UN Headquarters

25 May 2021

Remarks to the Global Roundtable on Transforming Extractive Industries for Sustainable Development

António Guterres

Excellencies, Friends,

I am pleased to welcome you to this Global Roundtable on Transforming Extractive Industries for Sustainable Development.

Mineral resources are one of Earth’s great endowments.

Their extraction plays a dominant role in the economies of 81 countries.

These countries account for a quarter of global Gross Domestic Product, half the world’s population and nearly 70 per cent of people living in extreme poverty.

Of the world’s 72 low- or middle-income countries, 63 have increased their dependence on extractive industries over the past two decades.

These industries generate large amounts of foreign exchange earnings, foreign direct investment and government revenues.

They have the potential to drive economic growth and poverty reduction.

Yet, we cannot escape the fact that extractive industries are also potentially associated with a litany of ills – corruption, exploitation, colonialism and racism; environmental degradation, worsening climate change and biodiversity loss; armed conflict, gender-based violence, population displacement, cultural harm and human rights violations.

We have all heard talk of the resource curse.

Our shared responsibility is to ensure that the benefits of mineral resources reach all people in society, not just elites, while safeguarding the natural environment today and for future generations.

Over the past eight months, the United Nations Regional Economic Commissions have organized a series of roundtables on these issues.

Today’s event is the culmination of a richly insightful process.

A common thread through the regional roundtables has been the need for the extractives sector and the resources generated to be managed sustainably, inclusively and equitably.

This means taking into account the needs and rights of women, indigenous peoples, local communities and other stakeholders who are affected by the industry yet excluded from the design and benefits of extractive operations.

For women, indigenous peoples, local communities and other stakeholders, extractive industries could provide opportunities for a better life, through increased and better employment opportunities and expanded investment in the local community if designed in ways that respect their human rights.

For indigenous peoples, this includes the rights to self-determination and Free, Prior and Informed Consent.

Women-led businesses can flourish in the extractives supply chain too.

Looking ahead, I would like to highlight four imperatives:

First: we need to improve extractive resource governance through more effective rules and enforcement related to environmental sustainability, transparency, inclusive decision-making, accountability, access to information and respecting and protecting human rights.

Independent monitoring, including by civil society actors and indigenous peoples, is essential.

So, too, is human rights due diligence and effective remedy, in line with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Also essential is addressing corruption, revenue mismanagement and illicit financial flows.

The sector can avoid exacerbating inequalities by ensuring the fair distribution of the benefits of the development of extractive industries, in line with the right to development.

This is especially important regarding new minerals and metals on which the technological revolution depends.

Second: countries need to reduce dependence on revenues from extractive industries.

This means diversifying economies to broaden the revenue base, increasing value added content, adapting tax systems to new needs and accelerating work on a just transition for workers and communities dependent on extractive resources.

The extractives sector should also integrate circular economy principles.

Overall, the sector should be supporting investment in public services, the Sustainable Development Goals and human rights. 

Some of the leading sovereign wealth funds have been an effective instrument to support investment in public services and the SDGs, and have supported financial resilience and stability.

Third: we need greater investment in a low-carbon future.

All public and private finance in the extractives sector should be aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement.

Decarbonization of the global economy is inevitable.

Countries representing 73 per cent of carbon emissions have now committed to net zero by mid-century.

Countries and donors need to support the rapid deployment of renewable energy technologies and the phase-out of fossil-fuel based assets.

The first priority is to end coal use.

That means no new coal plants to be built or financed.

And it means a phase out of coal use by 2030 in OECD countries and 2040 in the rest of the world.

To boost these efforts, nations need to shift subsidies from fossil fuel to renewable energy and promote technology transfer.

This needs to take account of and mitigate the impacts of ending subsidies on the poorest and most marginalized.

We have repeatedly seen how sudden changes with inequitable impacts can precipitate social unrest.

Support from the whole development finance architecture is paramount so fossil fuel-dependent developing countries can finance a just transition.

I urge multilateral development banks, development finance institutions, the International Monetary Fund and other institutions to support this process decisively.

Fourth: we need greater regional and global coordination to manage shocks and ensure a smooth, just and sustainable transition process.

In this respect, the United Nations Regional Economic Commissions will continue to have an important role.

I also invite Member States and all stakeholders today to join in the creation of a Working Group on Extractive Industries hosted by the United Nations to help transform the sector.

Excellencies, dear friends,

Recovery from COVID-19 provides a massive opportunity to support sustainable development.

We need all hands on deck to address the triple threat of climate disruption, biodiversity loss and pollution and to promote equitable, inclusive development where no one is left behind.

The extractives sector, which operates at the crucial juncture of resources, ecosystems and people, has an essential role to play in advancing sustainability and equitability.

I thank all those who have participated in this series of meetings and look forward to working together to reap the benefits of extractive industries for all while guarding against the pitfalls. 

I wish you a very successful meeting.