Containing the Resource Crisis

Competition for scarce resources is sorely testing global governance and cooperation. But even in the absence of overarching global legal frameworks, it is possible to maintain a sense of common security if the terms of resource investments are founded on long-term political understanding and commercial relationships.

LONDON – The proclamation of a new Cold War, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, turned out to be alarmist and premature. However, it reflected the anxiety of today’s decision-makers in the face of a crumbling global order. With emerging economies far from committed to established norms in international relations, many governments and multinational companies are feeling vulnerable about relying on others for vital resources – the European Union’s dependence on Russian gas being a case in point.

Competition for scarce resources is sorely testing our assumptions about global governance and cooperation, at a time when collective leadership is becoming ever more necessary. But even in the absence of overarching global legal frameworks, it is possible to maintain a sense of common security if the terms of resource investments are founded on long-term political understanding and commercial relationships, rather than short-term competition.

The stakes are high. Resource scarcity is closely linked to political risks. Consider, for example, the drought that decimated Russia’s 2010 wheat harvest. In response, Russia imposed export restrictions to shore up its domestic supplies, sending food prices soaring in its main export markets, especially Egypt. This in turn helped spark the political uprisings that spread rapidly across North Africa and the Middle East. Climate change is expected to trigger many more such chains of events.

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