Resourcing future generations

The challenge of meeting and sustaining future global resource needs is being highlighted through a global initiative that aims to plot a pathway forward. LOUIS WHITE spoke with Executive Secretary at the Geological Society of London, Edmund Nickless.

Article from resourceful: Issue 8, November 2015

Rapid population growth and material consumption combined with declining rates of mineral discovery, the increase of technological changes and demand for alternative forms of energy, present significant challenges for the future, according to Edmund Nickless, Executive Secretary at the Geological Society of London.

"Today's projections for energy technology, urbanisation and economic growth will significantly increase the demand for all mineral raw materials and will change the combination of required minerals and metals," Mr Nickless, says.

"For example, increasing world energy production from wind and solar sources, and sequestering carbon from existing fossil fuel production, requires greatly increased supplies of essential materials such as rare earth elements like neodymium, as well as more common materials like nickel, copper, sand and gravel. This will alter resource footprints for different countries, technologies and growth scenarios."

In 2013, the International Union of Geosciences (IUGS) launched the Resourcing Future Generations (RFG) initiative with the aim of raising awareness of the challenges of sustaining resource supplies on the global agenda.

The initiative is formed through a group of scientists from across industry and academia with expertise in geoscience, economics, environmental and the social sciences. It outlines a pathway to the future, including a route to nation-building and poverty alleviation through a sustainable resource development framework.

"The 20th century saw the greatest rise in global living standards in human history, most notably because of a dramatic rise in access to and utilisation of water, energy and other mineral resources," Mr Nickless says.

Mr Edmund Nickless, Execuitive Secretary at the Geological Society of London

"If these improvements are to continue, the mineral requirements of humankind will need to be met without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

The world’s population is estimated to reach nine billion by 2050, while Australia’s population will rise to 36 million (up from current 24 million) in the same time.

This increased population forecast, and recent population growth, has increased the demand pressures for minerals and materials required to sustain the basic
standards of living that we have become accustomed to.

"To achieve this under the framework of sustainable development will be extremely difficult," Nickless says.

This global predicament will affect both developed and developing countries and costs may rise significantly, which in turn could hinder progress.

"Individual countries need to recognize the significance and importance of their consumption patterns and the need for non-renewable resources.

"Addressing the needs of future generations for adequate resources action is urgently needed, by world leaders and the international community, to address supply problems in the coming decades that are unpredictable in time and detail, but foreseeable and inevitable."

Australia's challenges

Some specific challenges for Australia highlighted by Edmund Nickless are the ability to meet demands for alternative energy sources and the future use of water.

Three of the largest sectors of the economy – mining, energy and agriculture – are water intensive and Australia (as the second driest continent) will need to address its water usage and storage in a future where there is heightened demand.

Agriculture uses 65 per cent of national water resources and the produces enough food to feed 60 million people. The mining sector uses four per cent of national water resources with unconventional gas production predicted to increase water use in some regions.

With demand for resources and their usage changing, there will many issues for Australia to address going forward.

Water use is one of the challenges that Australia faces in meeting future demands.


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