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Development, Decarbonization, and Dumb Landowners

Governments that allow their natural resources to remain undeveloped impede their own economic prospects and jeopardize the global transition to a green economy. Resource-rich countries must responsibly maximize the value of their oil, gas, and metal deposits.

CAMBRIDGE – Landowners are seldom seen as heroes. While workers put in effort, and capitalists put their resources at risk, landowners are often depicted as living off the efforts of others, playing no useful social function.

No wonder many countries – including all of Latin America – prohibit private ownership of the mineral resources in the sub-soil. Such resources belong to the state, which may exploit them directly or grant concessions to private capitalists in exchange for a piece of the action. This practice originated centuries ago, with kings and emperors, and has been maintained and broadly supported as a way to ensure that natural wealth benefits the country rather than foreign imperialists or private corporations.

But to benefit the country, the state must be a responsible landowner. Instead, too many hinder the development of their natural resources and the activities that could be crowded in. And while the harm has been mostly to the countries themselves, the transition to a decarbonized future is increasingly at stake.