Beating the
‘resource curse’

Emil Salim
describes how environmentally, socially and economically sustainable development is needed to avoid conflicts over resources

The frightening growth of the world’s military spending represents an opportunity forgone to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. In 2001 it already stood at $839 billion, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, with about three quarters of it in developed countries. By contrast it would take just $19 billion to wipe out starvation and malnutrition globally, the same amount to provide safe clean drinking water and only $5 billion to eliminate illiteracy.

In most cases the objectives of armed conflicts are practical, to control accessibility to natural resources like oil, gas, diamonds, emeralds and timber. All those who use land and other resources – like farmers, loggers and fishers – have their own interests. The control of a natural resource by one will pre-empt others using it in a different way. Conflicts of interests can grow into open conflicts. When population and consumption increase, so does pressure on the use of natural resources. Settling conflicts on their use by force is a short cut preferred by those in strong positions.

The World Bank’s World Development Report 2003 reported that unsustained growth is closely associated with point-source resources and civil conflicts. When production and revenue patterns are concentrated, such as with fuels or minerals – and government controls revenues from resource extraction – opportunities are opened up for financing activities without scrutiny by taxpayers. Easily appropriable rents weaken governance and institutions, increase corruption and self-interested rent seeking, and prevent economic growth. Rival groups emerge, eager to have their share. Thus a ‘resource curse’ can plunge a country into armed conflict.

Single track
Practically all armed conflicts are now taking place in developing countries, indicating that the development pattern followed thus far has serious shortcomings. Developing countries usually adhere to the single track of economic development, to raise incomes and growth of national GDP. When the economy grows, increased income is expected to trickle down and make social and environmental development available.

Economic development successfully raised gross world output from $6.6 trillion to $44.9 trillion over the last half of the 20th century. This growth was, however, accompanied by increased inequality: 17 per cent of the world’s population receive 78 per cent of world income, while 60 per cent of the people share just 6 per cent of it. Close to 2.2 billion people live on less than two dollars a day.

World population is expected to grow from its present 6.4 billion to 7.9 billion in 2025 and 9.3 billion in 2050. Some 5.2 billion of today’s 6.4 billion live in developing countries, and their numbers will increase to 8 billion in 2050. Their developmental needs are increasing while the natural endowments in their territories remain the same, creating the potential for open conflicts.

Growth must continue, and this will push consumption even further upwards. Enhanced economic development, while necessary, is not sufficient. The whole world population must now move along the path of sustainable development. This implies economic, social and environmental sustainability.

The economy can be sustainable if it aims at poverty alleviation through full employment, and simultaneously copes with negative economic impacts on social and environmental sustainability.

Social sustainability is achieved by focusing development on raising the quality of human creativity through improved education, health and capacity building – and by strengthening social cohesion among members of society through improving social solidarity, cooperation and tolerance among religions and races and ethnic, professional and political groupings. This social development must, in turn, be accomplished while simultaneously considering its impact on economic and environmental sustainability.

Preserving and protecting
Environmental sustainability requires preserving and protecting natural resources in ecosystems essential to support life. Similarly it must be achieved while simultaneously considering its impacts on economic and social sustainability.

A sustainable livelihood, therefore, is achieved by applying pro-active developmental policies through this triple-headed economic-social-environmental sustainability.

In the past, conventional economic development has produced goods and services but had negative impacts on social and environmental development. Industry has polluted the atmosphere, and depleted the ozone layer. Transport and energy have heavily polluted the air with greenhouse gases that change the climate and warm the globe, causing such impacts as sea-level rise, increasingly frequent floods, spreading desertification, growing evaporation of surface water, shrinking forests, the erosion of biodiversity and the eruption of new hazards to health.
Conflicts of interests can grow into open conflicts
The main causes behind such negative impacts from economic development are ‘market failures’, the inability of market prices to absorb the appropriate social and environmental signals, and the failure of business enterprises to internalize externalities into their structures of costs and benefits.

Theoretical instruments have been developed to value social and environmental services and some countries have already introduced ‘green budgets’ and ‘green accounting’ into their systems to try to correct market failures.

Recognizing the potential for conflicts in natural resource management, the World Bank Institute has developed a peace and conflict impact assessment that, together with spatial planning and integrated social and environmental impact assessments, can provide comprehensive policy tools for sustainable development.

Putting economic, social and environmental sustainability into the perspective of a global common vision for the world in 2050 is even more important than developing analytical tools for it. We need a universal, global commitment to build a sustainable world.

This will requires global cooperation in:

1. Population dynamics, including striving to reach a stable population with high human and social cohesive capacity.

2. Consumption patterns that will induce the production of: goods and services based on less material-intensive, renewable and recyclable resources; renewable and clean sources of energy; low-waste and low-polluting commodities and services; goods and services that use little space and land area; products and services based on socially and environmentally friendly clean technology.

3. Delivery of the Millennium Development Goals with equity.

4. Policy measures to correct global market and policy failures.

5. Consolidating multilateral institutions, such as the United Nations, and the triangle of partnership between governments, businesses and civil society.

Cooperation along these five lines of action makes it possible to strive for economic, social and environmental sustainability with genuine global democracy on a multilateral basis – as members of the United Nations family move forward on the pathway to a humane and cohesive world in 2050, free from poverty, inequality and fear

Professor Emil Salim a former Environment Minister of Indonesia, is professor at the postgraduate course on environment at the University of Indonesia, Jakarta, and Chairman of the country’s Associations for Community Empowerment.

PHOTOGRAPH: Alvaro Izurieta/UNEP/Topham

No country is an island

The devastating tsunami that hit my country, Indonesia, and nations around the Indian Ocean in December 2004 forcefully underlines the importance of environmental security. It also demonstrates that the resilience of development depends on its being based on economic, social and environmental sustainability. Specifically it has shown the importance of preserving mangrove forests – which have been shown to protect people and communities in this and previous catastrophes – and of constructing buildings that are in accordance with nature’s carrying capacity. Construction technologies need to adopt traits from the coconut and bamboo trees, which in most places have survived the ravages of tsunamis. The disaster also illustrates another truth – that human society is like an ecosystem; if part of it is hit, it all vibrates. Truly no one, no country, is an ‘island’. ES

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Toepfer | Waking up | Planting security | Natural peace | People | No procrastinating on climate | Attracting private investment | Reshaping the energy and security debate | At a glance: Environmental security | Star profile: Salman Ahmad | How many Earths? | Green helmets | Books and products | Initiative for change | Security in turbulence | Water and war | Beating the ‘resource curse’ | Green peace | It’s poverty, stupid

Complementary issue:
The rule of law and the Millennium Development Goals, 2004