Mother Earth and Resource Extraction: Women Defending Land and Water

Resource Extraction and Climate Change

Leer la versión en español de este contenido: El Extractivismo y el Cambio Climático. 

A Changing Climate

Greenhouse gases (GHGs) absorb infrared radiation and trap heat within the atmosphere. To allow for a standardized measurement, these gases are often measured as carbon dioxide equivalents (C02e); carbon is emitted when fossil fuels are burned. Other GHGs include water vapour, methane, and nitrous oxide. The presence of these GHGs contributes to a warming planet. 

Human activity can be directly linked to global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, sea level rise, ocean acidification, and extreme weather events.  In 2017, global temperatures reached 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels and the science is clear in saying that the increasing rate of release of GHG emissions from industrialization is the root cause.

Many areas around the world are warming at a greater rate than the global average. The impact of GHG emissions are not felt immediately because there is a lag between the time of the emissions release and the associated warming effects. Past emissions are continuing to contribute to temperatures today, and any increase in the release of emissions today will be exponentially more damaging in the future. This is due to the positive feedback loops created by a warming world: for example the increased atmospheric concentrations of GHGs cause events such as arctic sea ice melt, which in turn causes sea water exposure which absorbs sunlight, which then causes the earth to get warmer, which in turn causes more sea ice melt--in spirally perpetuity. 

"Global Resource Outlook,” a report released in May 2019 by the International Resource Panel demonstrates, resource extraction generates climate change.

Resource Extraction and Climate Change

The extraction and processing of natural resources (biomass, fossil fuels, metals, and non-metallic minerals) make up half of the global greenhouse gas emissions while contributing to more than 90% of global diversity loss and water stress impacts.  In isolation, the extraction and processing of just metals and other minerals is responsible for 26% of global carbon emissions. The global demand for natural resources is at an unsustainable level and yet there is arguably a growing demand. 

"Global population has doubled and global economic activity (GDP) has grown fourfold since the 1970s, raising living standards and human well-being in many parts of the world. The growing population and expanding global economy were fuelled by a fast-growing material supply and extraction of primary materials, increasing pressure on land and water. During the period 1970 to 2017, annual global extraction of materials grew from 27.1 billion tons to 92.1 billion tons (average annual growth of 2.6 percent). The global average of material demand per capita grew from 7.4 tons in 1970 to 12.2 tons per capita in 2017."


Disproportionate Impacts of Extraction Between Nation-States 

At the global level, there has been a diminishing rate of social return as resources become more monetarily expensive to extract from the earth, and environmental and human costs increase. Nation-states’ social and economic strength are measured through the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Many of these goals, however, directly rely upon building physical infrastructure (therefore depending on natural resource extraction) while simultaneously requiring the protection of the natural environment.


In addition, people consume 9.8 tonnes of resources a year in wealthier countries, which is 13 times higher than lower income countries studied. This is compounded by the lowering of global material productivity, or the efficiency of material use. Materials extraction is dominated by wealthier countries and a “relocation of material-intensive processes to middle-income countries is encouraged by lower environmental standards (especially in terms of local pollution) compared with those typically enforced in countries of the higher-income group).”

Looking at development through the lens of a DPSIR Framework (drivers-pressures-state-impacts-response), we can see that natural resource extraction patterns on a global scale are tied to increased demand. If demand for natural resources is lowered, pressures would also be reduced, and the feedback loop would be broken. Human and environmental rights need to be prioritized over economic growth, and the capitalist model of endless material consumption needs to be broken if we are to avoid a climate catastrophe and social collapse. This analysis speaks from the perspective of high-income people in high-income countries. Nevertheless, it is a useful model for understanding the reasons for the global increase of natural resource extraction.

People living in countries considered low-income experience climate change differently than those living in higher income countries. Climate change compounds any already existing social stressors such as food shortages, water scarcity, and employment precariousness.   

"We see climate as a magnifier, and in many cases a multiplier, of existing underlying causes of risk." — Sarah Henly-Shepard, Mercy Corps Senior Advisor for Climate Change and Resilience

"Climate change increases the risk of conflict. It degrades land and leads to competition over precious natural resources. Over time, conflict can displace entire communities and lead to life-threatening hunger. But we can prevent it, if we proactively focus on these environmental risks and bring communities together to find solutions." — Jenny Vaughan, Mercy Corps Director of Peace and Conflict

Checks and balances on corporate behaviour are necessary to ensure that natural resource extraction is done in a socially sustainable way while mitigating the harms to the environment. To learn more about the fiscal and legal imbalances between where resources are produced versus where products are consumed please visit MERE Hub's page on corporate accountability.

Global Resources Outlook – Key findings 

Women, Climate Change, and Resource Extraction

Beyond the disproportionate impacts of climate change across nation-states, women (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) are the most strongly impacted by resource extraction. Women, then, experience climate change differently.  

More on women and climate change:

Amnesty International, 2016. "Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Gender, Indigenous rights, and energy development in northeast British Columbia, Canada." 

Association quebecoise des organismes de cooperation internationale; Inter-Council network: Provincial & Regional Councils for International Cooperation, 2019. "A Feminist Approach to Climate Justice." 
CARE, 2016. "La Dynamique Genre dans un Climat Changeant."

CARE France, 2017. "Adaptation, genre et autonomisation des femmes."

National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, 2019. "Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls."
Women’s Environmental Network, 2010. "Gender and the Climate Change Agenda: The impacts of climate change on women and public policy."

WoMin; African Women Unite Against Destructive Resource Extraction, 2015. "The impact of extractive industries."


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