Robust strategies needed to ensure sustainable resource management

Robust strategies needed to ensure sustainable resource management

Robust strategies needed to ensure sustainable resource management
A delivery worker carries bags of food and water out of a subway station in Beijing. (AFP)
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One of the greatest threats to global sustainability is the depletion of critical natural resources that billions of people rely on daily. We are already witnessing the ramifications of resource scarcity in a number of eye-opening scenarios. In April, the FAO Food Price Index, which measures the monthly change in international prices of a basket of food items, reached 158.5 — a stark increase of 66 percent compared to the pre-COVID-19 level of 95.1. Adding fuel to the fire, economies and societies are currently grappling with expensive and volatile oil prices due to conflicts and production disruptions.

A number of interconnected factors are driving the perilous trend toward resource scarcity. Population growth and improved income levels in recent decades have increased the demand for natural resources. Demand for water, food and oil is expected to continue rising exponentially as the world’s population is forecast to reach 10 billion by the year 2050. According to research published by the UN, water scarcity is already affecting about two-thirds of the global population, with dire consequences ahead. Furthermore, rising urbanization rates will require cities to provide transportation links and accommodate energy demands, while at the same time mitigating excessive waste generation and increased pollution rates, which are affecting natural resources.

The lack of global, national and local oversight over natural resources has also led to rampant incidents of deforestation, illegal fishing and overfishing, and pollution. The improved enactment and enforcement of environmental regulations is another area that requires improvement. Moreover, a lax commitment to guiding consumer consumption, especially in food and water wastage, is depleting natural resources at alarming rates.

Governments cannot ignore the dire effects of resource scarcity. Without astute policies and robust efforts to address sustainable resource management, the world could face more conflicts and civil disruptions, as pockets of populations would plunge into poverty, with their livelihoods diminished and health quality reduced. Competition for resources would exacerbate international and regional instabilities and tensions, as countries ban the export of precious resources. Meanwhile, global economic growth would be stunted across all sectors due to the volatile price of essential production materials, such as energy or precious metals.

To address the urgency of this policy challenge and avert future catastrophic chains of events, a global consortium of powerful and impactful players is needed to manage, oversee and stabilize this portfolio with a long-term purview that balances economic growth with environmental conservation and human well-being.

A global consortium of powerful and impactful players is needed to manage, oversee and stabilize this portfolio.

Sara Al-Mulla

A full-fledged strategy on resource management should cut across key areas, such as food and water strategy, the circular economy, transportation, sustainable businesses, sustainable housing and waste management. The monitoring of natural resources should be carried out nationally via intelligent, high-quality data that provides decision-makers with a purview on the state of the country’s resources. This would also enable policymakers to assess the market situation and look for early warning signs that necessitate budgetary provisions, in addition to preemptive and mitigative policies to see through high-risk events.

Countries should also bolster their resilience to unpredictable risks and volatile markets by investing in ample reserves, clean technologies, climate-friendly operations and waste reduction at every stage of the resource’s life cycle. At the same time, social protection systems should be resilient enough to support the livelihoods of vulnerable groups should an unexpected disastrous event occur.

Governments should also ramp up efforts to upgrade the workforce to pursue “green jobs,” with a central focus on improving energy and raw materials efficiency, limiting greenhouse gas emissions, minimizing waste and pollution, conserving and restoring natural ecosystems, and facilitating the transition to climate-friendly measures, according to the definition conceptualized by the International Labour Organization.

As such, school and university programs would need to equip students with an excellent foundation in science, technology, agriculture and engineering subjects — all of which will form the backbone of strategic green sectors. Current workforces should also be reskilled to transition to green sectors, with many improvements needed in managing natural resources, creating efficiencies, complying with environmental regulations, incorporating green spaces in urban living, and innovating green technologies.

Another important facet is guiding consumer consumption of these precious resources. Many countries have already put in place programs and measures to actively encourage eco-friendly lifestyles and consumption behaviors, creating awareness among consumers on preferred environmentally friendly alternatives and explaining their role in safeguarding natural resources.

In the same vein, government regulations and incentives targeting the business sector should be optimized to ensure sustainability and not encourage the depletion of resources or production of excessive waste. Strategic partnerships should be fostered with world-class research centers and innovation hubs to provide sufficient investments that will pave the way for the discovery of solutions pertinent to sustainability, resource efficiency and waste reduction. Enterprises should be encouraged to adopt such clean technologies and innovations to achieve an optimal balance between economic growth and resource sustainability. Governments should also host regular symposiums and forums to deepen the dialogue on the issue of sustainable resource management with the presence of actors such as the public sector, enterprises, municipalities, academics, researchers, innovators and civil society.

By prioritizing the sustainability of our natural resources, we can work together to ensure a more secure, prosperous and equitable future for generations to come.

• Sara Al-Mulla is an Emirati civil servant with an interest in human-development policy and children’s literature. She can be contacted at

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