Increasing demand for food, water, energy and minerals is putting greater pressure on the planet. Over the next decade, trillions of dollars will be invested in mining and energy development, much of it in undeveloped natural areas. The future sustainability of these places depends on making better decisions now about how we protect, manage, and develop our lands and waters. The Global Agenda Council on Responsible Natural Resources Management can play a critical role in shaping this future.

That’s why I’m excited to be a new Member of the Council. For our group to be successful much depends on this term “responsible” – what do we mean by it and what pathways for becoming “more responsible” are we recommending?

Fortunately, a great deal of important work has already been done by through the Forum’s Responsible Mineral Development Initiative. I hope to help in building on this excellent work.

At The Nature Conservancy, where I direct our Development by Design global programme, we believe there are tremendous opportunities today to be smarter about how mineral and energy resources are developed to meet the needs of people and nature. To this end, The Nature Conservancy is working with partners in a broad movement to promote the goal of “net positive impact” (NPI) for nature. NPI has gained wide traction globally as a goal of public policy, lending standards and corporate policy.

Consider there are now 45 compensatory mitigation programmes for biodiversity impacts worldwide, with another 27 programmes in development (State of the Biodiversity Markets 2011). Major financial institutions, including the International Finance Corporation, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and more than 70 Equator Principles financial institutions, are requir­ing projects they finance to avoid, minimize and compensate for biodiversity impacts in accordance with new performance standards that include the NPI goal (IFC 2012, EP 2012).

As achieving NPI moves rapidly from a voluntary action to the sphere of compliance, leading companies increasingly see it as a normal way (and cost) of doing business (Rio Tinto, Barrick Gold).

Achieving NPI may strike many as too good to be true. Certainly, a combination of healthy skepticism and strong scrutiny is helpful as NPI advances. But, the Council should consider the opportunity NPI provides, offering a compelling platform for smarter development.

In a world that increasingly demands transparency and accountability, it helps to move responsible management from a collection of good practices to a measurable approach that can help deliver on the promise of sustainable development.

Author: Bruce McKenney is Director of Strategy, Development by Design, at the Nature Conservancy and a Member of the Global Agenda Council on Responsible Natural Resources Management

Image: Excavators sit rest in a nickel-mining in Southeast Sulawesi province REUTERS/Yusuf Ahmad