Global Policy Forum

World Faced With Growing Instability, Violence: Think Tank


By Gerard Aziakou

Agence France Presse
August 7, 2008

Rising food and energy prices, water scarcity, climate change and increasing migrations could fuel growing instability and violence around the world over the next decade, a report by a global think tank said Tuesday. But despite its grim forecast, the 2008 State of the Future report by the Millennium Project -- a global research undertaking -- insists that "advances in science, technology, education, economics and management seem capable of making the world work far better than it does today."

It highlighted 15 global challenges, ranging from water and energy to organized crime and global ethics, that require priority attention. It noted that half of the world was vulnerable to social instability and violence due to food and energy prices, failing states, water scarcity, climate change, dwindling food and energy supply per person, desertification and increasing migrations. It said the US Center for Naval Analyses identified 46 countries (2.7 billion people) facing high risk of armed conflict, and another 56 states (1.2 billion people) at risk of political instability. By mid-2008, it tallied 14 wars (conflicts with 1,000 or more deaths) -- five in Africa, four in Asia, two in the Americas, two in the Middle East and one described as "worldwide anti-extremism."

The report pointed to estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization that 37 countries were facing a food crisis due to higher demand from rapidly developing countries, higher oil prices, use of crops as biofuels, high fertilizer costs and market speculation. "Basic food prices are doubling around the world," it said. "Price of cereals, for example, including wheat and rice, are up 129 percent since 2006. With nearly three billion people making two dollars or less per day, long-term global social conflict seems inevitable without more serious food policies, useful scientific breakthroughs and dietary changes." On the demographic front, it noted that the current world population of 6.7 billion was expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050 and to peak soon afterward at 9.8 billion before slumping to 5.5 billion by 2100, according to the United Nations's lower forecast.

One of the key challenges facing mankind is the availability of water. The report pointed out that today 700 million people face water scarcity, defined as less than 1,000 cubic meters per person per year, and the figure could grow to three billion by 2025 due to climate change, population growth and increasing demand for water per capita. Future demand for fresh water could be cut by saltwater farming on coastlines, producing meat from stem cells without growing animals and increasing vegetarianism, it noted. The report also warned that the world will need 50 percent more food by 2013 and twice as much within 30 years, which will require more water, land and fertilizer. But it noted that for the past several years world food consumption had excedeed production while the factors increasing food prices appear to be long-term. It recommended new farming approaches such as better rain-fed agriculture and irrigation management, genetic engineering for higher-yielding crops, precision agriculture and aquaculture and drought-tolerant varieties.

On climate change, the report warned that Africa will be hardest hit even though it contributes least to the problem, with the southern part of the continent in danger of losing 30 percent of its maize crop by 2030. It called for a "US-China global strategy to address climate change with an Apollo-like 10-year goal that might support electric cars, saltwater agriculture, carbon sequestration, solar power satellites, animal protein without animals ... urban systems ecology and a a global climate change collective intelligence to keep track of it all." Energy will remain another major headache, with world demand likely to double in just 20 years.

With major energy sources destined to run out eventually and to threaten future climate stability, the report recommended "massive investments into safe and sustainable sources such as wind, geothermal, ground solar and space solar and saltwater-based biofuels." The Millenium Project is an initiative of the World Federation of UN associations, a global network of institutions in more than 100 member states.



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