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Developments and Forecasts of Aggravating Resource Scarcity

Foresight

Ecological deficit

Since 1970, the world is in ecological deficit. At present, 1.7 Earth planets are needed to support humanity's annual demand on the ecosystem. In 2017, Earth Overshoot Day is estimated to fall on August 2nd (it was on August 6th in 2016 although since 2001, it has moved on average 3 days earlier per year). 

Over the past 50 years the world's population has doubled, GDP has grown tenfold, and agricultural and industrial production has boomed.

  • If present trends continue, human demand on the Earth's ecosystem is projected to exceed nature's capacity to regenerate by about 75% by 2020, and by 100% (meaning that we would need two Earth planets to meet human demands) by 2030.
  • Humanity currently uses resources at a rate 50% faster than they can be regenerated by nature. The pressures of population growth, climate change and environmental degradation, expanding influence of the East and South are placing increasing stress on finite, non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels and minerals.
    | Related Megatrends: DemographyConsumerismGeopower
  • Global demand for materials has increased ten-fold since the beginning of the 20th century and is set to double again by 2030, compared to 2010.
  • The competition for some raw materials will increase in the future as key countries such as China and USA, together with the EU, are all highly reliant on imports for the same materials (e.g. niobium, chromite ore, platinum, palladium, rhodium, tantalum, etc.). 
    | Related Megatrends: InequalityConsumerismSecurity
  • By 2035, the demand for phosphorus might outpace the supply, causing problems of a global dimension, if replacement is not found.
  • The SDG Index and Dashboards Report 2017 shows that OECD countries face major challenges in meeting several SDGs, mostly on sustainable consumption and production (SDG12), climate change (SDG13), clean energy (SDG7), and ecosystem conservation (SDGs14 and 15); data on each spillover indicator show that high-income countries tend to generate negative SDG spillover effects for poorer developing countries (countries with larger spillover: Switzerland, Singapore, Luxemburg, Netherlands, United Arab Emirates, USA, Belgium, UK.)
    | Related Megatrends: InequalityConsumerismSecurity; Climate and environment
  • Cognitive procurement systems (based on cognitive systems and AI) can increase the efficiency of the global supply chains, by improving procurement processes at all phases -- from supply assessment to risk mitigation and contract management.  
    | Related Megatrends: TechnologyWork

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The majority of resources used today are non-renewable and are set to become increasingly scarce given rising demand and unsustainable consumption patterns.

  • Global material extraction has increased 14 times from 1900 to 2015 (from 6 billion tonnes in 1990 to about 84 billion tonnes in 2015) and is projected to further increase by 119 % by 2050 (reaching an estimated value of 184 billion tonnes in 2050).  Since 1980, globally, material extraction has risen more than 200%, due largely to a surge in mining of non-metallic minerals.
  • The competition for some raw materials will increase in the future as key countries such as China and USA, together with the EU, are all highly reliant on imports for the same materials (e.g. niobium, chromite ore, platinum, palladium, rhodium, tantalum, etc.). 
  • China accounts for 85% of the global rare earth elements production.
    | Related Megatrends: Inequality; ConsumerismSecurity; Geopower
  • China and the US extract the most non-energy raw materials followed by India and Brazil (mostly biomass), and South Africa and Canada (mostly metals).
    | Related Megatrends: Geopower
  • The Netherlands, the UK and Japan score highest in material productivity.
  • The global transition to a low-carbon economy, e.g. through a large deployment of wind turbines, photovoltaic panels and electric vehicles will require the global production of some metals to increase at least 12-fold by 2050 compared to today's output. For example, the demand for neodymium, terbium, indium, dysprosium, praseodymium, lithium, cobalt and graphite stand out. 
  • Between 45 and 60 billion tons of resources (metals, rare earth elements and minerals) for e-products are extracted globally every year. It is estimated that this figure could increase to 140 billion tons by 2050.
  • Rare earth elements demand from clean technologies will reach 51.9 thousand metric tons (kt) rare earth oxides in 2030.
  • The extractable ores of the world's geologically scarcest mineral resources (e.g. antimony, molybdenum and zinc) may be exhausted within several decades to a century, if their extraction continues to increase.
    | Related Megatrends: GeopowerSecurityTechnology
  • E-waste discarded in 2014 reached some 42 million tonnes, which is estimated of containing some 16,500 kilotons of iron, 1,900 kilotons of copper, and 300 tonnes of gold as well as significant amounts of silver, aluminum, palladium, and other potentially reusable resources, with a combined estimated value of US$52 billion. | Related Megatrends: GeopowerClimate and environment

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Energy

Global installed capacity and production from all renewable technologies have increased substantially - renewables contributed almost half of the world's new power generation capacity in 2014 - and supporting policies have continued to spread around the world.

