Natural resource

Natural resource
The rainforest on Fatu-Hiva, Marquesas Islands is an example of an undisturbed natural resource. Forest provides timber for humans; food and shelter for flora and fauna. The nutrient cycle between organisms form food chains and biodiversity of species.
The Carson Fall in Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia is an example of undisturbed natural resource. Waterfalls provide spring water for humans, animals and plants for survival and also habitat for marine organisms. The water current can be used to turn turbines for hydroelectric generation.
The ocean is an example of a natural resource. Ocean waves can be used to generate wave power which is a renewable energy. Ocean water is important for salt production and providing habitat for deep water fishes. There are biodiversity of marine species in the sea where nutrient cycles are common.

Natural resources occur naturally within environments that exist relatively undisturbed by mankind, in a natural form. A natural resource is often characterized by amounts of biodiversity and geodiversity existent in various ecosystems.

Natural resources are derived from the environment. Many of them are essential for our survival while others are used for satisfying our wants. Natural resources may be further classified in different ways.



Natural resources are materials and components (something that can be used) that can be found within the environment. Every man-made product is composed of natural resources (at its fundamental level). A natural resource may exist as a separate entity such as fresh water, and air, as well as a living organism such as a fish, or it may exist in an alternate form which must be processed to obtain the resource such as metal ores, oil, and most forms of energy.

There is much debate worldwide over natural resource allocations, this is partly due to increasing scarcity (depletion of resources) but also because the exportation of natural resources is the basis for many economies (particularly for developed nations such as Australia).

Some Natural resources can be found everywhere such as sunlight and air, when this is so the resources is known as an ubiquitous resource. However most resources are not ubiquitous, they only occur in small sporadic areas, these resources are referred to as localized resources. There are very few resources that are considered inexhaustible (will not run out in foreseeable future), these are solar radiation, geothermal energy, and air (though access to clean air may not be). The vast majority of resources are however exhaustible, which means they have a finite quantity, and can be depleted if managed improperly.


There are various methods of categorizing natural resources, these include source of origin, stage of human use, and by their renewability, these classifications are described below. On the basis of origin, resources may be divided into:

  • Biotic – Biotic resources are obtained from the biosphere (living and organic material), such as forests, animals, birds, and fish and the materials that can be obtained from them. Fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum are also included in this category because they are formed from decayed organic matter.
  • Abiotic – Abiotic resources are those that come from non-living, non-organic material. Examples of abiotic resources include land, fresh water, air and heavy metals including ores such as gold, iron, copper, silver, etc.

Considering their stage of development, natural resources may be referred to in the following ways:

  • Potential Resources – Potential resources are those that exist in a region and may be used in the future. For example, petroleum may exist in many parts of India, having sedimentary rocks but until the time it is actually drilled out and put into use, it remains a potential resource.
  • Actual Resources – Actual resources are those that have been surveyed, their quantity and quality determined and are being used in present times. The development of an actual resource, such as wood processing depends upon the technology available and the cost involved.
  • Reserve Resources – The part of an actual resource which can be developed profitably in the future is called a reserve resource.
  • Stock Resources – Stock resources are those that have been surveyed but cannot be used by organisms due to lack of technology. For example: hydrogen.

Renewability is a very popular topic and many natural resources can be categorized as either renewable or non-renewable:

  • Renewable resources are ones that can be replenished naturally. Some of these resources, like sunlight, air, wind, etc., are continuously available and their quantity is not noticeably affected by human consumption. Though many renewable resources do not have such a rapid recovery rate, these resources are susceptible to depletion by over-use. Resources from a human use perspective are classified as renewable only so long as the rate of replenishment/recovery exceeds that of the rate of consumption.
  • Non-renewable resources are resources that form extremely slowly and those that do not naturally form in the environment. Minerals are the most common resource included in this category. By the human use perspective resources are non-renewable when their rate of consumption exceeds the rate of replenishment/recovery, a good example of this are fossil fuels which are in this category because their rate of formation is extremely slow (potentially millions of years), which means they are considered non-renewable from a human use perspective. Some resources actually naturally deplete in amount without human interference, the most notable of these are the radio-active elements such as uranium, which naturally decay into heavy metals. Of these, the metallic minerals can be re-used by recycling them.[1] But coal and petroleum cannot be recycled.[2]

Wind is the natural resource that can be used to generate wind power. These 5MW wind turbines on this wind farm 28 km off the coast of Belgium.


