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Global Media Forum: Finding long-term solutions for resource conflicts

Dwindling resources and the exploitation of existing resources are problems that need solving, whether through innovation, policy or changes in ways of doing business, say experts at the Global Media Forum in Bonn.

As conflicts over natural resources pose one of today’s greatest risks to security, the international community needs to ask itself what can be done to ensure sustainable economic, social and environmental development within the context of the Sustainable Development Goals. In search of those answers, a panel discussion called “Resource Wars – Implications for foreign and security policy,” was held on June 24, 2015, at the Global Media Forum in Bonn, Germany.

Moderated by Amrita Cheema, a Deutsche Welle news anchor, the discussion included members of state ministries and non-governmental organizations who sought to address not only the growing problems presented by finite resources and an increasing population, but also to explore the various means being employed to respond to these issues.

Innovation as one solution

With a population of seven billion, expected to increase to ten billion people by 2050, Franz-Josef Radermacher, Director of the Research Institute for Applied Knowledge Processing and Member of the Club of Rome, sees innovation as the solution to many of these problems posed by limited natural resources.
“We have always had resource problems, and we always had fights about resources, but we have very often solved our problems with innovations”, Radermacher said. “We have enormous pressure from not having enough resources given the many people we have and the technology we have. Innovation is at the center of a solution.”

Energy independence

Though innovation may be the key to resource protection in the long-term, from a political perspective, the move toward energy and economic independence needs to be near the top of the agenda, not only for developing nations but also for Europe.

“Europe is the biggest importer of energy”, said Jan Kallmorgen, Partner, Global Practice, Interel and Co-Founder of the non-profit Atlantic Initiative based in Berlin, Germany.
“We spend one billion Euro every day on energy imports with a lot of dependency particularly in gas from Russia. Also if you look at the German industry, for example, resources in manufacturing can make up 45% of costs.”

To decrease this dependency, Kallmorgen said, the European Union has concentrated its efforts on emissions reduction and cutting back on resource waste. It could, however, benefit increasingly from greater transparency, diversifying supply and the establishment of a common set of rules for all the players involved, whether they be states or companies. “An important component is that everyone has to play by the same rules”, said Kallmorgen.

A Mongolia case study: Youth as a resource

That’s something that Lundeg Purevsuren, Mongolia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs knows first-hand based on his country’s recent experiences in trying to diversify and obtain greater economic independence. While the country has seen notable progress – in 2012, Mongolia was the leader in economic growth, with 17.5% – it has discovered along the way that maintaining democratic traditions and remaining transparent during this period of growth is vital.

“Because of information technology, people are now more knowledgeable and well-informed. All the people were asking, what is the economic growth bringing for the ordinary Mongolian citizen. … During the resource boom time, we guaranteed a lot of cash and social benefits for the people and now, our poor citizens are demanding them.”

That’s why, despite decreasing commodity prices and an economic slowdown, the government of Mongolia is staying true to its promises and investing the profits from the resource boom into its next generation.

“The future of the country is not the minerals, it’s the education, it’s the people and the innovation and therefore we should invest the revenues of the resources from the minerals in the people,” said Purevsuren.

“Resource wars are very rare”

Mongolia is not the only example of a country making progress in ways in which both governments and corporations use resources, as several of the panelists pointed out. Günter Nooke, Commissioner for Africa in Germany’s Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), drew attention to the use of a code of conduct and the deployment of independent advisors to the Democratic Republic of Congo as another example of ways in which resource exploitation can be prevented.

“These resource wars are very rare historically speaking,” said Nooke. “There are but a few incidents of wars that are actually led because of resources… but usually, as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is the other way around: conflicts exist already and conflict parties use natural resources as one means amongst many others to finance themselves.”

While this may sound like a chicken-egg conundrum, one thing the panel made clear is that despite having made great strides to preventing resource exploitation and conflicts based on resource scarcity, still more can be done.
“We have to do this in a better way”, said Nooke.

International partners and co-hosts

DW’s partners for the approximately 40 workshops and events being held at the 2015 Global Media Forum include, among others, Amnesty International, Grimme-Institut, the United Nations, the OSCE, Reporters Without Borders Germany and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. The conference is co-hosted by the Foundation for International Dialogue of the Sparkasse Savings Bank in Bonn. Support is also kindly provided by Germany’s Federal Foreign Office, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, the City of Bonn and the Robert Bosch Stiftung.

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