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Beyond Resource Curse: examining the socio-environmental impact of the mining boom in Colombia in a context of EU energy import dependency

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ReCurse (Beyond Resource Curse: examining the socio-environmental impact of the mining boom in Colombia in a context of EU energy import dependency)

Reporting period: 2018-08-03 to 2020-08-02

The downturn in the primary production of hard coal, lignite, crude oil, natural gas and more recently nuclear energy has led to a situation where the European Union has become increasingly reliant on primary energy imports to satisfy its demand (European Commission 2016) Only Colombia, case under study in this proposal, was responsible for 21% total EU-28 solid fuels in 2015 (Eurostat 2017), against the 10% in 2005, and it has been considered a key element to keep European thermal plants afloat for the last decade. In this context, this project will study the socio-environmental cost of these imports while looking at more theoretical questions about the natural resources-society interdependence in a globalized world.

The underline question of this project is, how we provide and manage natural resources necessary for our day-to-day - atmosphere, water, minerals, wind, vegetation, sunlight, land – with the least social and environmental impact? When it comes to the policy implications of this project, it is worth mentioning the need to improve international development policies of the European Union and other international organizations, as well as revise current practices in terms of corporate social responsibility as extractive industries are often the main actor in the sites where the resources are being extracted. This case study - coal extraction in Colombia - and the depth of analysis of this multidisciplinary project sheds light on this type of issues.
a) Statistical analysis: identifying sources of socio-economic information at county level in Colombia / testing theory of "local resource curse" using nighttime light intensity variations capture with Earth Observation methods (remote sensing) as an indicator of local GDP.
b) Questionnaire: georeferenced and administered questionnaire to a sample of 298 respondents living in the areas impacted by the coal extraction in Colombia. The questionnaire includes demographic variables, question on self-reported feeling of safety and quality of life, public participation and attitudes and opinions on different institutions, including the mining company. The results can be compared with the World Value Survey (WVS), conducted every three years in many countries around the world, including Colombia, as the questionnaire was partially built with ready-to-use questions from WVS.
c) Semi-structure interviews with 28 actors, including social leaders, local businesses, mining companies and subcontractors, public authorities and unions. The interviews aims to understand the extend to what coal industries interact and upgrade local economy in one or another way - transfer of capital and knowledge - as well as the discursive aspects of conflicts over land.
d) Theory building: the project brings together global value chain studies and relevant social theories in order to understand socio-economic impact of coal extraction and transportation in Colombia before being shipped to Europe. We expand the concept of local economic upgrading by emphasizing the importance of the social and cultural structure in the place where international corporations operate. Corporate Social Responsibility fails when omitting the complexity of the communities impacted by the extractive activities.
Earth Observation methods applied to social analysis turned out to be the best solution to obtain accurate data that otherwise does not exist in official statistical sources. The multidisciplinary nature of this project not only used current state of the art methods of remote sensing but has opened new possibilities for future research. For instance, using nighttime lights variations to measure not only GDP, as done in previous studies, but also index of territorial inequality.

This project has been conducted in close collaboration with researchers based in Colombia, setting the grounds not only for a greater understanding of socio-economic challenges of this country but also for building future cross-national and interdisciplinary projects.

By accurately testing the socio-economic impact of mining in Colombia, the results of this project shed light on current and highly relevant public debates in Colombia around the convenience of mining as a source of economic revitalization in the post-Covid era and set the basis for changes in the current EU corporate social responsibility policy.
"Sporadic" group interview when visiting farmers market in Jagua del Ibirico
Researcher talking with one of the survey takers before field near coal railway
Screenshot of nighttime light composite
Interview with mining Company representative
Researcher and team of survey takers in Aracataca