  • By 2040, more than 1 billion households and 11 billion smart appliances could be part of the interconnected electricity systems. The digitalization of the energy system can considerably increase energy efficiency, reduce CO2 emissions as well as reduce costs both for the consummers and producers.
  • Smart grids that regulate energy use through intelligent demand-based adjustment are expected to expand rapidly.
    | Related Megatrends: SecurityConsumerismGeopower
  • Estimates for increasing energy demand by 2040 vary between 35% (BP), 29% (Shell) to 0% (IEA “sustainable development scenario”) compared to 2016. While IEA estimates energy demad to grow by more than 25% by 2040, its scenarios show that if all economically viable avenues to improve efficiency are pursued, the overall demand for energy in 2040 could be at today’s level.
  • Global electricity demand is expected to increase 57% by 2050, mostly driven by increasing demands in China and India.
  • Much of the world increase in energy demand occurs among the developing non-OECD nations, where strong economic growth and expanding populations lead the increase in world energy use.
    | Related Megatrends: Geopower; ConsumerismInequality; SecurityDemography     
  • IoT, cryptocurrencies, cloud computing, supercomputers and all other electronics-related technologies are highly increasing energy consumption (e.g. the Bitcoin network electricity consumption is estimated to increase from the current at least 2.55 gigawatts to potentially 7.67 gigawatts -- comparable to that of countries such as Ireland (3.1 gigawatts) and Austria (8.2 gigawatts)). In Iceland, which has become one of the world's prime locations for energy-hungry cryptocurrency servers, the industry’s electricity demands exceed Icelanders’ private energy consumption. | Related Megatrends: ConsumerismClimate and environment; Technology
  • New technologies -- such as a new electrocatalyst that can efficiently convert CO2 to carbon monoxide (CO), a highly energetic molecule -- can address both, electricity production and reducing atmospheric CO2 concentration.

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Water

The combined effects of Increasing demographic imbalances, Growing consumerism and Continuing urbanisation will see demand for water rising exponentially, while supply becomes more erratic and uncertain.

  • Growing population, urbanization, increasing demand for agricultural and industrial production, economic growth, and climate change are putting water resources under ever-increasing strain (pdf). | Related Megatrend: Climate and environment; Migration; Security; Inequalities
  • There is a paradigm shift of wastewater being considered a problem needing a solution -- ‘treatment and disposal’ -- to becoming a solution to many problems, including water scarcity and energy by ‘reuse, recycle and resource recovery’, in the context of a circular economy. However, currently, over 80% of global wastewater is discharged without treatment; high-income countries treat about 70% of the municipal and industrial wastewater they generate; upper-middle-income countries treat about 38%, lower-middle-income countries up to 28%, while in low-income countries, only 8% of the wastewater undergoes some kind of treatment. | Related Megatrend: Climate and environment; Security; Inequalities
  • In 2015, 663 million people - 1 in 10 - lacked access to safe water; some one billion people do not have access to safe sources of drinking water and 2.4 billion people live without improved sanitation.  
  • By 2025, 50% of the world's population might be living in water-stressed areas.
  • Global water demand might increase 55% by 2050, compared to 2015. Meantime, it is estimated that in 2030, global demand will exceed current sustainable supplies by 40%, with the largest increases coming from manufacturing, electricity and domestic use.
    | Related Megatrend: InequalitiesDemography
  • Over 70% of the global water withdrawals go to agriculture; Over the past 50 years, irrigated area has more than doubled, total livestock has more than tripled and inland aquaculture has grown more than twentyfold.  | Related Megatrend: Climate and environmentConsumerism; Geopower
  • Eutrophication - pollution due to over-enrichment of water by nutrients such as nitrogen phosphorus - is increasing, becoming one of the leading causes of water quality impairment, loss of subaquatic vegetation, change in species composition, coral reef damage, low dissolved oxygen, and the formation of dead zones (oxygen-depleted waters) that can lead to ecosystem collapse. | Related Megatrend: Climate and environment; MigrationConsumerism
  • Fragile states in Africa and the Middle East are most at risk of experiencing food and water shortages, but China and India are also vulnerable.

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  • Desalination only provides 1% of the world's drinking water via 18,000 desalination plants using either thermal evaporation or membrane separation. New technologies create lower cost, less energy-intensive and more efficient desalination possibilities.
    | Related Megatrend: Technology
  • About 500 million people live in areas where water consumption is double of the locally renewable water resources. Many countries in arid and semi-arid regions (e.g., central and west Asia, north Africa) are already close to or below the threshold for water scarcity of an annual 1,000 cubic metres per person. | Related Megatrend: Climate and environment; Migration; Urbanisation; Security

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Food

Growing consumerism and continuing urbanisation will increase pressure on these critical resources, whereas food and water security could be even further aggravated by climate change and environmental degradation outside of expected norms.

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Land

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