Global capitalism is driving an ever-growing demand for resources. But the worldwide appetite for commodities—from the palm oil in food and cosmetics to precious metals that make smartphones work and fossil fuels that power entire economies—can conflict with people’s demand for economic opportunity, human rights, and dignity. Sometimes this conflict tips over into violence and, because of climate change and other environmental threats, puts the planet at risk.
In this context, the ownership and control of natural resources—forests, and resources like minerals and fossil fuels—plays a major role in reducing or exacerbating inequality around the world, especially in commodity-dependent countries in the Global South. This control is also a major factor in the quality of governance—and the very question of who has the right to belong in a particular place.
Without secure land rights and tenure in natural resource-rich areas, indigenous peoples and other traditional rural communities are vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination, compromising their livelihoods and cultural integrity. Too often Global South governments, mining and drilling regions, and affected communities reap few of the benefits of natural resource exploitation and shoulder too many of the costs (financial and otherwise). And as we grapple with the escalating threat—and serious impacts—of climate change, the wellbeing of these communities and their forests makes a difference to all the world’s people.