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Blog Posts: natural resources

  • Tar Sands Threaten World’s Largest Boreal Forest

    According to data from Global Forest Watch, an online mapping platform that tracks tree cover loss and gain in near-real time, industrial development and forest fires in Canada’s tar sands region has cleared or degraded 775,500 hectares (almost two million acres) of boreal forest since the year 2000. That’s an area more than six times the size of New York City. If the tar sands extraction boom continues, as many predict, we can expect forest loss to increase.

  • What Will it Take to End the “Resource Curses?”

    The “resource curse" describes the paradox where countries rich in oil, gas, and minerals remain largely impoverished. Better transparency—both in how governments spend extractive revenues and how natural resource decisions are made—could help tackle this problem. While some new initiatives are making progress on this front, more needs to be done to ensure that drilling and mining doesn’t come at the expense of communities and the land, water, and wildlife they rely on.

  • Overlapping Land and Natural Resource Rights Creates Conflict in Africa

    In much of Africa, the bundle of land rights that most rural people legally hold is relatively small—usually limited to surface rights and certain rights to some natural resources on and below the surface, such as rights to water for domestic use. Many high-value natural resources—such as oil, natural gas, minerals, and wildlife—are governed by separate legal regimes and administered by different public institutions. Africa’s governments often allocate these rights to outside, commonly foreign companies for large-scale operations. In other words, while many communities hold rights to the land, foreign companies hold the rights to the natural resources on or under the same plot. These overlapping rights oftentimes lead to conflict, unsustainable use of resources, and injustices.

  • Ending the "Resource Curse": Canada Commits to Make Mining More Transparent

    Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, took a significant step toward promoting transparency and reducing global poverty. He announced yesterday that Canada will implement mandatory reporting requirements for Canadian extractive companies operating both in-country and abroad.

    This mandate will require Canadian extractive companies to publicly disclose the payments they make to foreign governments in exchange for permission to operate on their soil. This development will help promote transparency in the mining sector and, if implemented effectively, could help combat the “resource curse.”

    Fighting the Resource Curse through Access to Information

    Tackling the “resource curse” is a challenge of global proportions. The term applies to situations where, despite a country’s mineral or oil wealth, poverty is exacerbated in part by weak or corrupt institutions, government mismanagement of revenues, and a failure to re-invest into projects that benefit the public—such as infrastructure, education, and healthcare. Often, citizens of resource curse countries aren’t able to hold their governments accountable for this abuse of power because they lack information about their country’s revenues and expenditures (see Box).

  • 10 Ways to Cut Global Food Loss and Waste

    This post is the third installment of WRI’s blog series, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” The series explores strategies to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the 2013-2014 World Resources Report.

    An amazing 24 percent of all food calories produced today go uneaten. Reducing this loss and waste is a critical step toward generating enough food for a population set to reach more than 9 billion by 2050.

    Fortunately, there are low-cost methods that can begin saving food immediately in both the developing and the developed world. WRI’s new working paper, Reducing Food Loss and Waste, identifies a number of these strategies. Some methods cut loss “close to the farm,” while others reduce waste “close to the fork.”

    Reducing Food Loss Close to the Farm

    Improved storage methods

    Simple, low-cost storage methods can drastically cut food loss, especially for small-scale farmers in the developing world, who frequently lose food to factors like pests, spoilage, and transportation damage. For example, a system developed by researchers at Purdue University in which grain is stored in three interlocking plastic bags locks out pests and keeps grain fresh for months. The Food and Agriculture Organization has built more than 45,000 small, metal storage silos—just big enough for use by a single farmer—in 16 different countries. These silos have cut food loss during the storage phase to almost zero. Even using a plastic crate instead of a plastic sack during transport can cut loss dramatically by preventing bruising and squashing.

  • By the Numbers: Reducing Food Loss and Waste

    This post is the second installment of WRI’s blog series, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” The series explores strategies to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the 2013-2014 World Resources Report. Look for the next installment tomorrow, which will highlight a number of solutions to reduce food loss and waste.

    The world produces about 4 billion tons of food per year, or about 6 quadrillion calories. That’s a large amount, but what’s really shocking is that nearly one-quarter of these calories go uneaten.

    This food is lost or wasted in a number of ways. It might rot in the fields, get eaten by pests in storage, or be thrown away by a grocer or consumer, just to name a few. It’s a problem that must be mitigated: The world will need about 60 percent more calories per year by 2050 in order to adequately feed the projected population of more than 9 billion people. WRI’s new working paper, Reducing Food Loss and Waste, shows that cutting current rates of food loss and waste in half would reduce the size of this food gap by about 22 percent.

    The new paper, part of the ongoing 2013-2014 World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future working paper series, looks at the scale of the food loss and waste challenge and examines how we as a global community can start tackling this issue. The paper and tomorrow’s blog post explore a number of practical, affordable strategies for governments, businesses, and households to reduce their loss and waste immediately.

