Global Sand Observatory Initiative

The Global Sand Observatory is a new concept proposal which follows consultations with countries aiming for the future creation of a knowledge hub on sand for supporting decision making 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. 

We are currently exploring partnership possibilities for future collaborations, should the mandate be accepted. Please find below publications which were produced or collected following the mandate provided by UNEA5 resolution 12, which requested GRID-Geneva to further strengthen scientific, technical and policy knowledge with regard to sand extraction and use.

The Marine Sand Watch platform is described here:

Main publications:

Global sand analysis series:

Video resources:

Date: 2023-09-29
Title: Wie unser Hunger nach Sand die Umwelt gefährdet (Public Eye in German)
Abstract:Public Eye podcast (in German) about sand. With the participation of Giulia Marti (UNEP/GRID-Geneva). Podcast available both on youtube ( or on Spotify (
Date: 2023-09-06
Title: Serons-nous bientôt à court de sable? (ARTE TV in French)
Abstract:ARTE TV report (in French and German) about sand. With the participation of Kiran Pereira (university of Stockholm), Pascal Peduzzi (UNEP/GRID-Geneva) and Dirk Hebel (architect).
Date: 2022-09-27
Title: the Global Marine Sand Watch
Abstract:UNEP/GRID-Geneva is leading the Global Marine Sand Watch, a platform to help countries and stakeholders monitor dredging activities in near real-time towards the goal of capacity building, development of guidelines and best practices for sand extraction. Built in collaboration with the Global Fishing Watch, the University of California Santa Barbara and Google, the platform will enable nation states and stakeholders to address the unprecedented and quickly increasing socio-economic demands for marine sand resources using near-real time data and information.
Date: 2022-07-06
Title: Ocean Sand: Risks & Opportunities for Sustainability & Equity
Place: online
Abstract: This was a side event held at the 2022 UN Ocean Conference to put sand on the ocean sustainability agenda and identify promising scientific, technical and policy opportunities for sand stewardship. Panelists will discuss the importance of sand in the ocean economy, the impacts of its extraction on ecosystems and coastal communities, the role of financial institutions in incentivising better practices, as well as promising breakthroughs in monitoring and impact assessments. Particular attention will be paid to the equity dimension of ocean sand and need for international partnerships for better sand resource governance. The event is organised by UNEP-GRID/Geneva and the Stockholm Resilience Centre (Stockholm University). It is co-hosted with the Stockholm Resilience Centre, UNEP’s Finance Initiative and the UN Global Compact.
Date: 2022-04-26
Title: “Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis” UNEP report authors presentation: Arnaud Vander Velpen
Date: 2022-04-26
Title: “Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis” UNEP report authors presentation: Josefine Reimer Lynggaard
Date: 2022-04-26
Title: “Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis” UNEP report authors presentation: Stephanie Chuah
Date: 2022-04-26
Title: “Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis” UNEP report authors presentation: Pascal Peduzzi
Date: 2022-04-26
Title: Presentation of the UNEP report 2022 “Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis”
Abstract: an hybrid event took place on 26th April 2022 for the launch of the new publication “Sand and Sustainability: 10 Strategic Recommendations to Avert a Crisis”. This was organized by UNEP/GRID-Geneva and the Geneva Environment Network.
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:



  • Sep 2023Launch of the Marine sand Watch

  • 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?  

Contribution of our partners and stakeholders on Sand and Sustainability:

  • Sand as a resource: Best practices to conduct responsible dredging projects. The report by the International Association of Dredging Companies presenting best practices for optimal use of sand resources in the marine environment.
  • Harmful marine extractives: Dredging & marine aggregate extraction. The report by UNEP-FI on dredging to the financial industry, noting that also the report attachments provide important information:
  • Ore-sand: A circular economy solution to reduce mineral wastes and improve global sand sustainability. By the University of Queensland and the University of Geneva on the adoption of mineral processing circuits to avoid the generation of mine tailings and co-produce useable sand.