Building capacity to help Africa trade better

Beneath the surface: Natural resources and national economies


Beneath the surface: Natural resources and national economies

Beneath the surface: Natural resources and national economies
Photo credit: BioRes

Among the world’s most coveted commodities, gold has long been associated with wealth, beauty, and even immortality. But sourcing the precious metal can often have serious environmental and social costs, ranging from deforestation and mercury emissions, to child labour and conflict.

For example, a study published last October by the Carnegie Institution and Peru’s Ministry of Environment found that forest loss in Madre de Dios in the Peruvian Amazon – a biodiversity hotspot – has tripled since the economic crisis began in 2008. As the global economy crashed, gold prices soared, further raising incentives to mine, particularly among individuals and small groups in poor nations. Booming illegal rackets have also sprung up in countries such as Peru and beyond.

The lead article in this issue of BioRes tells of a multi-stakeholder effort to address these challenges in order to harness artisanal and small-scale mining (ASM) activities for sustainable development. Through a system implemented across the value chain, buyers purchase gold that meet recognised standards, with a percentage of the sale re-invested in environmental and social projects, as well as aiding non-certified mines move towards sustainable certification. Challenges remain, but efforts aimed at improving gold extraction practices are crucial to helping ensure remote and fragile communities benefit from the presence of industry.

Mitigating the impacts of natural resource extraction has been a high profile issue in recent years, with many environmentalists expressing concern over the effects of shale gas extraction. The controversy is unlikely to abate any time soon, with the White House recently confirming that the US is projected to remain the world’s largest producer of oil and gas in the world through 2030, spurred on by the country’s shale gas “revolution.”

Shale gas has quickly climbed up national and international policy agendas, playing a particular role in recent weeks in relation to Europe’s energy security woes and the escalating crisis in Ukraine. ICTSD Senior Fellow Thomas Brewer takes a look at some of the environmental concerns raised around shale gas extraction, as well as possible future trade flows, putting forward policy recommendations to navigate the road ahead.  

This issue also features a reflection on the treatment of fisheries and marine ecosystems in the ongoing formulation of the sustainable development goals, while another article takes a look at opportunities and limitations for legal trade models to conserve wildlife. 


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