Global Sustainability Institute

Global Resources & Risk

Global Resources & Risk

Resource constraints

In 1972 the Club of Rome produced a report the Limits to Growth. This used systems dynamics theory and computer modelling to analyze the long term causes and consequences of growth in the world's population and material economy. Twelve scenarios from the World 3 computer model showed different possible patterns of world development over the two centuries from 1900 to 2100. These illustrated how world population and resource use interact with a variety of limits.

By specifying major changes in policies the model can generate scenarios with an orderly end to growth followed by a long period of relatively high human welfare. However, in every realistic scenario the model found that the limits force a collapse sometime in the 21st century. The report attracted significant controversy and rejection of its scenarios, however the data available to the present day agrees worryingly well with the projections (Turner, 2008).

The GSI's associated work with the Institute of Actuaries brings together the latest evidence on limits to growth and resource constraints exploring the potential impact of resource constraints on the global economy and society through the use of scenarios. For every resource examined the overall trend is one of more expensive extraction and increasing prices. In addition the environmental damage caused by the use of these resources is becoming increasingly expensive - in particular climate change and biodiversity loss.

The evidence for resource constraints (Jones et al., 2013) and environmental boundaries (Rockstrom et al, 2009) is now overwhelming yet, perhaps surprisingly, the global economy remains relatively blind to this issue.

See below for projects falling under this theme.
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Climate change, resource scarcity & conflict

Case studies of shared water resources in the Indian subcontinent

Limits to the availability of key natural resources (such as land, food, water and oil) and climate change have been linked to social unrest and violent conflict. Analysis that ignores the reliance of society and the economy on natural resources underestimates the exposure to systemic risks. Conflict over natural resources can occur both over the fair distribution of an abundant high value resource, or access to a scarce resource (Brown & Jensen, 2009; Bleischwitz et al, 2014). This report focuses only on the latter i.e. where local demand for a resource is greater than available supply, either due to access, distribution or affordability.

Demand for food, water and energy is growing as numbers of people, and the amount we consume per person, increases globally. Climate change and resource scarcity are themselves often linked; climate change may alter the availability of resources (e.g. water) and therefore changes in access can result in disputes over allocation (Hsiang et al., 2013). Unless pro-actively addressed we will face scarcity of food, water and energy resources in the future (NIC, 2012).

Scarcity of key nonrenewable natural resources and climate change are 'threat multipliers' to violent conflict. They can increase the likelihood of conflict when other social, political, institutional, economic and ecological weaknesses are present (Evans, 2011). However, because of the complexity of the issue causation cannot be confidently claimed for any one particular past event but a correlation certainly can.

In this report resource scarcity and climate change are applied to the risk of water scarcity related conflict within India, and between India and Pakistan. The report specifically focuses on the socio-political, economic, cultural and environmental characteristics of the Cauvery and Indus catchment regions and the potential for climate change and scarcity of natural resources to destabilise social and political systems.
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Resource Maps

In this report we have selected datasets that are key to understanding how natural resource availability may influence future global prosperity. Data for all countries for recent years (where available) has been used to generated a series of maps that make it possible to see at a glance some major trends.
Publication date: 16 May 2014
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The Global Resource Observatory (GRO)

The Global Resource Observatory is largest single research project being undertaken at the GSI, it investigates how the scarcity of finite resources will impact global social and political fragility in the short term. The ambitious, funded by the Dawe Charitable Trust, will enable short term decision making to account for ecological and financial constraints of a finite planet.

GRO will include an open source multidimensional model able to quantify the likely short term interactions of the human economy with the carrying capacity of the planet and key scarce resources. The model will enable exploration of the complex interconnections between the resource availability and human development, and provides projections over the next five years.

Data and scenarios will be geographically mapped to show the current and future balance and distribution of resources across and within countries. The GRO tool will, for the first time, enable the widespread integration of the implications of depleting key resource into all levels of policy and business decision-making.

Principal Investigator: Aled Jones
Research Team: Aled Jones, Irene Monasterolo, Davide Natalini, Victor Anderson, Roberto Pasqualino, Alex Philips, Tracey Zalk, Nick Silver, Cathrine Cameron
Project Manager: Julie-Anne Hogbin

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Resource constraints: sharing a finite world - Implications of Limits to Growth for the Actuarial Profession:

In 1972, Limits to Growth was first published. It was produced by a group of academics at MIT, who were sponsored by a think-tank called the Club of Rome. This project will examine the effects of 'limits to growth' on Financial Markets and consequential impacts on Actuarial Advice.

The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries have conducted a series of literature reviews to explore the current evidence for resource constraints and climate change. To build on this work the Global Sustainability Institute was commissioned to undertake further research and modelling of the possible impacts of resource constraints limiting economic growth on actuarial advice. The report brings together the latest information and research on resource constraints. It examines the current situation and projections for a range of resources including oil, coal, natural gas, uranium, land, food, water and metals as well as considering the environmental loading of the planet in terms of climate change and planetary limits.

The full report, 'Resource constraints: sharing a finite world' is available online.

Publication date: 15 January 2013

Principal Investigator: Dr Aled Jones
GSI researchers: Dr Aled Jones, Dr Candice Howarth

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