    But first, it’s important to understand the extent of the problem. Here are several facts and figures that reveal just how much food the world loses and wastes:

  • Demystifying the Role of Ecosystem Services in Impact Assessments

    Ensuring that development projects benefit both people and the planet is becoming more and more of a priority.

    Environmental and social impact assessments (ESIA) have been in use for decades to consider the effects of projects such as dams, highways, and oil and gas development. Over the years, ESIAs have evolved to cover both environmental and social impacts, including health and human rights.

    However, the assessments often study social or environmental factors separately from one another, missing the many ways in which they interact.

    In 2012, important financial institutions--the International Finance Corporation and the Equator Principles Financial Institutions--took a welcome step towards promoting a more holistic approach to impact assessment, requiring their clients to address ecosystem services as part of their due diligence.

    Incorporating the concept of ecosystem services into ESIA can ensure that affected stakeholders, project developers, financial, and governmental institutions understand the full scope of a proposed project’s impacts on people and the environment. But as I recently learned at the annual conference of the International Association for Impact Assessment (IAIA) two weeks ago, there’s a lot of uncertainty about what the concept of “ecosystem services” really means and how it can be applied to conducting impact assessments. It’s a good time to clear up confusion on this critically important yet complex issue.

  • The Great Balancing Act: 3 Needs for a Sustainable Food Future

    This post is the first installment of WRI’s blog series, “Creating a Sustainable Food Future.” The series explores strategies to sustainably feed 9 billion people by 2050. All pieces are based on research being conducted for the forthcoming World Resources Report.

    How can the world feed more than 9 billion people by 2050 in a manner that advances economic development and reduces pressure on the environment? This is one of the paramount questions the world faces over the next four decades.

    Answering it requires a “great balancing act” of three needs—all of which must be met simultaneously.

    Balancing 3 Needs

    1. The world needs to close the gap between the amount of food available today and the amount required in 2050. According to new WRI analysis, we’ll need about 60 percent more food calories in 2050 than in 2006 if global demand continues on its current trajectory. This gap is in part a function of increasing population and wealth. The United Nations projects that the global population will likely grow from 7 billion in 2012 to 9.3 billion by 2050. At least 3 billion more people are likely to enter the global middle class by 2030, and they will almost certainly demand more resource-intensive foods like meat and vegetable oils. At the same time, approximately 870 million of the world's poorest people remain undernourished even today.
  • Time to Get Serious About the Future of UNEP

    This post originally appeared in UNEP's magazine, "Our Planet."

    “This gathering represents man’s earnest endeavor to understand his own condition and to prolong his tenancy of this planet.”

    With these stirring words, Indira Gandhi, India’s Prime Minister, galvanized the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm. A wake-up call to the state of our planet, Stockholm gave birth to the UN Environment Programme, amid high hopes that humanity could together curb alarming trends in pollution and natural resource loss.

    Hopes were high when a 43-year-old Maurice Strong took the reins of the new institution – the first UN body to be located in a developing country. UNEP’s remit was simple: to be the world’s lead institution on the global environment. Its mandate included compiling much-needed environmental data, coordinating international activities, developing international agreements, and providing capacity development and technical assistance, especially to developing countries.

    Forty years on, UNEP has made some vital contributions. It has played a key role in creating dozens of institutions and agreements that have advanced understanding of global challenges and propelled international action. These include such game-changers as the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which led to a 98 percent drop in controlled ozone depleting gases; the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), since 1988 the leading global body on climate science; the 1992 Earth Summit, and its associated global treaties on climate and biodiversity; and the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, the first ever survey of the health of the world’s biological resources.

    And yet, as it enters its fifth decade, few can believe that UNEP is equipped for the magnitude of the task ahead.

  • 4 Grand Challenges to Energy, Food, and Water

    The world is on track to become a very different place in the next two decades. Per capita income levels are rising, the global middle class is expanding, and the population is set to hit 8.3 billion people by 2030. At the same time, urbanization is happening at an accelerated pace—the volume of urban construction over the next 40 years could equal that which has occurred throughout history to date.

    While these projections would bring benefits like reduced poverty and individual empowerment, they have serious implications for the world’s natural resources. Global growth will likely increase the demand for food, water, and energy by 35, 40, and 50 percent respectively by 2030. Add continued climate change to the equation, and the struggle for resources only becomes more intense.

    These are just a few of the estimates included in the new Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds report from the U.S. National Intelligence Council (NIC) that was released last month. The assessment, which the NIC puts out every four years, reflects in-depth research on trends and geopolitical changes that may unfold in the next 15-20 years—everything from urbanization to conflict to resource scarcity.

    Assessments like the NIC’s are invaluable in providing decision makers with forward-looking insights and analysis. But while the report offers a glimpse into the future, what’s more important is how we respond today to the questions these “megatrends” raise.

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