The conservation of natural resources is the fundamental problem. Unless we solve that problem, it will avail us little to solve all others.

Theodore Roosevelt[3]

In recent years, the depletion of natural resources has become a major focus of governments and organizations such as the United Nations (UN). This is evident in the UN’s Agenda 21 Section Two which outlines the necessary steps to be taken by countries to sustain their natural resources.[4] The depletion of natural resources is considered to be a sustainable development issue.[5] The term sustainable development has many interpretations, most notably the Brundtland Commission’s ‘to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’[6], however in broad terms it is balancing the needs of the planet’s people and species now and in the future.[4] In regards to natural resources, depletion is of concern for sustainable development as it has the ability to degrade current environments[7] and potential to impact the needs of future generations[5].

Depletion of Natural Resources is associated with social inequity. Considering most biodiversity are located in developing countries[8], depletion of this resource could result in losses of ecosystem services for these countries[9]. Some view this depletion as a major source of social unrest and conflicts in developing nations[10].

At present, with it being the year of the forest[11], there is particular concern for rainforest regions which hold most of the Earth's biodiversity[11]. According to Nelson[12] deforestation and degradation affect 8.5% of the world’s forests with 30% of the Earth’s surface already cropped. If we consider that 80% of people rely on medicines obtained from plants and ¾ of the world’s prescription medicines have ingredients taken from plants[9], loss of the world’s rainforests could result in a loss of finding more potential life saving medicines[13].

The depletion of natural resources is caused by ‘direct drivers of change’[12] such as Mining, petroleum extraction, fishing and forestry as well as ‘indirect drivers of change’ such as demography, economy, society, politics and technology[12]. The current practice of Agriculture is another factor causing depletion of natural resources. For example the depletion of nutrients in the soil due to excessive use of nitrogen[12] and desertification[4] The depletion of natural resources is a continuing concern for society. This is seen in the cited quote given by Theodore Roosevelt, a well-known conservationist and former United States president, was opposed to unregulated natural resource extraction.


In 1982 the UN developed the World Charter for Nature in which it recognised the need to protect nature from further depletion due to human activity. They state the measures needed to be taken at all societal levels, from international right down to individual, to protect nature. They outline the need for sustainable use of natural resources and suggest that the protection of resources should be incorporated into the law system at state and international level.[14]. To look at the importance of protecting natural resources further. The World Ethic of Sustainability, developed by the IUCN, WWF and the UNEP in 1990[15] which set out eight values for sustainability, include the need to protect natural resources from depletion. Since these documents, there have been many measures taken to protect natural resources, some of these ways include Conservation biology and Habitat Conservation.

Conservation biology is the scientific study of the nature and status of Earth's biodiversity with the aim of protecting species, their habitats, and ecosystems from excessive rates of extinction.[16][17] It is an interdisciplinary subject drawing on sciences, economics, and the practice of natural resource management.[18][19][20][21] The term conservation biology was introduced as the title of a conference held University of California at San Diego in La Jolla, California in 1978 organized by biologists Bruce Wilcox and Michael Soulé.

Habitat conservation is a land management practice that seeks to conserve, protect and restore, habitat areas for wild plants and animals, especially conservation reliant species, and prevent their extinction, fragmentation or reduction in range.[22]


Natural resource management is a discipline in the management of natural resources such as land, water, soil, plants and animals, with a particular focus on how management affects the quality of life for both present and future generations.

Management of natural resources involves identifying who has the right to use the resources and who does not for defining the boundaries of the resource[23]. The resources are managed by the users according to the rules governing of when and how the resource is used depending on local condition[24].

