EDITORIAL: Tackling the resource curse
After the fiasco over the future of England’s forests, the apparent abandonment of so-called ‘Green ISAs’ and the hypocrisy of the government’s promotion of oil drilling in the Shetlands and Arctic whilst simultaneously calling for greenhouse gas emissions cuts, the coalition’s credibility on green issues has taken a battering in recent weeks.
But, receiving far less attention, the government has quietly pledged to support groundbreaking laws that could positively affect the lives of millions in some of the world’s most impoverished countries: George Osborne last month signalled the coalition’s backing for the implementation of EU-wide oil, gas and mining transparency laws.
These laws, if introduced, will require companies listed in the EU to publish what they pay to foreign governments in order to extract minerals and other natural resources. This will vastly improve transparency over revenues - frequently shrouded in a cloak of secrecy - help tackle the corruption that has long been endemic in many resource-rich countries, and equip those living there with the information to help them reap the benefits of their nations natural assets.
The proposed laws, which mirror US legislation and are being championed by France’s President Sarkozy, represent, according to investigative campaigners Global Witness, the single biggest milestone in helping combat the so-called ‘resource curse’ - whether related to oil, gas or minerals, and even timber and other commodities - that has blighted many parts of the globe, Africa particularly, for decades.
This ‘curse’, which frequently sees huge sums of revenue from multinational corporations paid to often corrupt governments, results in last swathes of money disappearing into private bank accounts and propping up extravagant lifestyles - whilst the bulk of ordinary populations live in overwhelming poverty.
Osborne’s announcement could prove highly instrumental in both getting the legislation enacted and in putting these crucial issues more firmly on the world stage - particularly as the London Stock Exchange is at the heart of global financial markets - and for that he, and the coalition, should be applauded. (The fact that the long awaited UK Bribery Act - passed with cross-party political consensus back in the spring of 2010 and designed to clean up the conduct of big business overseas - has yet to implemented should give some cause for concern however and indicates that scrutiny of developments is still required.)
So, whilst the coalition’s green agenda at home is being met with fierce and entirely justifiable scepticism, its actions on the world stage - at least in relation to the UK’s conduct over the plunder of the planet’s natural resources - mean we probably shouldn’t right off Cameron, Clegg, Osborne et all just yet.