The set-up of an international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of geologically scarce mineral resources
For more than a century, the use of mineral resources has increased exponentially with annual growth percentages of between 4% and 6%. While for most mineral resources, depletion is not an issue, for some mineral resources the current level of extraction is likely to pose a problem for future generations. Depletion of a mineral resource means that its enriched deposits will have been extracted, and consequently it will become much more expensive for future generations to continue to use these minerals. While technology may reduce some of the adverse effects of depletion, future generations may be deprived of potential innovations for which these specific materials would be essential. The question arises as to how the currently unsustainable extraction of mineral resources can be decreased to safeguard them for future generations. It is submitted that it is unlikely that market forces alone will sufficiently impact the prices of minerals to resolve the unsustainable use of certain minerals timely enough. In this article, it is posited that an international agreement on the conversation and sustainable use of geologically scarce minerals is necessary. The agreement will recognize that the geological scarcity of mineral resources differs between different minerals. It will therefore make a selection of priority minerals, determine how far the extraction rate of these substances must be reduced and decide on a fixed time period within which the extraction must decrease from the current rate to a sustainable rate. The design of such an agreement will be based on two basic principles contained in existing international environmental agreements: (1) the inter-generational equity principle and (2) the principle of conservation of natural resources. Furthermore, the obligatory reduction of the extraction of mineral resources will affect the sovereign rights of resource countries to exploit their own resources. Therefore, any international agreement should make arrangements to ensure resource countries are adequately compensated for their loss of income.
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