Resource productivity and the "3Rs"


Speech by Angel Gurría, OECD Secretary-General, at G8 Environment Ministers Meeting 2008

Kobe, Japan, 24-25 May 2008

Ministers, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here with you to discuss how promoting resource productivity and the 3Rs can protect the environment while sustaining growth and prosperity.

I. The critical need for a resource efficient economy

The world economy is expected to double and world population to grow by one-third by 2030. With rising income and living standards, global consumption of fossil fuels, minerals, metals, timber and food crops is also growing. For example, extraction of metal ores is projected to grow by 200% to 2020. Expansion of mining and farming is putting pressures on biodiversity, polluting our rivers and aquifers, and exposing people to health risks. And these environmental impacts of resource use are felt throughout the material “life-cycle”, from extraction and transportation, to use and disposal.

But prosperity does not need to increase the “weight of nation”. By reducing, reusing and recycling, we can cut the need for virgin materials and improve resource efficiency. This can also save energy and water, reduce waste and help mitigate climate change. The challenge before us is to move towards a society where we create more value with less natural resource input, and where we leave room for future generations’ needs.

We also need global perspectives. As international trade in goods and services grows, we are witnessing changing patterns of material flows within and among countries, with consequences for the location of the associated environmental impacts.

But we have reasons to be optimistic. Today, we are at a turning point: government and business interests are converging to use natural resources and materials more efficiently. Perceptions about what constitutes “waste” and how to manage material flows more sustainably are clearly changing, and changing fast.

II. Signs of progress

Our work,-- including a recent OECD-UNEP conference co-chaired by Mr Namiki, Vice Minister for Environment of Japan--, shows that OECD countries have made much progress, especially at the company level.

Businesses are seeking new profits from better management of materials that were once regarded as waste. They have invested in R&D and innovation to increase materials and energy efficiency in both production and consumption. Companies are producing higher-value products with less material inputs. “Design-for-Environment” targets are triggering companies to re-design their products to reduce material use and toxic inputs, and to make products more recyclable. Mining industry has in place very effective Materials Stewardship programmes. These initiatives are driven by concerns about reducing costs, but also by consumer demand for greener management of materials.

III. Looking forward: challenges ahead

But much more needs to be done. OECD work also shows that the efficiency gains achieved by these front-runners are outpaced by the scale of global growth in economic activities. Our studies also show that recycling markets are growing, but are often constrained by market failures and barriers. More could be gained by making mandatory “Extended Producer Responsibility” and “take-back” programmes for end-of-life products.

We need therefore to redouble our effort on several fronts:

  • Promote new integrated approaches to counter-balance the environmental impacts of resource use throughout the entire life-cycle of materials--with stronger emphasis on material efficiency, product re-design and reuse, waste prevention, recycling and environmentally sound management of residues.
  • Set policy frameworks to promote resource efficiency by adopting full-cost resource pricing and volume-based waste charges, by removing market and trade barriers for recyclable materials, and by respecting international “rules of the game” on transboundary movements of waste, export credit, conduct of Multinational Enterprises and international investment to ensure that an international “Material-Cycle Society” is environmentally and economically sustainable
  • Enhance coherence among policies, not only on environment, natural resources and waste management, but also on trade, investment, technology and innovation. For example, an OECD project is identifying barriers to trade in recyclable materials that might be removed by examining rules under the WTO and Basel Convention.
  • Enhance partnerships with businesses, consumers and academia, as each has an important role to play in finding solutions.
  • Promote a common vision and differentiated solutions at the local, regional and global levels. Developing countries, resource rich and exporting countries, and resource poor and import-dependent countries all have specific needs. We have to ensure that good practices and new technologies are shared and taken up where they are needed. OECD countries have a particular responsibility here.

IV. The OECD contribution on Resource Productivity and Sustainable Materials Management

The OECD has long helped countries to promote sustainable materials and waste management. This includes our work since the 1980s on transboundary movements of waste, which laid the foundation for the Basel convention.

More recently, the G8 asked OECD to contribute to a better understanding of material flows and resource productivity. In response, we prepared a “Policy-Makers’ Guide” on how to measure material flows and resource productivity, and developed methodologies for material flows analysis at the national and international levels. We cannot properly manage what we cannot measure. And we cannot identify best practices without enough evidence.

And I am proud to report to you that this work has led to two OECD Council recommendations on Material Flows and Resource Productivity. This means that OECD countries are committed to improve information, indicators and analyses on material flows and resource productivity, and to improve resource productivity and reduce negative environmental impacts of materials and product use. This is one of our contributions to the G8 efforts on the 3Rs.

We have also examined policies that promote different aspects of the 3Rs, building on our expertise in economic analysis and country reviews, as well as waste management policies at national and international levels. OECD analyses encompass aspects related to eco-innovation, sustainable manufacturing and trade in recyclable materials, as well as new work focusing on the potential for GHG mitigation from Integrated Material and Waste Management.

The leadership provided by the G8 on this theme has helped to move the agenda forward. The OECD can make a critical contribution to help countries move towards a more integrated approach to the 3Rs, taking advantage of our multi-disciplinary strength across different policy areas. The OECD Council Recommendation on Resource Productivity provides a solid foundation and clear direction for our future work. I will be listening carefully so that OECD can best respond to your needs.

Thank you.


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