Leveraging keystone agents in extractive industries to advance sustainability

Bert Scholtens*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Natural resource extraction has a lasting and dramatic impact on the natural environment as well as far-reaching social effects. As such, public policy and governmental regulation are crucial for a transition to sustainability. However, on their own, these have shown to be insufficient to achieve such transformation. Changing commitment and conduct of the extractives too is important to transit. Firms in the extractives are large and highly international, and their owners are decisive for businesses’ conduct. Therefore, it is relevant to determine whom and how to influence to transit towards sustainability. To this extent, we study dominant firms and their owners in the top-10 international extractive industries. We establish that both natural resource markets and ownership of keystone agents are highly concentrated: the three largest companies earn 70% of the revenues in the ten industries studied, and the three largest shareholders in these companies on average have 22% of the shares of the keystone firms. This helps explain why regulation has been rather ineffective so far. We discuss several options to influence keystone agents. We conclude that advancing sustainability in extractives requires leveraging a limited number of keystone agents.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102794
Number of pages16
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
Early online date31 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024


  • Extractives
  • Keystone agents
  • Sustainability Transition
  • Leverage
  • Equity Markets
  • Firms
  • Owners


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