Shifting Threats, New Realities: Managing the Interaction of the World’s Resources Futures

This project explores the shifting global political economy of key resources (land, water, energy, minerals and food) through analysing their inter-linkages in production, use and trade.

The prospect of resource scarcity, both real and perceived, has fast become a major item on the global policy agenda. This has called into question the sustainability of current developmental paths, and highlights the resource implications of a global transition to a low-carbon economy. Misperceptions and poor policy could fuel geopolitical tensions, undermine global economic and environmental cooperation, foster local and regional insecurity and disproportionately affect the livelihoods of the world’s poorest.

Managing these growing global resource stresses together with a successful transition to sustainable and equitable resource use will test the resilience of global and regional regimes and governance mechanisms. The ongoing reconfiguration of the international political economy of resources trade and use remain poorly understood. The complex policy implications of these momentous shifts need to be systematically evaluated and translated into concrete policy recommendations for governments and businesses.

A major report, ‘Resources Futures’, published in December 2012, was ranked No.2 in the Best Policy Study/Report Produced by a Think Tank category in the University of Pennsylvania’s annual survey of over 6,000 think tanks.


Key findings

  • The spectre of resource insecurity has come back with a vengeance. Whether or not resources are actually running out, the outlook is one of supply disruptions, volatile prices, accelerated environmental degradation and rising political tensions over resource access.

  • With the maturation of technologies to access non-conventional gas and oil, as well as the global economic downturn, some analysts suggest that the resource boom of the past decade is coming to an end – especially in the extractive industries – and that resource-related tensions will ease.

  • The hard truth is that many of the fundamental conditions that gave rise to the tight markets in the past ten years remain. In the case of food, the world remains only one or two bad harvests away from another global crisis. 

  • This report focuses on the new political economy of resources. It analyses the latest global trends in the production, trade and consumption of key raw materials or intermediate products and explores how defensive and offensive moves by governments and other stakeholders are creating new fault lines on top of existing weaknesses and uncertainties.

  • The report also proposes a series of critical interventions, including new informal dialogues involving a group of systemically significant producer and consumer countries (‘Resource 30’ or R30) to tackle resource price volatility and to improve confidence and coordination in increasingly integrated global resource markets.

Project aims

This project seeks to bring fresh perspectives, distinguish perceptions from realities, and provide practical tools for policymakers and stakeholders. More specifically, it will:

  • Strengthen the evidence base through empirical analysis of the shifting global political economy of natural resources. This involves analysing global patterns of resource production and trade as well as their interlinkages; mapping emerging trends against environmental and other pressures; and evaluating the policy implications for governments, businesses and other stakeholders.

  • Drive public outreach, and engage with governments, business schools and universities to help facilitate interconnected thinking around resources in the global economy.

  • Provide an opportunity for high-level dialogue between various stakeholders on the ramifications of the emerging global political economy of resources and generate relevant strategies.