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Aggravating resource scarcity

Demand for water, food, energy, land and minerals is rising substantially, making natural resources increasingly scarce and more expensive.

(© Photo by Olga Serjantu on Unsplash)


A Megatrend is a long-term driving force that is observable now and will continue to have a global impact in years to come

The well-being of people depends on healthy ecosystems that can provide goods (such as food and water) and services (such as pollination, climate regulation and protection from hazards). ‘Ecosystem services’ describes the many and varied benefits provided by the natural environment (healthy ecosystems) to humans. Such ecosystems include soil, crops, forests, grasslands and water ecosystems. There has been a significant increase in societal demand for their services in recent decades, but the limited resources on earth cannot meet the growing demand, that continues to increase as populations and wealth increase.

Globally, large parts of the land (75%) and marine environments (66%) have been severely altered by humans. Only 3% of the ocean is currently described as 'free from human pressure'. Adapting to challenges and climate change, and building resilience to disasters for the future will go hand in hand with ecosystem management. Increasing awareness, changing behaviours, consumption patterns, business opportunities and evolving methods of resource management will help. We have more information through data and technology that is paving the way to some solutions. There will be an increased need for raw materials to support new technologies e.g. batteries and solar power. There are some new sources of resources being discovered and a push for more re-use and repair of goods, as well as the reduction of waste (circular economy). 


This Megatrend is part of the Megatrends Hub


The driving forces of the Megatrend change over time. This timeline indicates more established and newer trends that are influencing the future direction of the Megatrend


They indicate a direction of change in values and needs which is driven by forces and manifests itself already in various ways within certain groups in society. 


Pressure on resources is continuing, with a growing demand for natural resources. Global material extraction continues to increase worldwide i.e. the extraction of natural resources such as biomass, metals, fossil fuels, non-metallic minerals and so on. The amount is expected to double between 2015 and 2060 and to reach 190 billion tons. As more evidence is generated about the condition of the environment and the pressures on it, its limits are also becoming clearer. The potential of half of the ecosystems to deliver ‘services’ has decreased already today. About 54% of the demand for the so-called 'regulating ecosystem services' is insecure (i.e. climate, water, and disease regulation, as well as pollination) and cultural services (i.e. educational, aesthetic, and heritage values as well as recreation and tourism).

New sources of resources

The growing scarcity of natural resources and the increasingly visible environmental costs of resource production and use are a driving force for the search for alternatives, whether it is for food, mobility, housing or household goods and appliances. Technological developments and recycling are influencing the demand, supply and availability of resources, such as raw materials for appliances, or fibre for clothes. The shift towards a more circular economy is expected to further enhance awareness and the development and exploitation of new approaches to sourcing and using resources. In addition, new discoveries of raw material deposits are still happening.  

Changing behaviours

Human decisions and behaviour are the reason that resources are consumed and plastic moves from the economy to the environment (for example). There are opportunities for intervening, for increasing awareness, influencing different decisions and different behaviours in relation to these processes. As the trade-offs between increasing extraction and use of natural resources becomes more and more apparent, changes in the way we consume and the need to reduce waste is becoming more obvious and pressing. All aspects of our daily lives will be affected, some more visibly than others. 

Evolving resource management

Humankind is facing unprecedented (local to global) environmental challenges to try and preserve our planet and quality of life, while also achieving a more sustainable and just society. The careful management of resources is crucial and climate change will exacerbate the challenges for which good management is crucial, such as: biodiversity loss, sustainability of natural ecosystem services, food, water and energy security, resilience to natural hazards, pandemics of infectious diseases, population growth, inequalities, health, and the development of a sustainable economy. 


Previously Covered Trends

These are trends that were spotted in the past, and might have grown or faded away in time.

-    Emerging new ideas, technologies & alternative resources
-    Wastewater natural resources consumption management
-    More regulations addressed to environment & resources
-    The circular economy concept


Future Snapshots

A future snapshot shows a plausible image of what might happen in the future in relation to this megatrend. It is a creation built using knowledge and imagination. These snapshots presented here are excerpts of inspiring future-oriented reports written by other colleagues and organisations.

Peer-to-peer circularity

"The world has become more local. New technologies such as additive manufacturing, blockchain, collaborative platform and digital technologies enabling seamless peer-to-peer transactions facilitate a more decentralised distributed production and short supply chains. A parallel shift to a servitisation culture - emphasising use over ownership - facilitates the development of a circular economy. Active ‘prosumer’ engagement provides for new business models shifting from a focus on manufacturing to a focus on consumers and involving them in productive activities. Sharing, recycling, and renewable energy generation and storage at community level are the basis for reducing environmental impacts and using less resources."

Other sketched scenarios are: Planned circularity, Circular modernism, Bottom-up sufficiency

Circular futures: What Will They Look Like? Bauwens et al (2020)


Unlimited trade

"Growing consumption, also in emerging economies leads to increasing demand for raw materials in 2050, which cannot be satisfied by recycled secondary materials alone. Investment in technologies results in automation of mining, better exploration including formerly sub-economic mines or e.g. offshore locations. The geopolitical situation is characterised by cooperation rather than competition, further ensuring the needed supply in raw materials. Mining has lost its negative image, due to its reduced environmental impact."

Other sketched scenarios in this study are: 'Sustainability alliance' and 'National walls'.

The world of raw materials 2050 – Scoping future dynamics in raw materials through scenarios - Schimpf et al (2017) 

Sky 1.5

"In this future, the COVID-19 crisis has reshaped priorities towards health and collaboration. Pressure on governments by citizens has increased based on the understanding that the health of people is linked to the health of the environment. Clean technologies and deep electrification have led to accelerated decarbonisation, enabled by an alignment of policies and targeted green investments. International trade in credits for greenhouse gas emissions and carbon removal provides further impetus. By 2050, leading economies have reached net-zero CO2 emissions, and the world is close to reaching the Paris agreement."

Other sketched scenarios are: Waves and Islands

Shell The Energy Transformation scenarios - Shell (2021)


Coping with water scarcity in 2050

"In 2050 global warming has reached 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures; changes in climate, land use and water demands have further decreased the availability of freshwater. In the EU and UK, 60.5 million people and €1,158 billion of economic activity are exposed to water scarcity. This is 8.6 million people and €163 billion more than in the period 1980-2010. 
Water scarcity is no longer only a problem of the Mediterranean and new water scarce areas are now found in countries further north, such as Germany, Bulgaria, Romania and France. This has happened despite investments by Member States in water saving measures that started in the early 2020ies, such as the increase of irrigation efficiency, water re-use, and more efficient cooling technologies for energy production. In addition, shifts from conventional to renewable energy production have reduced cooling water demand and net water consumption. Further efforts in water saving are clearly needed with an emphasis on agriculture as one of the main net consumers."

Climate change and Europe’s water resources, Bisselink B. et al, 2020. EUR 29951 EN, doi:10.2760/15553 - JRC Technical Report: Climate change and Europe’s water resources


Further Reading

Want to explore more? Some interesting readings below:

●    Centre Raw Materials - JRC
●    Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity - European Commission  
●    Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy - European Commission
●    European Environment Agency
●    International Resource Panel - UN
●    EIT Raw Materials Innovation Community - European Institute of Innovation and Technology 


This Megatrends hub is a repository of foresight related information. It highlights long-term driving forces and its underlying shorter-term trends. This repository can help you understand the changing society in a broad and more systemic way. 

Disclaimer: this repository is by no means comprehensive and apart from established scientific knowledge contains also issues which are subject to scientific debate and where research is ongoing or only starting to give the reader some insights and ways to further explore the topics in more depth.