The widening chasm between resource supplies and human demand is sparking a serious discourse on how we can balance economic growth and environmental sustainability.
A confluence of factors is in play that is putting an unprecedented strain on critical natural resources. The foremost reason is the high demand for resources driven by exponential population growth and income levels in recent decades, with projected demand increasing further to supply a forecasted 10 billion people by mid-century.
Water scarcity is currently a pressing issue worldwide, affecting two-thirds of the global population, according to data published by the United Nations. This dire figure is projected to rise and affect almost half of the global population by the year 2025, potentially displacing 700 million people by 2030 due to intense water scarcity.
The limited surveillance over natural resources and lax environmental regulations has also led to unfavourable practices, such as deforestation, illegal fishing and overfishing, and pollution. Furthermore, public awareness campaigns need to be intensified to nudge consumers towards metering their consumption and reducing preventable wastage.
Governments need to rise to the challenge of sustaining resources in an ambitious, innovative, and collaborative manner. Natural resources are the heartbeats of our planet, allowing us to thrive and manage our daily demands for energy, water, and food in a productive way.
Moreover, diminishing resources could put strains on global markets as supplies become too limited to accommodate demand, causing international and regional instabilities and tensions as countries vie for various methods to safeguard their own resources.
Recent examples include banning the export of resources and price volatility of oil and food staples. Climate change is further fanning the flame on sustaining natural resources by speeding depletion rates. Unaddressed, the consequences of resource scarcity could lead to dire consequences, including price volatility, poverty, diminished livelihoods, mass displacement and emigration, civil unrest, conflicts, and national security issues.
The starting point would be for national governments to formulate comprehensive policies that address every aspect of sustainable resource management and propose pioneering solutions in the fields of food and water strategy, circular economy, transportation, business operations, green buildings, and waste management.
Analysts should conduct regular extensive assessments on the status of resources in their countries in order to plan, adapt, and implement effective solutions accordingly. This purview would also alert policymakers on volatile situations and early warning signs that would necessitate urgent actions in order to mitigate the repercussions of high-risk events.
Ample reserves that could last for up to a year would also ensure resilience, price stability, and adequate social protection when unexpected events occur on the global stage.
The shift towards climate-friendly solutions will unlock an investment opportunity of more than $29.4 trillion by 2030 in just emerging markets alone, according to a report by the International Finance Corporation.
Consequently, it will be critical for governments to equip and prepare its workforces to take on ‘green jobs’, which are chiefly focused on improving energy and raw materials efficiency, limiting greenhouse gas emissions, minimising waste and pollution, conserving and restoring natural ecosystems, and facilitating transition to climate-friendly measures, according to the International Labour Organisation.
Upgrading educational curricula to equip students with a strong foundation in science, technology, agriculture, and engineering subjects will be a priority, especially considering these subjects form the backbone of strategic green sectors in the coming years.
Furthermore, as industries adapt their operations to conform to sustainable practices, more employers will be required to upgrade their workforces to be able to maximise resource efficiency, comply with environmental regulations, and work with clean technologies.
Governments should issue detailed guidance to the business community with regards to resource efficiency, decarbonisation, pollution mitigation, and waste management. In recent years, many pioneering companies have launched a suite of innovative clean technologies that offer enterprises with sustainable alternatives to operating businesses in the areas of transport, electrification, digital technology, and solar power generation.
For instance, the city of Santiago de Chile invested in electric public buses, which do not generate emissions and cost a remarkable 70 per cent less to operate than diesel-fuelled buses. In tandem, governmental regulations and incentives should encourage the business sector to adopt sustainable practices.
The Government of Dubai, for example, issued specific regulations pertaining to ‘green buildings’, steering developers towards adopting a number of climate-friendly solutions, such as improving energy and water efficiency, limiting pollution, reducing hazardous waste, and forming leafy rooftops.
Addressing the challenges
Equally important is guiding consumer consumption of resources in a manner that is reasonable and sustainable. In recent years, the media and public awareness campaigns have intensified their discourses on the risks posed by climate change and the positive roles consumers can play to address this challenge.
Ideas are abundant, including using plastic-free reusable shopping bags, reducing preventable wastage of all kinds, metering energy and water consumption, and encouraging people to participate in urban farming and gardening allotments.
Directing funding towards cutting-edge research and innovation labs will unlock transformative solutions that can address resource efficiency and sustainability. In much the same spirit, it will be crucial to harness the collective intelligence and efforts of local and global actors in order to understand and implement a suite of solutions across the board.
From governmental agencies and municipalities, academic circles and researcher centers, to enterprises, innovators, and civil society — all have a role to play in managing global resources with a balance between economic growth, sustainability, and human welfare.
Our future world necessitates a thoughtful and decisive governance model that utilises resources in a sustainable manner, thereby creating a more stable, flourishing, and fair future for generations to come.
Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human development policy and literature