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Book Review for Environmental Sciences

Globalisation and Natural Resources Law

Elena Blanco and Jona Razzaque,
417 pp., paperback, ISBN978-1-84844-250-4
Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing (2011)

Overstating the importance of the topic of ‘Globalisation and Natural Resources Law’

seems to be hardly possible. Natural resources have come under increasing pressure since

booming economies in ‘emerging countries’ have added to the traditional high demand from

‘developed economies’. The link from natural resources to globalisation is crucial, not only

since economic expansion thrives on globally intertwined markets, but also since many

environmental consequences of natural resources exploitation are global in nature. While

national authorities decide, in principle, on the natural resources situated on their territories,

the governance of natural resources often takes a transnational turn because of these global

ramifications. Exploring the possibilities and constraints of law to efficiently and equitably

govern natural resources in this global arena is thus a particularly relevant, yet also highly

complex venture.

Elena Blanco and Jona Razzaque have taken up this gauntlet, examining the extent to

which national and international law are instrumental in the good governance of natural

resources. Their book consists of three parts. The logical starting point is to lay out key

concepts, principles, and theories. Inequality (both within and across countries), sovereignty,

global governance, natural resources destruction, ecosystem services, right to development,

sustainable development, foreign direct investments, command-and-control versus market

based governance, and substantive versus procedural rights are some of the main aspects

covered. Next, the authors discuss the roles that different actors can play in the governance of

natural resources. These actors include the ‘usual suspects’ one would expect in a book on

law in a global context: nation-states, global institutions (like the World Bank and the World

Trade Organization), and regional institutions (including the European Union and the North

American Free Trade Agreement). Other major actors, who do not issue any ‘hard law’ yet

are still highly relevant are also discussed, in particular, multinational corporations, export

credit agencies, civil society, and indigenous peoples. Thereby, the scope of the book goes

beyond a strictly legal one. The third and final part zooms in on three critical types of natural

resources: water, renewable energy, and biodiversity. The conceptual insights and

perspectives of different actors converge around these majorly important resource types.

Blanco and Razzaque should be lauded for their comprehensive approach. They go

beyond a purely legal perspective by also considering political, economic, and sociological

factors and relations. Such a systemic approach is indispensable to come to grips with a

multifaceted phenomenon like natural resources governance. The authors are well-read, citing

a wealth of relevant literature. Importantly, they clearly describe and richly illustrate a variety

of aspects and lenses in relation to the governance of natural resources in a global context.

Students, scholars, and policy-makers with an interest in this topic are likely to appreciate the

many valuable insights that the book offers.

No human venture is perfect. Among the things I missed most was an overarching

framework, an analytical synthesis of key insights. It would have been useful to offer a

synopsis of which aspects of natural resources governance are best addressed via legislation

and which ones can be left to market actors or civil society. Under what conditions do

national governments or supranational authorities have the capacity and willpower to regulate

which aspects of natural resources? When do domestic, foreign, or supranational non-state

actors have the self-interest and power to efficiently and equitably govern natural resources?

And if existing governance options fall short, how can they be realistically remedied? Clear

answers to these poignant questions, structured around diagnostic and prognostic frames,
would have been useful. Furthermore, the book is somewhat biased towards sympathy with

the ‘have-nots’ (in particular, the poor) and those suffering from unsustainable exploitation of

natural resources. While this is a noble attitude, it is not always helpful in getting to the

analytical heart of these thorny issues.

All in all, ‘Globalisation and Natural Resources Law’ offers a rich account of the

multiple aspects and perspectives around the question of feasible and fair governance of

natural resources. The book is a good read for lawyers and other social scientists, both in

academia and the ‘real world’, with a broad scope and an interest in a crucial area for the

future of humanity, whose fate is so intricately bound to the way in which it (fails to) govern

natural resources.

Frank Wijen

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University