A phase shift in sustainable resource management


Efficient production and supply of energy and raw material resources are vital to attaining the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Making resource development activities sustainable has emerged as a critical challenge. While the performance of energy and raw materials production has improved vastly in recent decades, there is widespread support among stakeholders for efforts to further improve its sustainability.

Having universally acceptable standards, guidelines and best practices in sustainable resource management thus has emerged as an essential requirement in the development and production of an array of resources such as petroleum, coal, gas, minerals, nuclear fuels, renewable energy, anthropogenic resources (from waste), and capture and storage of carbon dioxide.

Rapid urbanization and changing lifestyles will demand more energy and raw material resources, but concerns about climate change and general well-being will dictate what is acceptable and what is not. Investments will not be channelled solely based on commercial returns, but on what social and environmental benefits a project might bring.

Over 350 experts from 80 countries participated in UNECE’s 2018 Resource Management Week (23–27 April) and deliberated on the development of the global standard – the United Nations Framework Classification for Resources (UNFC).  The experts recommended that an integrated resource management tool be developed.

The exchanges during the ninth session of the Expert Group on Resource Classification, which is tasked with development of UNFC, highlighted that the Sustainable Development Goals are not 17 independent, separate silos. Each goal touches the others. Take SDG#1 – No Poverty – as an example. This goal can be realized only if we have more energy (SDG#7), more resources available for industries to grow (SDG#8), and innovation and infrastructure to support that change (SDG#9).  Projects that supply critical resources should demonstrate where they stand relative to the SDGs in order to attract investment and regulatory approval.  Many countries and companies have started to recognize this change in perspective, but remain paralyzed at an operational level because there is a lack of globally accepted standards, guidelines and best practices.

“Strengthening UNFC to deliver on comprehensive resource management was recommended by the Expert Group, which is a tectonic shift”, said Scott Foster, Director of Sustainable Energy Division, UNECE. “It is clear that the resource management community is moving towards a paradigm of dare-to-do pro-activism in sustainable resource management.” The expert group will develop all the tools needed to assure sustainable production and consumption patterns for a broad swath of resources, with uniformity at one level, while recognizing sectoral, regional and country level differences in implementation.

For this reason, the meetings and workshops during the week discussed the implementation of UNFC in the European Union and Africa, as well as Russian Federation and China-focused approaches. The newly elected Bureau of the Expert Group includes representation from all regions. Special workshops focused on wide-ranging issues such as availability of raw materials from secondary resources – a key aspect of the circular economy.  The workshops also considered waste valorization and critical raw materials, application of UNFC in Africa and redesigning uranium resource pathways among many other topics.

“The fact that the Expert Group remains committed to a phase shift resonated strongly during the week”, said Charlotte Griffiths, Chief, Industries Section, Sustainable Energy Division, UNECE. “Together with many other aspects that make resource management truly sustainable, the issue of gender, diversity and inclusiveness occupied a significant chunk of the discussions”.

Together with many deeply technical issues on food-energy-water security, when social net returns and the empowerment of women become criteria of resource classification and management, a new era is being inaugurated.

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