Project description

The Global Sand Observatory is a new UNEP/GRID-Geneva initiative aimed at developing knowledge and providing decision making support on the sustainability issue of sand extraction and use.

Sand resource governance is one of the greatest sustainability challenges of the 21st century.  

Sand, gravels and aggregates are the second most-exploited natural resources in the world after water. The use of these materials has tripled over the last two decades reaching between 40-50 billion metric tons/year. This trend is expected to continue as demand is still growing due to urbanisation, population growth and infrastructure development trends. It is increasingly difficult to source sand and gravel close to urban and industrial centres because of access issues, social acceptance and other factors. As a result, extraction locations are shifting to more fragile environments such as rivers, coastlines, and oceans -  which coupled with the increased demand - is severely impacting these ecosystems. Practices like these are happening all over the world causing environmental and social sustainability problems on both a local and global scale.

A number of international organisations, governments, journalists, civil society groups, research centres and companies around the world have been placing this previously unaddressed topic on the environmental political agenda in recent years. As a result, there is a growing call for improved sustainability practices in sand extraction within major use sectors, such as cement production, construction and land reclamation.   

Progress on this agenda cannot be secured without some basic reliable data and statistics on where, how and for what purpose sand and gravel is being extracted. Advancing this fundamental knowledge is our main focus in the first phase of the Global Sand Observatory initiative (2020-2021). 

We are currently exploring partnership possibilities. Please get in touch if you or your organisation would like to discuss joining in this endeavour. 

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