Skip to Main content

Natural Resource Management

Accelerated consumption and production might significantly undermine an ecosystem’s ability to generate functions and services, resulting in intensified overuse of natural resources and increased pollution. In this context, the management of renewable and non-renewable natural resources—such as land, water, air, minerals, forests, fisheries, and wild flora and fauna—that are crucial to human livelihoods as a source of raw material and a sink for the disposal of waste, is of utmost importance. To this end, addressing how people and the environment interact is necessary and implies a need to explore possible economic, political and policy-making interventions related to resource use issues (Tietenberg, 2005; Tietenberg and Lewis, 2009).

Resource management regimes for sustainable resource use are diverse, each with its own obstacles and pitfalls. The effective rules developed and/or the appropriate mechanisms adopted might differ according to specific problems and local conditions (Tietenberg and Lewis, 2009). Management control may be exercised by direct (command-and-control) regulations and laws, where environmental standards are set and enforced via legislation. Some biodiversity conservation projects are closely linked to such centralised natural resource management practices. Control may also be exercised by economic incentives such as taxes or permits, which ensure that the value of environmental services is incorporated into the prices of goods and services. One such practice is the payments for ecosystem services (PES) scheme, where farmers or landowners are offered incentives in exchange for managing their land to provide some sort of ecological service (Vatn, 2010).

In contrast, the Coasian tradition would reject such interventions by a central agent in favour of bargaining process underpinned by property-rights regimes (Coase, 1960). In fact, as Ostrom (1990) and Bromley (1991) note, a common-pool resource may be managed under any of the following property-rights regimes: (i) government ownership (where formal governments claim ownership of a resource and the right to fully determine who may or may not use it and under what circumstances); (ii) private ownership (where a single individual or private firm has full claims to determine use patterns; or (iii) community or common property ownership (where a group of individuals shares rights to ownership).

In fact, the third option lead the way to what is called co-management, community-based management or joint management, and collective choice and decision-making arrangements, conflict resolution mechanisms, and management by stakeholders have recently come to the fore instead of centralised, top-down management by a single entity (Carlsson and Berkes, 2005). Yet, as Vollan and Ostrom (2010) argue, the communal management of common property natural resources is more likely to be effective and sustainable when the boundaries of the resource are easily identifiable, changes in the state of the resource can be monitored at a relatively low cost, and the rate of change in the condition of the resource and the socioeconomic and technological conditions of the users remain moderate. It is also important to have a relatively closed system where community members maintain frequent social interactions that increase trust within the community, and outsiders can be relatively easily excluded from accessing the resource and rule infractions are monitored and sanctioned. Needless to say, a more egalitarian distribution of wealth and a more democratic distribution of power are also crucial for co-management in such contexts (Boyce, 2002).

However, according to Ostrom and Nagendra (2007), neither government ownership nor community management represent a conclusive solution for all the ills that plague natural resource management. Instead, there is a need to focus more on adopting or building institutions that fit socio-ecological systems, while policy scientists should strive to recognise diversity in the institutions that may assist human users in their efforts to devise better arrangements for the sustainable management of a resource.



Boyce, J. (2002). The Political Economy of the Environment, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham.

Bromley, D. (1991). Environment and Economy: Property Rights and Public Policy, Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.

Carlsson, L., & Berkes, F. (2005). Co-management: concepts and methodological implications. Journal of environmental management, 75(1), 65-76.

Coase, R. (1960). The Problem of Social Cost, Journal of Law and Economics, 3, 1-44.

Tietenberg, T. (2005). Environmetal and Natural Resource Economics, Addison-Wesley, MA.

Tietenberg, T. and Lewis, L. (2009). Environmental and Natural Resource Economics,

Pearson International Edition, Addison Wesley, Boston.

Ostrom, E. (1990). Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ostrom, E. and H. Nagendra (2007). Insights on linking forests, trees, and people from the air, on the ground, and in the laboratory. PNAS 103(51), 19224–19231.

Vatn, A. (2010). An institutional analysis of payments for environmental services. Ecological Economics, 69(6), 1245-1252.

Vollan, B. and Ostrom, E. (2010). Cooperation and the Commons, Science, 330, 923-924.


This glossary entry is based on a contribution by Begum Ozkaniak.

EJOLT glossary editors: Hali Healy, Sylvia Lorek and Beatriz Rodríguez-Labajos.

Comments are closed.