Resource Use in Small Island States

Iceland and Trinidad and Tobago are small open, high-income island economies with very specific resource-use patterns. This article presents a material flow analysis (MFA) for the two countries covering a time period of nearly five decades. Both countries have a narrow domestic resource base, their economy being largely based on the exploitation of one or two key resources for export production. In the case of Trinidad and Tobago, the physical economy is dominated by oil and natural gas extraction and petrochemical industries, whereas Iceland's economy for centuries has been based on fisheries. More recently, abundant hydropower and geothermal heat were the basis for the establishment of large export-oriented metal processing industries, which fully depend on imported raw materials and make use of domestic renewable electricity. Both countries are highly dependent on these natural resources and vulnerable to overexploitation and price developments. We show how the export-oriented industries lead to high and growing levels of per capita material and energy use and carbon dioxide emissions resulting from large amounts of processing wastes and energy consumption in production processes. The example of small open economies with an industrial production system focused on few, but abundant, key resources and of comparatively low complexity provides interesting insights of how resource endowment paired with availability or absence of infrastructure and specific institutional arrangements drives domestic resource-use patterns. This also contributes to a better understanding and interpretation of MFA indicators, such as domestic material consumption.

Associated spaces

Iceland , Trinidad and Tobago