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. 

Main publications:

Video resources:

Date: 2021-03-02
Title: Webinar on the global sand crisis
Place: online
Abstract: This webinar, hosted by Northwestern University’s Institute for Sustainability and Energy (ISEN) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), is the first of four public webinars in the Global Sand Crisis Series, “Setting the stage: What is so special about sand, and why are we on the verge of a global crisis?”
Date: 2021-03-02
Title: Sand: Monitoring and Management for a Sustainable Future
Place: online
Abstract: In partnership with the Global Sand Observatory Initiative, this event outlines the sand challenge, what actions are currently underway to address it, and what else needs to be done.
Date: 2021-01-19
Title:How to strengthen mineral resource governance in 2021?
Place: online
Abstract: In this GGKPwebinar, experts discuss how to strengthen mineral resource governance in 2021, including through sustainable management of sand resources, a new Global Industry Standard on Tailings Management and the creation of an institute to support the new standard’s 
Date: 2020-11-30
Title: The Future of Sand. A video impression of the symposium organised by KNGMG, De Lichtkogel and Rijkswaterstaat
Place: online
Abstract: The video below is a summary of the succesful Future of Sand symposium. This symposium shed light on the different aspects of the usage of sand: awareness, responsible sourcing, availability and practice. The sympsosium was held in a hybrid way: partly online and partly in real live.
Date: 2020-10-13
Title: Rebuilding Better: What's sand got to do with it?
Place: online
Abstract: In this GGKPwebinar, experts discuss the rising demand for sand and global calls for responsible mineral resource governance.

 Audio resources:

Media articles:



  • Jan 2021: New partnership agreed with the Sustainable Minerals Institute, University of Queensland for exploring mine tailings potential for alternatives to sand extracted from natural environments in 2021.

  • Dec 2020: The Rijkswaterstaat, Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management at the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management of the Netherlands takes up UNEP/GRID-Geneva's call to treat sand and gravels as strategic materials, following The Future of Sand symposium held by KNGMG, de Lichtkogel and Rijkswaterstaat on 30 November 2020.

  • Jun 2020: Project launch - Sand and sustainability: Towards a global sand observatory?  

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