III. Case studies of existing solutions

Natural resources as common goods


Soil, water, air and biodiversity (genetic diversity) are among the most essential sources of life. With the existence of humankind, fierce battles over natural resources started — and continue to exist today. Main drivers of the diverse conflicts are besides climate change, the ongoing economic growth, and the increasing population accompanied by rising consumption patterns. Achieving food-water-energy-security and health, mitigating and adapting to climate change, protecting biodiversity and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, among others, are only a few of the thematic challenges for humanity according to intra- and intergenerational justice and types of ownership. Sustainable resource use and management, which provides a constant everlasting amount of ecosystem services, is only possible if humanity creates a new path away from the existing business as usual capitalism of exploitation and greed (Söllner 2014). Only if politicians, businessmen and civil society leam to treat their resources sustainably according to Brundtland 1987 (’Our Common Future’) (Budin 1989) and inter alia in correlation to the concept of strong sustainability by Ott and Döring (2004) can the survival of humanity can be assumed. The concept of commons might be a vital contribution to overcome unsustainable management and ownership of global resources.

Various approaches are available to derive the topic of resources as common goods. This diversity of approaches conies from various scientific fields and social aspects. From this diversity, however, very different approaches to common goods and justice/distributive justice can be formulated and also approaches to implementation can be found. Discussions and approaches from politics and science are assigned to the following groups, among others:

  • • Ecological
  • • Planetary boundaries
  • • Environmental impact
  • • Ecological-social
  • • Health
  • • Basic necessities of life
  • • Social
  • • Brundlandt-Kommission — inter- and intragenerational justice
  • • Living and working conditions
  • • Cultural — philosophical
  • • Justice as a philosophical approach
  • • Social sustainability as a cultural idea
  • • Socio-economic
  • • Living and working conditions
  • • Availability of resources
  • • Income development, GNP
  • • Human resources
  • • Economical
  • • Benefits and costs/benefits etc.
  • • Economic growth
  • • Ecological-economical
  • • Green economy, and so on.

Until today no uniform definition of common goods exists, and terminological fuzziness is a scientific reality. Therefore, a key question is: In how far can natural resources be defined as humanity’s common goods, and is a concept of common goods and its inherent part of commoning helpful in reducing resource extraction, and preserving existing resources for future generations? The aim is to identify how natural resources can be defined and assorted and, in a second step, how common goods can be derived from that definition and being identified as humanity’s common goods.

Definition of natural resources

A resource in the economic sense means to carry out an action and is equated with the term capital. Furthermore, it can be divided into labour capital, physical capital and natural capital, the latter being the only natural resource (Reller et al. 2014). In terms of the geo- and sustainability sciences, natural resources are understood more broadly as all-natural capital used in the past or potentially usable including the environmental compartments water, air, and soil as well as energetic, mineral, and biotic resources as plants and animals (Reller et al. 2014). In the broadest sense, all ecosystem functions of earth and the solar system usable by humans or funding human well-being are included (Schütz & Bringezu 2008; Reid 2005; Bleischwitz et al. 2009). According to this, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) International Resources Panel lists water, land, energy, and materials such as minerals.

Scales of the resource system, pool and unit. Source

Figure 18.1 Scales of the resource system, pool and unit. Source: based on Holzgreve (2015).

biomass and fossil fuels as natural resources (UNEP 2012). The German Resource Efficiency Programme (ProGress 2012) adds to the UNEP definition the biodiversity aspect and divides raw materials in abiotic materials like fossil fuels, ores, industrial minerals, and construction material; and material use, food/feedstuff and fuel as biotic material. The use of raw materials is herein closely connected with the use of other resources such as water, land/ soil, air, biological diversity and ecosystems (BMUB 2012).

Based on the mentioned definitions, natural resources can be defined broadly as the means for human actions and basis of human livelihoods provided by nature; namely the large-scale resource pools like water, air, soil/ land. They are extended by all ecosystem functions of earth and solar system usable by humans or funding human well-being (biodiversity, energy) and the extracted raw materials sub-categorised in biotic and abiotic materials. Their value for humanity — as resource pools embedded in ecosystems or as single resource units — is given by provisioning, supporting, cultural, and regulating ecosystem or resource services (Reid 2005). While local resource extraction reduces services to the provisioning and takes place at the local level, benefits from supporting and regulating services are of global significance.

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