Strategic Trends Programme. Regional Survey – South Asia out to 2040. Ministry of Defence.
Nafeez Ahmed. June 2013. Rising energy prices will challenge western way of life – MoD report. The Guardian.
Converging global trends will dramatically lower prosperity in the future.
A combination of overpopulation water and food shortages, climate change, rising energy prices, and social unrest are likely to lead to internal chaos and external wars by 2040 in South East Asia (and elsewhere).
The depletion of cheap and easily extractable oil combined with food and water shortages from climate change and population growth will result and create sustained high energy prices.
When energy and food prices spike long recessions will likely follow, resulting in social unrest and rising nationalist movements.
Oil is like to reach $500 a barrel by 2040 because of the demand for fossil fuels in China and India as well as supply volatility in the Middle East. This competition for resources could lead to clashes.
Climate change will worsen matters greatly from flooding, heat-waves, drought, less food production, more and stronger storms. Rising sea levels will force millions of people to move elsewhere.
Over 2.5 billion people will suffer from water scarcity, not only limiting growth but creating a greater chance of war within and between China, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
Lack of food from the above factors is likely to lead to mass migration, unrest, and war as millions of people flee after rice crops fail. The crop failure from climate change, soil erosion, and increasing pests and weeds will at first affect mainly those at or below the poverty line.
Demographic time bomb?
China and India aren’t likely to be able to continue economic growth given all of the above factors. With nearly 40% of the world’s population it will be hard for them to prevent social chaos as food and water grow scarcer. This scenario is even more likely because of the vast numbers of uneducated people, unfair distribution of wealth, ethnic tensions, awareness that it doesn’t have to be this way via the internet, and a huge amount of inequality and corruption throughout all institutions.
End of growth due to resource price spikes?
The West too is facing a dark future — the more resources that flow to Southeast asia, the rest there is for the West to consume.
The report concludes that the “western ‘way of life’” with its large “variety of consumer choice” and cheap energy – will be “increasingly challenged as lifestyles follow GDP levels and ‘normalise’ across the globe.”
Within the US and UK, the bulk of the populations will be affected by: “… rising energy and resource prices, and the declining availability of finance to sustain discretionary spending. In such a context, this could lead to periods of sustained recession in the West, causing increasingly protectionist policies to be adopted.”
About The Report
This report was published by the MoD’s Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC) as part of its Strategic Trends Programme in January. The DCDC is an MoD think tank within the Defence Academy site at Shrivenham. The report used data from many government agencies and departments, including the MoD’s Strategy Unit, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, the Cabinet Office, and the Foreign Office – as well as two private institutions, Standard Chartered Bank and Now & Next.
The report concedes that the “‘relative’ decline of the West is likely to lead to a new power framework where alliances are constantly reassessed and negotiated.” This will also see “the declining influence of existing international institutions such as NATO and the UN Security Council.”
In this context, the report predicts an accelerating coalescence between nation states and global capital, noting that: “The line between government, and private industry protection of intellectual property of key technologies for security and wealth creation, may become increasingly blurred… [as] blueprints, patents and formulas will be increasingly seen as the foundations of wealth generation.”
The report echoes themes highlighted in a previous MoD global trends study, which warned in 2010: “Pressure on resources, climate change, population increases and the changing distribution of power are likely to result in increased instability and likelihood of armed conflict.”
If anything, this year’s DCDC study reveals not just the latest strategic thinking informing British security policy behind the scenes, but also the undoubtedly grim consequences of continuing business as usual.