Resource Shortage Problems

Resource shortage problems, many related to climate change, have featured in political conflicts

Many resource shortages can be solved by trade and innovation (3.2.6), but some also need political action.  Climate change has dramatically worsened the situation.

Water shortages have been a problem for some decades now, and in 2010 the Economist referred to water as The world’s most valuable stuff.  The shortages have been exacerbated by climate change, with several serious consequences:

●  Although water shortages can be overcome by desalination of seawater, this is expensive and not every country has access to the sea.  Where rivers flow through more than one country, there is the possibility of conflict over how much water is extracted by each.  For example, The Economist published an article On 19 November 2011, entitled South Asia’s water: Unquenchable thirst which reported that “A growing rivalry between India, Pakistan and China over the region’s great rivers may be threatening South Asia’s peace”.  As noted in IPPR’s Water Security Brief in May 2010, resolving such conflicts might be a matter for international courts (, or for the UN to act as an arbitrator (

●  Food shortages have occurred, at least partly because of the misuse of water.  “The world has a water shortage, not a food shortage” according to an Economist article on 18 September 2008, Water for farming: Running dry

●  .Lack of Water Linked to 10 Percent of the Rise in Global Migration, according to the World Bank, and “By the end of this century, worsening droughts are projected to affect about 700 million people”.  Large scale migration will result in serious political problems in the developed world.

New technologies have led to increased demand for some rare minerals, resulting in resource shortage problems.  “Countries are racing to get rare earth metals and other critical minerals, some of which are necessary for the climate transition”, according to Euronews, which reports that the EU seeks to be competitive in this race.  China has already moved aggressively to dominate the supply of these minerals, to support its manufacturing sector.  And CNBC reported on The new U.S. plan to rival China and end cornering of market in rare earth metals.

Supplies of oil and gas have become a critical problem since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.  Russia has used its dominance of the sector for political advantage:

●  It was able to put pressure on the government of Belarus by raising energy prices – as reported in an Economist article from 8 February 2007, headed Desperate in Belarus.

●  It is now using energy supplies as a way of putting pressure on Ukraine and the EU.  And the EU has responded.  As reported by CNBC, the EU plans to cut dependence on Russian gas by two-thirds this year [2022]; the “plan focuses on ramping up renewables, increasing energy efficiencies and diversifying its energy supply sources”.  This illustrates how politicians can act quickly, given an adequate incentive, and the planet will benefit from the more rapid introduction of alternatives to fossil fuels.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6751.htm.