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Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to warmly welcome you to the presentation of the Transatlantic Academy’s report “The Global Resource Nexus. The Struggles for Land, Food, Water, and Minerals”.
First of all, let me say that I think that it is an excellent idea to have a joint presentation of this report by the Foreign Office, the Transatlantic Academyand the German Advisory Council on Global Change.
I would like to thank Prof. Bleischwitz, one of the Co-authors of the report, for the initiative for this presentation which we happily took up.
The report is indeed timely and very pertinent to our efforts in finding answers to some of the great questions of our time: how do we handle resource scarcities? How do we tackle climate change and mitigate its consequences? How does the growth of world population affect the globe? And – of course – what does all this imply for foreign policy?
When we look back over mankind’s history, we see that there have always been struggles for scarce resources – struggles for land, food, and water for example. Many conflicts entailed resource questions as an important element. But looking at the past decades we can observe at least two decisive changes:
There is a trend towards internationalization of resource related conflicts. Whereas, historically, such conflicts were mostly of local nature, today they are – more and more often – international conflicts. And even local conflicts have – now more than in previous times – international repercussions, at least for neighbouring countries, sometimes beyond. Just take the example of people leaving Zimbabwein the past decade due to inhumane living conditions.
In addition, we are also witnessing growing awareness about the interlinkages – or nexus if you so wish – between different resources – a central point of the report presented today.
Given the trends I described, it should be a household truth by now that foreign policy has to concern itself with international resource questions. The Foreign Office is focusing on them and we have excellent staff to do it. But internationally we need to do more.
Pressure on scarce resources is rising worldwide:
The world population will continue to grow – it reached 7 billion people last year and it is expected to increase to more than 9 million by 2050 with an even higher percentage of people living in cities.
Economic growth in emerging economies, in China, India, and Brazilin particular, has had a major impact on the global consumption of resources in the past years. Chinaalone accounts for around 40% of global consumption of major industrial minerals.
Climate change will most probably add to the pressure on some resources, especially water and biodiversity. At the same time, efforts to mitigate or adapt to global warming can have their own disruptive effects. One needs to look only at possible effects of increased biofuel production on global food markets.
The report rightly points to a number of conflicts of utmost importance:
Problems of water in the Middle East, the Nilebasin and Asiawhere vast areas of Asiarely on water from the Himalayas.
Sudan, where armed conflict recently erupted again between North and South over the oil fields along their shared border.
The Eastern Mediterranean where recently discovered offshore gas resources have a potential for conflicts involving Israel, Lebanon, Cyprus, and Turkey.
The Arcticwhich could see conflicts over oil and gas when the extraction becomes economically more viable in the coming decades.
The Great Lakes Region, in particular the Democratic Republic of Congo where mineral extraction catalyzes conflicts and has already had devastating effects.
In all of these cases, resources are never the single reason for a potential conflict but they are a decisive element. So we have to take their importance into account when thinking about the prevention of or solutions to conflicts.
Diplomacy has a role in this because, in a broad sense, diplomacy can help to transform confrontation into cooperation. This holds for any conflict, including conflicts involving resources.
One of the report’s key findings is indeed very perceptive, I think, namely that governance deficiencies are at the core of many resource conflicts.
When looking at the international scene, the institutional set-up and the disconnect between where conflicts arise and where and how they are dealt with, I do agree that we have a lot of things to do. We need to think about strengthening governance structures pertaining to resources.
In Europe, we have experience with that, given that the European structures of today originate in building a post-war European order based on coal and steel.
In the field of energy there are multilateral fora such as the International Energy Forum (IEF) and, as an organisation, the Energy Charter. In the field of raw materials there are no comparable structures.
We have, of course, a body dealing with legal issues of trade in raw materials, the WTO. Chinese export restrictions on different raw materials will be addressed in the WTO.
Transparency in trade with raw materials is being addressed by voluntary initiatives such as the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) and the Kimberley Process. The US Dodd Frank Act and a EU draft directive provide for binding approaches to transparency in the sphere of raw materials.
But there is no structure at political and expert level involving governments, companies and NGOs. We don’t have sufficient dialogue aimed at harmonizing different transparency approaches and finding common solutions for raw material certification. We still lack a common understanding on other resource-related issues, like trade and sustainable resource management.
So, indeed: it is a good idea to think about multilateral platforms for dialogue, confidence-building and the common management of scarce resources.
We have regional initiatives such as the Foreign Office’s Water Initiative for Central Asia where we aim at better regional cooperation and trans-boundary water management in order to create mechanisms for fair and equitable distribution of water resources.
Regional approaches will probably be the most effective approach for managing potential conflicts on the ground, hands-on and with concrete steps. But as the issues are often larger we have to think about resource matters in larger contexts as well.
It could be viable to make resource management more a topic of debate in the transatlantic community in order to then shape the international debate. The United States and the EU can take the lead in such issues and in engaging partners, especially larger ones such as China, India, and Brazil.
I’m only sketching out ideas at this time but I think it is fair to say that in the long-run, we will only be successful in limiting risks of resource conflicts if we manage to establish multilateral platforms which address these issues and include all major players. This is not an easy task but we should certainly take the debate forward.
The report that’s presented today is certainly an important contribution to this debate! I am sure everyone is looking forward to the presentation.
Thank you very much for your attention.