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Research and policy agenda on corruption in natural resources and energy

People expect – and development actors wish – that countries with abundant natural resources use them to secure positive development results. But history shows that poor people rarely benefit from resource wealth due – in part – to corruption. U4 advances the research frontier to find ways development actors can do the things that work.

U4’s work to produce recommendations for development actors

Our advisors look at why corrupt countries fail to use natural resource revenues to benefit society. We study how corruption harms the environment, threatens democracy, and leads to poverty and armed conflict.

We inform practitioners and policymakers how corruption harms development. Our research, courses, and workshops cover many areas. These include extractive industries (oil, gas, mining) and renewables (forests, climate projects, land, water, fisheries, wildlife, green energy). The practical advice we give concerns reform processes, regulatory initiatives, and transparency and accountability projects. We started this U4 topic in 2007, and develop new content and work areas each year.

Natural resource challenges are global. Therefore our research includes both developing country-contexts and international drivers of corruption. Our approaches include political economy and ecology, social network, and related analyses.

The research frontier

Recent corruption research shows that many anti-corruption approaches attempted in natural resource sectors since the late 1990s have seen disappointing results. Anti-corruption initiatives that have succeeded in one natural resource context have not worked well in others.

There is some evidence that public financial management reforms can improve anti-corruption performance in most contexts. However, we realise that we must understand who and what drives corrupt behaviour in each context – if we hope to succeed with anti-corruption efforts. How to do this in practice is the subject of major research efforts. Individual researchers and research projects attempt to improve theories of corrupt behaviour applicable to a range of natural resource contexts. Various actors also work to improve the methods available to study corrupt behaviour in resource sectors. U4's advisers participate in these efforts.

The international policy agenda at a glance

Levels of policy and practice attention to corruption challenges vary across sub-sectors within the broad area of natural resources and energy. For some sub-sectors, longstanding initiatives have attempted to curtail corruption, such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. For others, a corruption focus is fairly recent, such as in relation to the illegal wildlife trade. U4 strives to advance the effectiveness of international policy and practice initiatives on anti-corruption by improving the evidence and research base for anti-corruption interventions.


    All views in this text are the author(s)’, and may differ from the U4 partner agencies’ policies.

    This work is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)