The ‘natural capital’ of our planet is slowly decreasing and this is something that businesses have to contend with. According to the UN, by 2050, we will be using fewer resources whether we like it or not. The report titled Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing, examines challenges that humanity is going to be collectively facing in the coming years.
The report repeatedly emphasizes the need for sustainable development to become to focus of business and political decisions. According to the report:
We must grasp the dimensions of the challenge. We must recognize that the drivers of that challenge include unsustainable lifestyles, production and consumption patterns and the impact of population growth. As the global population grows from 7 billion to almost 9 billion by 2040, and the number of middle-class consumers increases by 3 billion over the next 20 years, the demand for resources will rise exponentially. By 2030, the world will need at least 50 per cent more food, 45 per cent more energy and 30 per cent more water — all at a time when environmental boundaries are throwing up new limits to supply. This is true not least for climate change, which affects all aspects of human and planetary health.
The report covers many aspects of sustainable development including calling for holistic research and policy planning in the areas of water conservation, environment, and poverty alleviation. It also talks about ensuring greater gender and age equity, job and educational opportunities. It also calls for increasing agricultural productivity, improving food security, without compromising on biodiversity. Finally it talks about factoring in the environmental cost of goods and services into the price tag of the product. It also highlights the inadequacies of GDP as a measurement of economic success and calls for better a better system. Finally it talks about phasing out fossil fuel subsidies by 2020, as well as more investment in renewable energy sources.
The previous report by the UN stressed that developing countries will begin to see reverse economic growth by 2050 and this one stresses the rapid decline of natural resources. The report is more a compilation of various policies rather than stating anything new and reads much like a survival guide.
The point it does drive home though is the eventual deterioration of quality of life. In the future world of 9 billion people, even with improvements in technology, developed countries will only have the same quality of life as presently developing countries. We world therefore needs to be more prudent about its distribution of resources rather than developing countries aspiring to achieve the same consumption patterns as the rest of the world.
The natural resource crunch might actually act as the great flattener, equalizing all the countries of the world. So if we are going to be forced to use less by 2050, we should start practicing now as it would be a shame to wait and see.