Global resource constraints

Unsustainable use of natural resources means they are running out. Exhaustion of non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels is well known; however renewable resources such as fish, forests and water can also be exhausted through mismanagement. There is increased energy demand from rapidly developing countries but no new major oil fields have been found. This threatens global energy security as a minority of countries control energy prices the world over. A third of the world’s biodiversity has been lost since 1970 [1] with 1.8 billion people predicted to live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025 [2]. There is concern that continued population growth and economic growth will exacerbate the depletion of natural resources. Others believe that economic growth will fuel technological advancements which will bring about the development of alternatives, stemming the depletion of natural resources.

What are the implications?

  • Concerns over energy security as the UK is dependent on energy imported from overseas due to a decline in oil and gas output from the UK.
  • Reduction in global economic output and changes to global markets impacting on the performance of the UK economy.
  • International tensions over resource allocation.
  • Worldwide challenges to achieve more carbon efficient economies.
  • Increase in international campaigns and movements around global resource constraints.
  • Government legislation that imposes regulation on consumer behaviour and the operating context of all sectors, or green taxation.
  • Changes in procurement practice at both local and central government level.
  • Increasing interest in ethical living and consumerism.
  • Pressure on the VCS to re-examine practices and policies and demonstrate it is behaving in an environmentally responsible way.
  • Environmental awareness requiring high levels of investment may impact on resources available for core activities.
  • Rising energy costs as traditional sources - oil, coal etc - run out, and newer technologies are still in the emergent stage (OFGEM, the UK's energy regulator, expects the cost of energy to rise by 14-25% between 2010 and 2020).
  • Tough decisions for VCOs to align campaign priorities with resource constraints.
  • Increase in microgeneration (small scale electricity generation like wind farms.)
  • The rising cost of fuel consumption may impact on VCOs that need to travel to deliver their services or that work in rural areas.
  • Decreased personal mobility if restrictions on travel are imposed.

Moving forward

Much emphasis has been put on individual action to improve people's environmental footprint.

  • How can your organisation capitalise on this enthusiasm to encourage collective action?

Global resource constraints and environmental responsibility concerns organisations of all sectors. Individuals are increasingly aware and critical of organisations that don’t practice what they preach and less likely to support your organisation or donate money.

  • Is your organisation 'walking the talk'?

There is increasing pressure from funders and the public for organisations to invest in sustainable energy sources.

  • Does your organisation understand the impact its services and practices may have on global resource constraints?
  • Has your organisation got the reporting systems in place to demonstrate and communicate this?

Private sector organisations may have the resources to better invest in more carbon friendly energy generation.

  • How can your organisation get ahead of the game? Could you invest in an eco or energy audit of your services?

Want to know more?

Energy Security: A national challenge in a changing world

Published by: Department of Energy and Climate Change

Date: 2009

Format: PDF

What is it? A government commissioned report examining how global trends and international developments are likely to affect the UK’s medium and long term energy security.

How useful is this? This report sets out to review worldwide energy security and how changes internationally are likely to impact upon UK energy strategy in the coming decades. It looks at global energy future forecast models in regards to supply and demand, how these are likely to affect UK energy security, the implications of these potential impacts, and action that needs to be taken as a result of this analysis. This action needs to take place not just on an international scale (The UK for example is heavily reliant on imports so it is important therefore to ensure a diversity of supply with no over-reliance on a single region) but also in regards to changes within our own borders (reducing reliance on fossil fuels, increasing usage efficiency, reduction of import risks etc).

World Trade Report 2010: Trade in natural resources

Published by: World Trade Organisation

Date: 2010

Format: PDF

What is it? World Trade Organisation report on trading of natural resources.

How useful is this? Gives a background to the factors influencing the trading of natural resources.

World Energy Outlook 2010 Edition

Published by: International Energy Agency – An energy policy advisor to 28 member countries to ensure reliable, affordable and clean energy.

Date: 2010

Format: Web and PDF

What is it? An annual publication of medium and long-term energy market projections and analysis.

How useful is this? Although the full publication is not free to download, the website contains useful information, including facts, figures and viewpoints on the energy market. It looks at potential policy scenarios for the future and examines the impact of the fastest growing energy markets, in China and India. It describes the effect the economic downturn has had on resource dependence, illustrating a decrease in energy investment. A prolonged downturn in investment threatens to constrain medium term capacity, potentially risking a future resource shortfall and a subsequent price surge.

Other comments: To be launched on 7th November 2007 but some details available from website.

Energy Security in the UK

Published by: IPPR – a left of centre think tank

Date: 2007

Format: PDF

What is it? A FactFile assessing the energy security challenges facing the UK’s electricity, transport and heating sectors including facts and figures as well as analysis.

How useful is this? This factfile is written in the wake of the Energy White Paper and highlights that a radical shift in energy supply and use is needed, though the precise mix of measures is not clear.  It provides an overview of the use of oil, gas and coal in the UK and globally and assesses the future threats to UK energy security.  It then looks at potential solutions, the barriers to their implementation, and their impact on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.


  1. State of the environment, 2005 [back]
  2. The Economist, March 2004 [back]
Last updated at 16:24 Fri 25/Mar/11.

Recent comments

Kathryn's picture


Third Sector Foresight

Interestingly, research from McKinsey Quarterly (where they survey company executives about forces impacting on the global economy and therefore their work) shows fewer executives are concerned about the impact of increasing constraints on natural resources. 25% expect this trend to have a negative impact, compared to 33% two years ago. This suggests that although the issue of global resources is arguably higher up the agenda than two years ago, people don't see it as an issue of strategic importance. As our driver above shows, if you follow the same path, there is a degree of risk in this. There are numerous implications for the sector of reducing global resources. I would say this is a time when civil society organisations would do well not to look at the private sector for any sort of lead!

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