Forecasting the future of resource use in a changing world
1 February, 2013
All states will face significant challenges over the next two decades as natural resources become increasingly scarce. However, managed intelligently, these problems are not insuperable.
Resources: trends and future challenges for states and regions – towards 2030
Monday 14 – Wednesday 16 January 2013 (WP1218)
Forecasting the future shape of the world has become an increasingly important part of the policy planning of states, non-governmental organisations and international organisations. A perspective on the challenges and opportunities twenty years in the future is vital in making policy decisions today that might lead to a better world tomorrow.
The future state of the world’s natural resources give many ‘futurists’ pause for thought. There are vast regions of the world where states are becomingly increasingly ‘water stressed’ as the natural sources of life’s most precious resource dry out. As 70% of all water usage on the planet is deployed in agriculture, this will clearly have an impact on many states’ capacity to feed themselves. The supply of affordable and plentiful energy is contingent upon the efficient extraction of fossil fuels such as oil and natural gas.
Whilst the much-publicised ‘revolution’ in non-traditional hydrocarbon extraction drives prosperity in the Americas, other regions will see their supplies dwindle. Emerging technologies are increasingly exploiting metals and minerals hitherto thought economically unviable. The unequal global distribution of these minerals is concerning: mineral rich states may restrict their exports to the world market. Compounding these trends, humanity is set to have over 1.3 billion new members by 2030. As economic migration to urban areas increases (by around 10% from current levels) the infrastructure of our cities will be subjected to unprecedented stress.
Clearly, without thought and appropriate action, some of these trends could render many states and regions less stable, less prosperous and less secure. However, whilst significant, such challenges are not insurmountable.
Wilton Park’s annual ‘Futures’ conference provides a space for ‘horizon scanners’ to focus on the issues at stake and consider recommendations that may reduce such threats. Our recent conference, Resources: trends and future challenges for states and regions – towards 2030, held in January, hosted experts from a range of governments, international organisations, non-governmental organisations, international businesses and academia.
The aims of the conference were to:
- Promote and deepen the understanding of international perspectives and provide insights into how different countries and organisations plan for the future.
- Assist participants to reach a common understanding of long term trends in resource security and their implications for policy formulation and practical application at both the state and supra-state level.
- Support national and international policy planning institutions in their contribution to global dialogue in the context of the challenges arising from resource security.
- Build on the work of the US National Intelligence Council’s Global Trends 2030 report.
- Develop long term relationships with international partners, strengthening and consolidating the emerging networks of ‘futurists’.
Among key issues discussed at the conference were:
- Threats posed by fluctuations in the price of natural resources to the prosperity of states, and the need to mitigate such volatility
- The need for constructive, transparent diplomacy amongst states within regional systems to ensure equitable supply of and access to natural resources such as water
- Potential for emerging technologies such as ‘artificial photosynthesis’ to mitigate the impact of climate change whilst increasing global access to food
- Relatedly, the need to ensure that research into new technologies is funded to enable implementation sooner rather than later.
- New models of governance based on citizen-led networks and social media
- Better understanding of the linkages between and relationships among complexes of different resource-related challenges, for example the links between water security, food security and governance
- Public and state perceptions of resource security
- The important role of personal choice and individual behaviour on the supply and scarcity of resources
- The inadequacy of contemporary international governance structures for dealing with resource security matters.
This conference is part of an on-going series on ‘Futures’. Recent conferences in this series include Future trends and challenges for the Middle East and North Africa: towards 2030, Global conflict – future trends and challenges: towards 2030 and Global Governance: Future Trends and Challenges.
Wilton Park’s series on Global Food, Agriculture and Land Use continues with the fifth in the series focusing on : Resilient farming systems in the face of resource scarcity and climate change.