Global fight for natural resources 'has only just begun'
The global battle for natural resources - from food and water to
energy and precious metals - is only beginning, and will intensify to
proportions that could mean enormous upheavals for every country,
leading academics and business figures told a conference in Oxford.
Sir David King, former chief scientific adviser to the UK government,
who convened the two-day Resource 2012 conference, told the Guardian:
"We are nowhere near realising the full impact of this yet. We have seen
the first indications - rising food prices, pressure on water supplies,
a land grab by some countries for mining rights and fertile agricultural
land, and rising prices for energy and for key resources [such as]
metals. But we need to do far more to deal with these problems before
they become even more acute, and we are not doing enough yet."
Countries that are not prepared for this rapid change will soon -
perhaps irrevocably - lose out, with serious damage to their economies
and way of life, the conference was told.
Amartya Sen, a Nobel prize-winning economist, said that the free
market would not necessarily provide the best solution to sharing out
the world's resources. Governments would need to step in, he said, to
ensure that people had access to the basics of life, and that the
interests of businesses and the financial markets did not win out over
more fundamental human needs.
Sen has played a key role as an academic in showing how the way
resources are distributed can impact famine and surplus more than the
actual amount of resources, that are available, particularly food.
Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen thinks governments will
need to step in to ensure that the interests of businesses and the
financial markets did not win out over more fundamental human needs.
David Nabarro, special representative for food security and nutrition at
the United Nations Special, defended the outcomes of last month's Rio+20
conference - a global summit that was intended to address resource
issues and other environmental problems, including pollution, climate
change and the loss of biodiversity, all of which are likely to have
knock-on effects that will exacerbate resource shortages.
Many observers criticised the governments represented at Rio+20 for
failing to adopt any clear targets and initiatives on key environmental
problems, saying it was a wasted opportunity But Nabarro said there had
been important successes- that governments had agreed to strive for the
elimination of hunger and more sustainable agriculture, including an
emphasis on small farmers, improvements in nutrition (in both developed
and developing countries), and cutting the harmful waste of resources
that is currently plaguing economies.
Several speakers joined him in highlighting the problems of waste and
inefficiency - the developed world tends to be profligate in its use of
natural resources, because most western companies have in the last
century experienced few limits on their ability to access raw materials
in peacetime, thanks to the opening up of global trade.
But this is rapidly changing. One of the first indications has been
the soaring price of fossil fuel energy in the past decade, which has
had severe economic impacts but which could easily be lessened if
countries and companies took simple measures to be more
energy-efficient. The failure of businesses, individuals and governments
to improve their efficiency, even by relatively small amounts, has been
one of the conundrums for resource economists in recent years. According
to standard economic thinking, rising prices should prompt more
efficiency, but this has happened at a much slower rate than should have
been the case.
- OurWorld 2.0