A Multilateral Approach to Regional Resource Scarcity

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Protectionism, keeping the resources for yourself and maybe your neighbour – is that today still a considered strategy? At the World Resources Forum, the answer was clear. The energy supply chain today is more international than ever before. Countries are more interdependent  than ever before. But countries are still looking at energy in terms of national self-reliance. They develop policies to provide safe access to energy, and privileging national economy to foreign investors in energy sector.

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, member of the European Parliament and Vice Chair of the Environment Committee, brought a very eye-opening view while tackling the energy topic. The current increase of demand for resources with impressive forecasts in the developing countries like China, India, Indonesia or Brazil press upon us the urgency of handling this situation. Today, many governments deal with this issue through a bilateral perspective. Because of increasing resource scarcity and consequently, increasing international pressure, we could see a new theatre of warfare, one where we are fighting over resources. Mr. Gerbrandy certainly believed this to be possible and he would not be the only one. Mr. Gerbrandy argues that bilateralism implies that the more powerful nation will always win and less powerful countries be ignored. Some actual conflicts as the Iraq war or the European involvement in the Libyan conflict, or even the conflict in south Sudan could support his argument.

At the World Resources Forum, Mr. Gerbrandy has introduced a new and creative approach. He proposes to develop a multilateral method to tackle the common worldwide issue of resource scarcity, by building an international resource governance structure. A multilateral approach should allow smaller nations to express their position, and therefore find international consensus on problems of resource access. Given the location and topic of the conference, it wouldn’t be a big jump of logic to realise that this call was especially addressed to China, who is today not only one of the most powerful political and economic powers, but a country which does not feature particularly well in that perspective on the international scene. Instead, Mr Gerbrandy wants China to be a key actor for international peace in the international context of tension for resources access.

So is this just a new way to describe what has already been happening through the UN and its branch organisations? Is it a call for more supreme power and less sovereignty of local government? Well, let’s try to repackage the problem.

We’re dealing with an increasingly globalised world. In this world, while we understand this concept in terms of trade just fine, countries may sometimes not have developed a broad enough perspective to realise that we are more dependent on one another than we realise. In essence, a broader spectrum may be required. In Europe for example, it is indispensable to build interregional electric grid connecting the south to the north if Europe want to increase significantly its renewable energy supply. Indeed, the south may provide the solar energy that the north cannot, and the north, the wind energy more efficiently that the south can do. The realisation of this project however is yet to happen as, when it comes to resource consumption, we still see ourselves as bubbles in isolation.

Gerbrandy’s proposition does not exclude local government of the project but reminds them of the necessity to handle the topic of resources and energy in a global perspective. For this Liberal Hollander, it does not matter if the real change is driven bottom up and top down. What is important is that the citizen can get a real sustainable alternative. People should benefit from a change in mindset; a world where the global welfare can increase, not just from a monetary standpoint but in the social, economical and environmental consideration.

For this, raising citizens’ awareness is necessary to improve a sustainable consumption, but it is also important to look at production to push sustainable standards. In order for national and regional politicians, as well as business folk, to use practical solutions, an overall strategic approach is required. Setting the path and expectations for international coordination to allow all regions to profit fully and sustainably of the resource of our planet earth should be the objective of an institution as imagined by Mr. Gerbrandy. Our world needs to think more radically when it comes to sustainability to carve a new evolutionary path. Let’s speak multilaterally about implementation plans dealing with resource scarcity and start taking the actual steps towards solutions.

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