Symmary from the Blue Skies meeting at Chatham House

Trends Shaping Land Use and Natural Resource Governance to 2030

”Resources, rights, and development in a changing world” was the title of a Blue Skies meeting at Chatham House in London on May 3–4 2011. This meeting was organized by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) and participants were 20 specially invited leaders and thinkers from all over the world. They discussed trends related to natural resources globally which are under stress from rising consumption and unsustainable production practices. Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI) is an international coalition created five years ago working on the issue of forest and land governance in the developing world primarily. The meeting falls into two areas of interest for the Energy, Environment and Development Programme (EEDP) of Chatham House: the new project on Resources Futures and the work on illegal logging and forest governance.

The purpose of the Blue Skies meeting was threefold: 1) to better inform our understanding of the local and global forces shaping land, forest and natural resource ownership, use, governance and development over the next two decades; 2) to explore the implications of these forces on rights and development in rural and forest areas of the developing world, and on the broader political economy; and 3) to share experiences and strategies which may help improve local regimes around these issues, as well as global policy and legal frameworks.

Forces shaping the future

World-wide, natural resources – land, forests, biodiversity, water, wetlands, and minerals –and the systems that govern their ownership and use are under strain, if not in crisis. Climate change is dramatically altering ecological systems and increasing the vulnerability of rural people and resource production systems and these changes will undoubtedly disrupt political and economic regimes in the coming decades. The future of natural resources and whether they can be sustainably governed to provide the products and services needed for local and global survival, if not prosperity, is not at all clear.

Among the many factors and forces driving and shaping the future at least three are certain:

  • First, global growth, development models, and land and resource use will be increasingly shaped and defined by the governments, citizens and private investors of the rising economic powers of Brazil, India, China and other middle income countries.
  • Second, the rural and forested areas of the developing world – 30% of the global landscape – will be the focus of increasingly intense global interest and contest, both for producing the additional food, fuel, wood and water required to feed and service global demand, and for maintaining globally relevant ecosystem services, including securing forest carbon and biodiversity.
  • The third and related factor is that the contest for land and resources will be contentious and potentially violent. The some 2 billion owners and dwellers of these areas are among the poorest and most politically disenfranchised on the planet – and they have unmet expectations for justice. Most rural and forest areas of the developing world are characterized by a limited respect for human and civil rights, poor governance, unequal treatment of women, entrenched state-dominated tenure and industrial interests, and often corruption –making conventional business and conservation models suspect and increasing the potential for political volatility.

Understanding these global factors and forces, as well as the fundamental political, technological and economic transitions underway, is essential to understanding the possibilities for realizing just and equitable development at the local level, and sustaining natural resource protection and production at the global level: two intrinsically linked goals that are of vital interest to us all.

Key observations from the Blue Skies meeting

The framing presentation pointed to a systems failure in dealing with megatrends and transformations as is evident in (i) the energy sector, in which the developments in efficiency cannot outweigh the increase in consumption growing at a much quicker pace; (ii) the naivety of global emission reduction concepts when 3 billion people cook with solid fuels, and 1.7 cook without electricity; (iii) the imbalanced and uncontrolled global economy; (iv) the failure in food supply and security; (v) dwindling availability and quality of minerals; (vi) declining terrestrial ecosystems; (vii) increased biodiversity losses; (viii) failure to reach millennium development goals; (ix) over one billion people starving ; and (x) more than 1.7 billion people living in absolute poverty.

These are all important and interconnected components of a larger system – and unpleasant surprises are going to happen if these failures continue to go unchecked. Policy makers and the scientific community under-estimated the impacts of the transformational changes that are occurring, as well as how dramatically the South radically transforms the global society and the globe. Thus far, there is no plan that aspires to action.

A ”super-cycle” is “a period of historically high global growth, lasting a generation or more, driven by increasing trade, high rates of investment, urbanisation and technological innovation, characterised by the emergence of large, new economies, first seen in high catch-up growth rates across the emerging world”. The first super-cycle was associated with the United States from 1870 until 1913. The second super-cycle was after the Second World War until the early 1970s. It is now suggested that the world entered into a third super-cycle at the beginning of this century and that it could go beyond 2030. This super cycle will be characterized by massive population growth in developing and emerging economies, rapid urbanisation (extra 680 million in cites 2030), and a burgeoning Asian middle class. By 2030, conservative estimates see the world economy growing to more than USD 300 trillion from USD 60 trillion today. Emerging economies will contribute with two-thirds of real global growth. The West will grow but the East will grow faster, so the economic balance of power will continue to shift from West to East (currently the ‘West’ has 60% of the global economy but by 2030 this will be closer to 29%).

A series of clashes within the current context provides a need to plan more smartly:

  1. The first clash is that the developing world is contesting the economic and political power of the developed world on a more equal footing than ever before. Increased income means increased influence. The negotiation table on the most pressing global issues has been limited (e.g. G7/G20) and this must change going forward and include those that have previously been unheard.
  2. A second clash is in human trends, technology and natural resources. Technological innovation is an important economic driver in alleviating water stress, world hunger, etc. but no one-size solution is appropriate – for example, consider the literacy and learning level of each country as a limiting factor to invest technology in a number of countries to help them develop. Often in developing countries a ‘digital divide’ exists, which can set apart the ‘nouveau rich’ and extreme poor.
  3. There are also a significant number of other clashes: clashes between the poor and the middle class, ideological clashes, clashes between young and old, as the burden of an ageing population becomes apparent or as migration of the young to cities sees urban and rural learning rates diverge.

Overall, one of the main themes that continually arose throughout the meeting was the inter­connected­ness of land and land rights issues with other sectors, crises, and challenges.  There was a general sense given the growing importance of all natural resources that “resource rights” was the correct point of departure and that the “systems” approach was the right way to frame the analysis and consider implications of future actions. It was also agreed that the time to start engaging the emerging countries and helping them shape the new global regime “was yesterday”. As said by Robert Zoellick at the spring 2011 Annual Meetings, change and uncertainty is “the new normal”.

Andy White, Dr., Coordinator, Rights and Resources Initiative

The Chatham House meeting summary