Natural environment  |  Publications  |  10.10.2012

International Resource Politics

This new publication by the Heinrich Boell Stiftung brings natural resources are back on the agenda. After the rise of new economic powers such as China, India and Brazil, global competition has perceptibly increased strategic concerns as regards high commodity prices and possible supply shortages. Germany, the EU, the USA and many others have formulated raw material strategies that put concern over access and supply at its center stage.

This paper underlines a new dimension of international relations and pleads for new approaches, called international resource politics. What is new and will be stressed throughout the paper is the interconnectivity across critical resource shortages and with two challenges:

  • The environmental challenge to cope with impacts from using resources along their life-cycle
  • The social-political challenge to cope with human rights, poverty and freedom internationally

These two dimensions are often neglected in strategic studies. However, this paper emphasizes their strategic character for the worldwide endeavor of a green economy and the forthcoming Rio+20 Summit in Rio de Janeiro: Firstly, environmental benefits in industrialized countries may coincide with a problem shifting towards the poorer regions in the world. Biofuels have been one example for such problem shifting lately. Many of the key sectors in transition (for example energy, transport, agriculture) and innovative green technologies (solar, wind, electric cars, etc.) will continue to rely on the use of finite mineral resources that are often mined in countries with a weak governance and poor record of human rights.

Secondly, economic benefits of resource efficiency measures in manufacturing sectors are dissatisfactory as long as the corresponding products end up as hazardous waste in poorer regions. Without an explicit international dimension, resource efficiency strategies face an uphill battle against existing distortions and unfair competition. Thirdly, a finite planet with “planetary boundaries” for key environmental parameters (some of which are already transgressed) sets limits to substituting one finite resource (such as land) with another (such as fossil fuels) or vice versa. Business as usual is not an option, not for any actor nor for any country.

This paper attempts to raise awareness for an international resource politics as a new element for ongoing debates around a green economy and transition strategies.

This text has been adapted from the executive summary of the publication. 

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