 2: Oeko-Institut, Germany


We present options for anchoring resource efficiency (RE) in international law, including elements of a potential treaty.

RE has recently gained more prominence on the international political agenda. Yet a stocktake of potentially relevant existing international law and processes provides a mixed picture: Binding international law and emerging principles and concepts for the most part do not directly address RE. Non-binding and non-state governance approaches appear to be more specific at first sight, but they are mostly reporting and management tools with varying degrees of specificity. Their steering impact is mainly based on informal market incentives.

There is no clear link or discernible deliberate division of labour between binding and non-binding or other approaches.

Against this backdrop, while binding rules at are not an end in itself, anchoring RE in international law could be the next step at that level from environmental protection to more sustainable economies in a broader sense. However, in literature on international law, there are hardly any concrete proposals for addressing resource efficiency at the international level, and they seem unrealistically prescriptive.

In contrast, a general, not too prescriptive treaty on RE with a mandate for further development could bring states on board. A “framework” treaty structure could lay down general principles and allow for specific obligations to be developed over time in separate parts, such as annexes for specific sectors, products, materials, etc. Until the political conditions for such a general treaty on RE are favourable, a first step could be an international treaty specifically on plastics. This could be a test case and model for anchoring RE more generally later on.