What are the effects of scarce resources

Scarce resources: The gentle way to the raw materials


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The countries bordering the South China Sea are arming. They fight over fossil fuels and fishing grounds. China is restricting exports of its rare earths amid protests from the US and Europe. In the Mediterranean Sea, Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus and Turkey disagree on who owns the recently discovered submarine gas fields. Ethiopia and Sudan want to use dams to generate electricity from the hydropower of the Nile, and South Sudan also needs Nile water to develop its agriculture as planned - but for Egypt any intervention in the upper reaches of the river could be a reason for war.

The list of resource conflicts goes on. States are fighting over energy, mineral raw materials and drinking water. People fight for food or land. It's about survival, prosperity and development; and it's about power. The disputes cannot always be resolved peacefully, as in the example of China's rare earths, which are currently being negotiated before the World Trade Organization. Researchers at the Transatlantic Academy warn in a new study: The risk is growing that competition for increasingly scarce resources will result in violence. On Thursday they presented the study at the World Economic Institute in Hamburg (HWWI).

Germany could have a particular interest in the work of scientists: the German economy depends more than others on imported raw materials. In order to secure their supply, German corporations therefore formed a raw materials alliance this spring. The federal government supports the project. In addition, the question of how a reliable, affordable power supply can be guaranteed in the future is already a concern for politicians, entrepreneurs and private individuals in the country of the energy transition.

Europe's politics have consequences for other continents

But the situation is complicated, states the six-member American-European research team. The world has not gotten any easier since the last great raw materials crisis in the 1970s. It is more networked than it was then - decisions in one place quickly influence everyday life on other continents, says Philip Andrews-Speed, one of the authors as an expert on energy policy. If Europeans promote agrofuels, it can cause distress for farmers in Africa because their land is being taken away from them. If electric motors are traded as the drive of the future, it will have consequences for the South Americans who promote lithium for batteries.

The competition for resources is even fiercer today than it was thirty or forty years ago. The conveying technologies may have developed further, the economy deal with raw materials more efficiently. But the global middle class is growing - and with its desire for prosperity, so is the demand for energy, minerals, land, water and food. Emerging powers want their share of the pie. At the same time, the number of poor is increasing.

"The high level of consumption of natural resources in the north of the world cannot be separated from hunger, water scarcity and energy insecurity in the most remote corners of the south," says the report. Sometimes "scarcity" simply means that resources are unfairly distributed. If it is not possible to fight poverty effectively, write the scientists, political chaos, violence and mass migration will ensue.