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Competence Centre on Foresight

We foster a strategic, future-oriented and anticipatory culture in the EU policymaking process.

Page | Last updated: 25 Jan 2023

Evolving resource management

Humankind is facing unprecedented environmental challenges to try and preserve our planet, while also achieving a more just society.

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(© Photo by Isaac Smith on Unsplash)

Trend: Evolving resource management

A trend indicates 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.

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. Climate change will exacerbate the challenges for which the good management of resources 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, ageing, inequalities, health and the development of a sustainable economy.

There is more scientific evidence, more understanding, advanced tools and new approaches that will influence how resources are managed in the future. But nowadays, resource management implies a three-dimensional challenge: 1) political, with the need to better integrate policies, 2) knowledge brokering by translating data to usable information and bringing scientific evidence to the fore, and 3) technological, in the context of the digital transformation of our society, including space technologies. 

This Trend is part of the  Megatrend Aggravating resource scarcity




Developments happening in certain groups in society that indicate examples of change related to the trend.

More effective integration of policies

Dealing effectively with resource scarcity needs integrated policies based on cross-sectoral dialogue and the main-streaming of environmental knowledge into other policies. Initiatives are visible at the international level, for e.g. the recent collaboration between two global expert communities, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), both advising policymakers on two interlinked (with the same drivers) global challenges, notably biodiversity loss and climate change. Being aware of the interlinkages between environmental health, animal health and human health, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have issued in 2020 a joint work programme to emphasise the 'One Health' approach.

At the European level, the Knowledge Centre for Biodiversity pulls together scientific knowledge and provides a dashboard (knowledge tool) to monitor the key actions to be taken by the European Commission under the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030. It also promotes a cross-sectoral dialogue (e.g. on biodiversity and health, nature-based solutions, and there is more to come that link to trade and financing). The Commission’s Farm to Fork Strategy promotes a cross-policy food system approach for a comprehensive transition towards sustainability. Furthermore, the perception of nature changes and first steps have been taken to grant rights such as legal personhood to e.g. a river, which can be defended in court.

Signals of change: ipbes, WHO, EC:JRC, EC, The Guardian


Improved data and indicators

Undisputed, quantitative evidence (i.e. good data) is key for the identification of environmental threats and dynamics, for finding their sources and for enabling informed decisions that reduce their harm. Collaborative surveys based on timely, comparable assessments and joint data systems that allow wide access and analysis are crucial. Ecosystem approaches, Green and Blue Infrastructures (as opposed to grey 'building' infrastructures), and Nature based Solutions (NbS, i.e. the use of nature for tackling challenges) offer an inclusive conceptual basis for environmental policy. These include the contribution of ecosystems to the people and the economy (ecosystem services), ecosystems as safety nets (carbon storage and sequestration, disaster risk reduction), ecosystems as a pool for biodiversity, and ecosystems and their social benefits (jobs, recreation, health). NbS involves locally adapted, resource-efficient and systemic interventions. These approaches require evaluation and indicators for use and measuring impact, and for stimulating the uptake (implementation) of policy measures. An international system will be developed for tracking, organising and harmonizing data as a standard ecosystem impact assessment tool. It will provide the EU with a better biodiversity observation network and tackle insufficient data issues.

Progress has been made on comparable methodologies, commonly agreed definitions, qualitative and quantitative data sets, streamlining indicators, baseline values to monitor trends and defining targets. More and more integrated narratives will be prepared for policy makers. Technological advancements such as the use of (DNA) barcoding to characterise ecosystems, can be complemented by other sources of data from social media platforms and the growing field of citizen science. Many initiatives focus on crowdsourcing ecosystem data on for e.g. invasive alien species, or bird observations, but they can also be applied to other areas such as water management, sustainable consumption and so on.

Signals of change: SEEA, EC, EC, Elsevier: ScienceoftheTotalEnvironment, The Guardian


More information through technology

Copernicus is the EU’s Earth observation programme that looks at the planet and the environment for the benefit of all citizens. Resource scarcity and environmental degradation can be monitored by Copernicus Earth Observation infrastructures, such as the Copernicus Land Monitoring Service (CLMS), the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) and the Copernicus Marine Service (CMEMS). These offers vast amounts of data from satellites and non-space measurement systems, freely and openly. The upcoming ‘cloudification’ of these tools will lead to more harmonized, timely and cost-efficient product generation, and to an improved and integrated uses (of the data and products).

The ‘Earth Digital Twins’ are highly accurate models of the Earth based on big data, novel digital technologies and infrastructure that continuously monitors and simulates natural and human activity (e.g the Commission initiative 'Destination Earth'). The multi-layered Earth system simulations generated are expected to provide reliable projections of environmental change and its impacts, also at regional scale. Generating actionable intelligence from data streams and integrated AI-based decision-supporting systems will help to address European green transition challenges by generating the required knowledge for decision-makers and others. They will help to anticipate and plan measures in case of extreme events and events of major socio-economic impact, also by integrating cultural and social values that influence all actors in the system.

Signals of change: Copernicus, EC, MDPI: RemoteSensing, EC, SpringerLink



Interesting questions

What might this trend imply, what should we be aware of, what could we study in more depth? Some ideas:

  • How can we mainstream system thinking across policies?

  • How can we make ever more data available and actionable in a shorter time?

  • What will a truly integrated policy system look like and how will it link to implementation at the local level.

  • Will the Digital Twins help to not only better predict, but also to manage extreme weather induced natural disasters in a timely manner (mega fire, mega floods, etc..)? 

  • Could the Digital Twins tackle food waste management? Could it address food and water supply scarcities in cities?