Volatile resource prices threaten global stability

FLUCTUATING prices may trigger a chain reaction of financial chaos unless governments and businesses get to grips with a new world order defined by resource politics, warns a report.
Volatile resource prices threaten global stability Volatile resource prices threaten global stability Volatile resource prices threaten global stability Volatile resource prices threaten global stability Volatile resource prices threaten global stability

 

Hannah Vickers

Chatham House, an independent international affairs think-tank based in London, released the Resource Futures report along with suggestions on how the international community can respond, including a recommendation for a new international group called the “Resource 30.”

“To galvanise innovative thinking and change the status quo, this report proposes the formation of a new club of the world’s principal resource-producing and consuming countries to fill existing governance gaps on resource and scarcities governance,” the report said.

“This ‘Resource 30’ or R30 grouping, conceived as a ‘coalition of the committed’, would comprise leaders and officials from 30 countries of systemic significance as resource producers, consumers, importers and exporters.”

Chatham House suggested that such a group could feed its findings into existing international institutions, such as the International Energy Agency, World Trade Organisation and G20.

Australia, China, the US, Iran and India were some of the countries suggested as members.

The report set out to analyse the latest global trends in the production, trade and consumption of key raw materials or intermediate products and explore how defensive and offensive moves by governments and other stakeholder are creating new fault lines on top of existing weaknesses and uncertainty.

Resource nationalism was identified as a significant problem in tackling price fluctuations, preventing a credible international policy response.

“Repeated attempts to discuss such approaches have been stalled by conflicting politics and the needs of individual governments to protect particular domestic interests,” Chatham House said.

Some emerging economies such as Indonesia have either imposed or are considering new export restrictions on a variety of metals, which would have a major impact on countries like China and India.

The report also suggested establishing guidelines on forgoing the use of export restrictions in times of commodity price crisis to help reduce the impact on vulnerable countries.

To help stabilise the energy sector, the report said companies crucial to fuel supply could be granted access to a percentage of national reserves without prior government approval.

Chatham House predicts that by 2030, demand for steel is set to grow by 90%, copper by 60% and gas by 44%. Demand for food, water and forest products will increase as well as poorer countries become more affluent.

The report was based on analysis of 12 million data points from more than 200 countries and 1200 types of natural resources.

China continues to be the dominant metals consumer, with its share of global metals consumption set to increase from 40% today to roughly 50% in 2020 despite the current slowdown.

As a result, many mining countries, including Australia and Brazil, have become increasingly dependent on exports to China.

Declining ore grades will also add to supply challenges in the coming years. Chatham House said iron and bauxite mining might remain stable, but lead, zinc and particularly nickel and copper would be affected by declining ore grades, as would precious metals such as gold and platinum.

Chatham House said steps should be taken to increase global data and transparency on production, trade and stock levels through compulsory reports for the metals sector.

The group predicts that water and energy provision will become increasingly interdependent, as power generation and heavy hydrocarbons extraction and transformation processes are likely to compete with water resources in already water-stressed areas.

The perception of unequal access to clean water could potentially become a serious trigger of conflict and instability.

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