A successful management of natural resources should engage the community because of the nature of the shared resources the individuals who are affected by the rules can participate in setting or changing them[23]. The users have the rights to device their own management institutions and plans under the recognition by the government. The right to resources includes land, water, fisheries and pastoral rights[24]. The users or parties accountable to the users have to actively monitor and ensure the utilisation of the resource compliance with the rules and to impose penalty on those peoples who violates the rules[23]. These conflicts are resolved in a quick and low cost manner by the local institution according to the seriousness and context of the offence[24].

See also


  1. ^ "Earth's natural wealth: an audit". New Scientist. May 23, 2007.
  2. ^ "Peak Everything?". Reason Magazine. April 27, 2010.
  3. ^ Theodore Roosevelt, Address to the Deep Waterway Convention Memphis, TN, October 4, 1907
  4. ^ a b c UN 2002 Earth Summit Agenda 21 The United Nations programme for action from Rio: Section Two- Conservation and Management of Resources for Development, United Nations, Rio 12 Sep 2011
  5. ^ a b Schilling M and Chiang L 2011 The effect of natural resources on sustainable development policy: The approach of non- sustainable externalities. Energy Policy 39: 990-998
  6. ^ UN 1987 'Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future' UN Documents: Gathering a body of global agreements., 12 Sep 2011
  7. ^ Salvati L and Marco Z 2008 Natural resource depletion and economic performance of local districts: suggestions from a whithin-country analysis Journal of Sustainable Development and World Ecology. 15(6): 518-523
  8. ^ UNESCO and UNEP 2002 Cultural Diversity and Biodiversity for Sustainable Development, World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg.
  9. ^ a b Nellemann C and Corcoran E 2010 Dead Planet, Living Planet- Biodiversity and Ecosystem Restoration for Sustainable Development: A Rapid Response Assessment. United Nations Environment Program, GRID-Arendal
  10. ^ Von Braun J cited in Inforesources Trends 2005 Depletion of Natural Resources- Implications for Development: An assessment by experts Berne, Switzerland
  11. ^ a b UNEP 2011 ‘International Year of Forests, 2011 12 Sep 2011.
  12. ^ a b c d Nelson 2005 Chapter 3: Drivers of Ecosystem Change: Summary Chapter in Current State and Trends Assessment Millenium Ecosystem Assessment 12 Sep 2011
  13. ^ Clark H cited in UNESCO and UNEP 2002 Cultural Diversity and Biodiversity for Sustainable Development, World Summit on Sustainable Development, Johannesburg
  14. ^ UN 1982 General Assembly World Charter for Nature: 48th Plenary meeting 13 Sep 2011
  15. ^ Fein J 2003 Learning to Care: Education and Compassion, Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 19:1-13.
  16. ^ M. E. Soulé and B. A. Wilcox. 1980. Conservation Biology: An Evolutionary-Ecological Perspective. Sinauer Associatess. Sunderland, Massachusetts.
  17. ^ M. E. Soule. (1986). What is conservation Biology? BioScience, 35(11): 727-734 [1]
  18. ^ Soule, Michael E. (1986). Conservation Biology: The Science of Scarcity and Diversity. Sinauer Associates. pp. 584. ISBN 0878937951, 9780878937950 (hc). 
  19. ^ Hunter, M. L. (1996). Fundamentals of Conservation Biology. Blackwell Science Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts., ISBN 0-86542-371-7.
  20. ^ Groom, M.J., Meffe, G.K. and Carroll, C.R. (2006) Principles of Conservation Biology (3rd ed.). Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA. ISBN 0-87893-518-5
  21. ^ van Dyke, Fred (2008). Conservation Biology: Foundations, Concepts, Applications, 2nd ed.. Springer Verlag. pp. 478. ISBN 978-1-4020-6890-4 (hc). 
  22. ^ Habitat Conservation Planning Branch. "Habitat Conservation". California Department of Fish & Game. Retrieved 2009-04-07. 
  23. ^ a b c Ostrom E cited in Kommers N and Mackie P 2005 Journalist guide to world resources 2005 World Resources Institute 1-30
  24. ^ a b c UNDP,UNEP, The World Bank and World Resources Institute -- The Wealth of the Poor: Managing Ecosystems to Fight Poverty Institute 2005 Chapter 3 The board's role in governance, World Resources 2005

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